Knights v Storm Preview

Knights v Storm
EnergyAustralia Stadium
Saturday 7.30pm

Oh what a Knight! With all the drama surrounding the club, Newcastle were the most unlikely first round winners, setting up an almighty clash against the reigning champions this week.

EnergyAustralia Stadium should be pumping for the Knights’ first home game, with the team showing the guts and determination typical of the Newcastle region against the Bulldogs, winning 20-16.

If Novocastrians cannot garner some pride for their boys after that effort then something, somewhere is seriously wrong. It was one of the club’s best wins – ever.

But now, after the euphoria subsides, the reality of a 26-round regular season needs to set in. One win does not a season make, and the Knights must now host the World Club Champions and their array of star talent.

They have lost centre Junior Sau to injury but have named Adam MacDougall to return from the injured list in his place, while hooker Isaac De Gois is also slated for return from the bench which sees George Ndaira miss out. Cameron Ciraldo, returning this season after a horrific broken leg in 2009, has also been added to an extended bench.

The Storm comes into the match after a scrappy 14-10 win over the Sharks. It wasn’t the prettiest of victories, but as has often been the case during the past four years, they found a way to get the job done and will only get better as time progresses.

Ryan Hoffman has succumb to injury for this match, but Todd Lowrie will return from his own injury concerns at lock, with Kevin Procter shifting to the back row.

Watch out Knights: The Storm have viewed replays of your victory against Canterbury and are aware the Bulldogs scored their tries in the corners!

With two tries coming on the left sideline and two on the right, it becomes apparent wingers Akuila Uate and Cooper Vuna can be outflanked. While both men are devastating attacking wingers, the pair have work to do in defensive reads; Cameron Smith and Brett Finch will be well aware of this.

Expect the Storm to try to drag the wingers in with their clinical backline sweep plays involving Billy Slater. (If the tactic works, it could be worth adding Anthony Quinn or Luke MacDougall to your NRL Dream Team.)

Watch out Storm: Cory Paterson had some well-documented personal demons in 2009 but it appears he has put them well and truly behind him in 2010. The Knights’ skilful back-rower wasn’t brilliant against the Bulldogs, but he was troubling the defence often and there were definite signs of a big season ahead if he can build on his efforts.

With 86 metres against the ’Dogs he showed he can take the yards on offer – but more impressively, he carved out seven offloads, making him extremely dangerous.

Second-phase play is the cornerstone of some of the Knights’ best attack, making Paterson a focal point for the Storm defence. If he can keep his offloads coming, especially when being double- or triple-teamed, the Storm might have a headache or two.

Where it will be won: Composure. It is very easy to get carried away with a victory like last week’s Newcastle effort. The side deserved to feel chuffed, they came through in adversity, but it is a new week, with a new challenge… and the element of surprise is gone.

The ability to stay composed in this game, to not press the issue until the right moments, is paramount here. The side who builds pressure through ball control and solid go-forward will get opportunities to attack; and those chances need to be taken.

Melbourne are defensively sound. They scramble well, and are tough hombres. They are now experts at picking and choosing the right moments. But the Knights have a great chance while they are still rusty in attack, if they can play disciplined rugby league. We’re not talking boring, like the Dragons’ robotic methods, because their second-phase razzle-dazzle is their strength. But they do need to be more selective.

The Bulldogs stormed back into the match last weekend as the Knights started to lose possession – and their heads. Calmer heads are the order of the day.

The History: Played 23; Knights 12, Storm 11. The Storm has won six of the past eight encounters between the clubs but the Knights have won two of the past three. At EnergyAustralia Stadium, the Knights hold a significant 9-3 advantage, with Melbourne not winning there since 2007.

The Knights are one of only two teams (other is the Bulldogs) who have an overall winning record against Melbourne.

Conclusion: Before last weekend you would have slated this as a Melbourne victory. You might still be doing so – but you certainly can’t dismiss the Knights entirely. They showed great guts against the ’Dogs and have Adam MacDougall and Isaac de Gois back for this match.

But the class of Melbourne still draws the tipster towards them. Slater, Smith, Inglis etc… four straight grand finals… they just know how to win.

Stay off the Newcastle bandwagon another week but if they jag another win, feel free to jump back on for at least the rest of the opening rounds.

Match officials: Referees – Steve Lyons & Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Daniel Eastwood & Ricky McFarlane; Video Ref – Russell Smith.

Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Live 7.30pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.