What seemed a pretty stock-standard, run-of-the-mill game just a few weeks ago has now turned into a powder keg blockbuster waiting to explode!
The recent announcement of Knights coach Brian Smith signing to take over from Brad Fittler at the Roosters next year has given this game an exciting new twist, especially with Fittler’s volatile claims aimed at Smith this week.
Fittler is of the belief Smith rested stars Jarrod Mullen and Kurt Gidley from last weekend’s match against the Sea Eagles solely so they could be fresh to take on Freddie’s Roosters, as a loss to the tri-colours wouldn’t be so good for the Smith ego.
The Knights’ boss has dismissed the claims but even so it sets up a ding-dong battle in Newcastle come Saturday night.
The Knights are in a must-win position. They are still safely in the top eight at the moment in seventh spot despite the loss to Manly last week but with the chasing pack getting a sniff in recent rounds they cannot afford to let a home match against the last-placed Roosters go to waste.
They need to regroup and move forward from the coaching announcement or risk undoing all the great work they have achieved thus far in 2009.
Gidley’s return at fullback and Mullen’s return at halfback pushes Shannon McDonnell and Scott Dureau to the bench, while the rest of the team stays intact.
The Roosters, who were pretty dismal in a 40-20 loss to Rabbitohs last Monday night, have a chance to not only impress their incoming coach, but also know if they are to get rid of the wooden spoon they are going to need at least two wins in the remaining six games. And time is running out.
Local junior and season positive Tom Symonds is out injured which sees Setaimata Sa move from second row to centre, Iosia Soliola move from lock to second row and Craig Fitzgibbon return at lock forward to captain the side.
Shaun Kenny-Dowall has been hooked from the wing with Iwi Hauraki on debut while Rohan Ahern is off the bench with Riley Brown taking his place.
Watch out Knights: The Roosters are fairly one dimensional but they do have some success in that one dimension: coming down the left side. The team has scored 35 of its 53 season tries down the left side of the field, which is 66 per cent of its four pointers. They will continue to head in this direction in search of points so the Newcastle defence should be stacked and ready.
Watch out Roosters: This game sees the return of Mullen and Gidley, Newcastle’s two most important players, and two guys who destroyed the Roosters earlier this season.
Gidley is quite simply a phenomenal athlete and one heck of a rugby league player. This ‘jack of all trades’ dominated the Roosters in Round 10 whether it was through kick returns, playmaking or dummy-half running. The tri-colours had no answer to the New South Wales captain as he sliced his way through them like a hot knife through butter. Gidley ran for a mammoth 257 metres, made two try assists, 11 tackle breaks and two line breaks in a truly dominant performance. Mullen scored twice on the night and added a further try assist to help the Knights come out on top 38-6. If the Roosters cannot come up with a way to combat the pair it could easily be a similar result.
Where it will be won: Commitment to defence. The Roosters will not win another match this season if they do not have a stronger commitment to defence. The side started the match against the Rabbitohs abysmally and at times it appeared they didn’t even want to play touch football let alone tackle.
The Knights’ defence against the Sea Eagles last week, after starting so well, was also fairly ordinary. The reigning premiers piled on the points either side of halftime and Newcastle looked almost powerless.
The two sides need to find a way to bounce back from adversity rather than let it snowball. Newcastle has shown an ability to do so at stages this year but the same cannot really be said for the Roosters.
Newcastle have too much to play for to be tempted into a sloppy football game. They need to get aggressive defensively and stick to the game plan, while ensuring they treat this match with respect. If they come without their game faces the Roosters’ unpredictability might just catch them off guard.
The History: Played 37; Knights 16, Roosters 19, drawn 2. Newcastle belted the Roosters 38-6 earlier this year in Sydney to make it four wins from the past six games against the tri-colours. But the Roosters have no problems travelling to EnergyAustralia Stadium: they actually hold a 9-6 advantage over the Knights (two matches drawn). In fact, the Knights haven’t beaten the Roosters in Newcastle since a semi-final victory way back in 2001!
Conclusion: You have to tip the Knights here because they are a top-eight side playing at home against the last-placed side – but don’t miss the small sidenote which reads an upset could be possible.
The coaching drama adds a bit of spice and Roosters players all of a sudden have something to prove… not to mention the fact they have had tremendous success at the venue in recent times.
If you watched the Roosters against Souths you would know it is hard to get any sort of buzz going for the tri-colours right now, but stranger things have happened. Tip Newcastle… unless you are desperate.
Match Officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Brett Suttor; Sideline Officials – David Abood & Luke Potter; Video Ref – Phil Cooley.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7.30pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.