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Roosters v Knights
Sydney Football Stadium
Saturday, 5.30pm

Two totally different camps go head to head at the Sydney Football Stadium on Saturday evening – the Knights will be optimistic and confident, the Roosters will be desperate.

Now sitting second last, with only the hapless Sharks providing cushioning from the drop to last place, the Roosters need to win this game. It is almost time to completely write them off as a finals contender… but we’ll give them one more chance. Last Monday the Roosters held the Storm at times, but could not play long periods of disciplined football.

The Knights, however, will be bursting with confidence after a close win over the Titans. They are inside the top eight and keep improving with every game. The Roosters will be looking with envy at the Knights’ camp prior to the game. They will be hoping next week it will be them going into a match without the look of desperation.

Watch out Roosters: The Knights have a very under-rated forward pack. While they may not have the size of the some of the NRL’s more celebrated packs, the Knights have serious skill within their forwards.

Halfback Jarrod Mullen loves running straight up the middle of the field and turning the ball back inside for one of his big men whenever the Knights are close to the opposition line. They may not be the biggest, but the Knights’ props still have the strength, at full stretch, to bust through the defence and burrow over for a try. Props Mark Taufua and Chris Houston have both scored tries in this way in recent weeks.

While the Roosters send most of their attack out wide, the Knights have scored 13 tries in the middle of the field, the Roosters just two. Throw Danny Wicks into the equation – a crafty halfback inside a prop’s body – and you have a pack that will test the Roosters’ defensive resolve right up the middle.

Watch out Knights:  The Roosters may not have the same punch through the middle of the defence as the Knights, but they are just as lethal when the ball is sent wide.

The Sydneysiders are struggling for points this season, scoring just 26 tries to the Knights’ 36, but 18 of those have come from the left side of the field. That is 70 per cent of tries from one area, so once again the Roosters will be relying heavily on their outside backs to find the try line.

The only problem for the Roosters is coach Brad Fittler’s decision to tinker with his side every week. This week he has named Setaimata Sa and Ben Jones in the centres. Sa’s defence will be a highlight of this game against the Knights’ sizeable centres, with his bellringer on Melbourne’s Brett Finch last week one of the best hits of the year. Jones, however, has played mostly five-eighth and fullback, so will need to adapt quickly.

Mitchell Pearce and Braith Anasta will be looking for a quick spread left to catch Newcastle’s defence out, and Sam Perrett is the perfect finisher with four tries this season.

Where it will be won: Discipline will be the deciding factor in the Roosters’ performance this week. When they infringe as consistently as they did last week, with nine straight penalties awarded to the Storm, they invite a team like Newcastle to take the game.

In fact, both teams have had issues with the referees this year – Newcastle have conceded 66 penalties, the Roosters 69 (which is the fourth-most in the NRL). Their discipline with the ball is not much better, with 123 errors already committed this season. By giving away that much ball and field position each game the Roosters are making life very difficult for themselves. Newcastle’s stability and consistency will be valuable allies in this game.

The History: The Roosters have a superior record over the Knights, winning 19 of 36 matches played. Newcastle have won 15 games and two have been drawn.

Conclusion: Based on form Newcastle should run away easy winners. However, there is too much talent in the Roosters’ team to completely write them off. Their problem is that the halves combination of Anasta and Pearce, so effective last year, is failing to fire and they are more often coming up with mistakes than good plays.

The Knights have momentum and continue to surprise everyone with their quality of football. Newcastle have become very good at exploiting their opposition’s weaknesses, and the Roosters have too many to ward off this burgeoning side.

Match Officials: Referees – Steve Lyons & Chris James. Sideline Officials – Peter Kirby & David Abood. Video Referee – Chris Ward.

Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Live 5.30pm AEST.
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