Knights v Eels Preview

Knights v Eels
EnergyAustralia Stadium
Sunday, 3pm

The Knights’ and Eels’ performances last week without their Origin stars gave the greatest indication yet just where these teams are placed heading into the halfway point of the season.

Without inspirational captain and workhorse Kurt Gidley, and consistent winger James McManus, Newcastle barely missed a beat against the Bulldogs. Coach Brian Smith has managed to get his troops performing all over the field.

Conversely, Parramatta were abysmal, and without their fullback Jarryd Hayne, try-scoring ability went missing. Injuries are hurting the club as coach Daniel Anderson, a Smith protégé, constantly chops and changes his team in an attempt to find an ongoing winning combination.

However, this game is a mismatch on form and performance, but not on talent.

Watch out Knights:
There is just one player who can spark the Eels’ attack – Jarryd Hayne.

Newcastle will be focusing most of their defensive attention on the highly skilled back, but it is his ability to constantly surprise the opposition that makes Hayne the player he is. He is also the complete athlete – big, strong, quick and with an arsenal of ball-playing skills.

Size makes Hayne a difficult prospect for defences to bring him down easily, and the Cabramatta junior has 53 (7th) tackle breaks for the season. He has also offloaded seven times. With three try assists and one line-break assist he can also keep the opposition guessing, and with a sound kicking game (20 for the year), he is another playmaking option for Parramatta.

But it is on his own that Hayne really shines. He leads the NRL in line breaks with 12, and is third on the try-scoring list with nine. Hayne slices through the defences and whether it be up the middle or out wide, he is his own perfect finisher.

The Knights’ pack will need to be alert for Hayne’s line breaks straight through the middle of the field for the entire game.

Watch out Eels: Last week Fuifui Moimoi (110 metres) was the only Eels forward to make more than 100 metres in their loss to the Sharks. Parramatta will need more than the firepower of Moimoi to combat the Knights’ forwards this week though. Coach Smith has a perfect rotation of his forwards that delivers playmakers Jarrod Mullen and Gidley the chance to cut through the opposition.

This week cult hero Danny Wicks has been handed the no.10 jersey, with Chris Houston moving into the second row. It’s the ability of players like Houston to play either back or front row that gives Smith the flexibility to get the most out of his pack.

Parramatta have a serious problem with stopping the go-forward of their oppositions, and the Knights are ready to exploit that.

Where it will be won: Eels coach Anderson was scathing in his criticism of his halves’ kicking games last week. Parramatta rarely found open space or good metres through their clearing kicks. This week, with both teams boasting a key attacking player at fullback, the ability to find space or pin the opposition’s custodian deep in their own half will be crucial.

It is no coincidence the Knights are able to gain the most average metres in the NRL from their kicks (51.4), and the Eels the least (44.8); it has certainly influenced their respective positions on the table.

With a strong half in Mullen able to put in a clearing kick, or an attacking one close to the line, the Knights have the offensive edge.

Parramatta’s wingers need to be aware of the cross-field kick, which Newcastle have used 28 times this year, rather than the grubber, which has been employed 30 times (one of the lowest number in the NRL).
Whoever wins the kicking duel will have the edge.

The History: Played 37; Knights 17, Eels 17, drawn 1. The Knights hold a 12-5 advantage at EnergyAustralia Stadium.

Conclusion: We can’t fathom anything other than a Knights victory here. Newcastle dominate all over the field – in the pack, in the halves, experience, and in their kicking game.

If Hayne continues the form he has shown recently, he may be enough to give the Eels the edge, along with some youngsters Anderson has brought in recently, like last week’s debutant Daniel Mortimer and former Shark Kevin Kingston.

However, at this point the Knights are a more cohesive unit, and should win easily. Especially at home.

Match Officials: Referees – Gavin Badger and Brett Suttor; Sideline Officials – Daniel Eastwood and Jeff Younis; Video Referee – Bill Harrigan.

Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 4pm, AEST; Fox Sports – Delayed 6pm.