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Knights v Storm
EnergyAustralia Stadium
Monday 7pm

The Newcastle Knights are already battling one heck of a storm, and that is before Melbourne come to town this Monday night.

The winds and rain and thunder and lightning have been bucketing the club since coach Brian Smith declared he would be leaving at season’s end, and three losses on the trot later, the side that seemed destined for the finals seems destined to be reduced to also-rans.

Somehow they need to muster a mammoth resurgence against a Melbourne side who has been caught up in a whirlwind of bad publicity itself this week surrounding Greg Inglis.

Only time will tell how the Storm do without one of their best – if not their best – player.

Luckily for Craig Bellamy and his side the Melbourne boys have set themselves up in a reasonable position, currently fourth with a four-point buffer over fifth thanks to an impressive win over North Queensland last weekend.

They are not certain to host a final just yet, and would also like just one more win to completely certify their place in the post-season.

With Inglis stood down, Dane Nielsen comes in at centre while the only other change to the side sees Jeff Lima out and Ryan Tandy in on the bench.

The Knights are now down in ninth place on differential and need to find some strength amongst their despair. The club has slashed ticket prices and called their fans to arms, hoping to lift the side to greater heights in the run home.

With Shannon McDonnell out, Keith Lulia comes onto the wing in the only personnel change to the side beaten by the Eels. However, three bench players from the Eels loss have been promoted to start, with props Mark Taufua and Chris Houston taking the place of Danny Wicks and Richie Fa’aoso and Matt Hilder returning at lock in place of Marvin Karawana.

Watch out Knights: One man’s misfortune is another’s opportunity – and this can certainly be said for Dane Nielsen. With the length of Greg Inglis’ absence yet to be determined Nielsen can use the time to really make a name for himself as a centre, particularly as Will Chambers is also leaving the club next season.

This avid fisherman will be hoping to reel in some tries against the Knights and also improve on his average 85 metres gained per match. While not in the same attacking class as Inglis, Nielsen certainly has a good turn of speed and some classy footwork, which could trouble the Knights.

Watch out Storm: Knights prop Chris Houston might have a bit of extra motivation to do well here. Apart from being a ‘smoky’ to tour with the Kangaroos at season’s end, Houston would remember it was his dropped ball late in the contest in Round 17 which allowed the Storm the chance to steal the match with a late try.

Having been promoted back to the starting side, the former Dragon would like nothing better than to have a massive game. With the ability to play prop and second row, Houston is a valuable commodity; he has six line breaks for the year and five tries. The most surprising stat on his resume is the fact he has just eight offloads, as it was once considered the strength of his game thanks to his rangy size.

Obviously coach Smith has reined in the wayward passes in an effort to get more consistency from the forward, but the Storm should be wary of his pre- and post-line pass just the same.

Where it will be won: Making the most of opportunities. If we hark back a few months to the last time these sides met it came down to taking chances when they presented themselves.

The Knights dominated for most of Round 17 match yet couldn’t produce a killer blow and then as the clock wound down, the Storm snatched the result on some individual brilliance.
To illustrate this further the Storm completed at just 66 per cent compared to the Knights’ 81 per cent, they ran for just 1072 metres in the match compared to Newcastle’s 1532 metres, they made 86 more tackles than the Knights (that’s more than 14 more sets of six), they had 35 missed tackles compared to 16 and 16 errors compared to Newcastle’s seven. But they STILL won the match 18-14.

The Knights need to bring the same discipline and enthusiasm to this clash but they need to capitalise and score points out of the dominant periods.

This pressure falls on Jarrod Mullen, Kurt Gidley and Ben Rogers. The Knights trio must, at the very least, create as much as Cooper Cronk, Brett Finch and Billy Slater or they could be heading to finals oblivion.

When a side dominates like they did in Round 17, yet still can’t manufacture points, they are always going to find it hard.

The history:
Played 22; Knights 11, Storm 11. Melbourne squared the ledger with an 18-14 victory over the Knights in Round 17, which extended their recent run over the Knights to six out of the past seven games. However, at EnergyAustralia Stadium the Knights hold an 8-3 advantage over Melbourne.

Conclusion: Two teams under external pressures with plenty to play for should guarantee us a massive match to finish the round.

Even without Inglis, current form says tip the Storm – but the Knights aren’t out of the running just yet. It will take every bit of Smith’s motivational powers to pull them out of this slump but he’s done it before and he’ll no doubt do it again… Knights’ fans just hope it starts now.

Tipping the Knights has certainly let a few people down in recent weeks, so if you’ve jumped ship don’t feel bad but this could be the game they get back on track.

Match officials: Referees – Jason Robinson & Tony De Las Heras; Sideline Officials – David Abood & Gavin Reynolds; Video Ref – Steve Clark.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.
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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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