Knights v Wests Tigers Preview

Knights v Wests Tigers
EnergyAustralia Stadium
Friday 7.35pm

Friday night football can't come soon enough for the Wests Tigers, as they look to salvage some pride and get back to the winner’s circle after a dreadful past few weeks that culminated in a 50-10 demolition at the hands of the Bunnies.

But if they think they will be given an armchair ride back to form by the Newcastle Knights, they have another thing coming.

Fresh from “sticking it” to their former coach, the Knights are just a win outside the top eight and they know a win here could even see them inside the finals zone despite currently residing in 12th.

It would take them ahead of the Tigers, who are currently running ninth.

However, a loss for the home side would once again see them slipping away from the pack, so it’s no surprise they'll be pumped for a big showing.

They have lost their inspirational captain Kurt Gidley to Origin duties, and his back-up Shannon McDonnell to injury, but still have a reasonable side.

Wes Naiqama moves from centre to fullback and Junior Sa’u returns from injury in the centres. Scott Dureau wins a reprieve at halfback after being dropped last week, while Matt Hilder will play hooker for the injured Isaac De Gois.

Cameron Ciraldo has been named at lock, pushing Mark Taufua to the bench, and George Ndaira replaces Evarn Tuimavave in the reserves list.

The Wests Tigers travel up the F3 knowing they can't afford another loss, as it could plummet them as low as 12th on the table. With further injury worries out of the Rabbitohs game, the side has changed again.

Blake Ayshford is out for an extended period, with Geoff Daniela coming in at centre. Liam Fulton is also out for at least a month, with Mark Flanagan starting in the second row, while Simon Dwyer and Josh Davis are the new bench options.

Watch out Knights:
The Wests Tigers might be on a slide, but they still have impressive stats when it comes to scoring up the middle of the park – and considering Newcastle's occasionally brittle ruck defence, you can bet your bottom dollar they'll spend a lot of their focus up the guts.

With 12 tries scored in the middle of the field, the Tigers are the third most prolific team in the NRL, thanks mainly to the direction of hooker Robbie Farah. With his omission from the Origin side still fresh, Farah will be out to prove he belongs in sky blue by sending plenty of traffic against the Knights’ middle men.

Their 15 tries conceded up the middle makes Newcastle the weakest side in the NRL; they must find some steel if they are to challenge for a finals berth. The side must also be aware of long-range attacks, as the Tigers have posted 10 tries from over halfway, the most of any side in the competition.

Watch out Wests Tigers: The Knights play their best footy when they keep the ball alive and create second-phase – and perhaps this is the game to chance their hand even more.

Having seen the Rabbitohs demoralise the joint venture side with enterprising attack last week, the Knights should try to add to their impressive 131 offloads for the season – the third most in the NRL. With the knowledge the Wests Tigers have conceded 113 offloads in 2010 (a high number), the Newcastle juggernaut has been given an open invitation. Cory Paterson is their main man, with 20 offloads already this year, but prop Richie Fa'aoso is also reasonably adept at popping a good pass.

Where it will be won:
Building pressure will be the key. Both sides have the strike power and capabilities to break the line and to break it often, so points should come. But they key will be posting back-to-back tries.

Repeat sets will be vital; it will put pressure on both sets of halves to have the ball on a string. Robert Lui and Benji Marshall aren't in top form at the moment, but if they focus on getting the ball back when all-out attack doesn't work, their side will be much better off.

The Knights need a big game from Dureau, who returns after being dropped. Will he fire, or is his confidence now shot?

The history: Played 14; Knights 7, Wests Tigers 7. The two teams share head-to-head honours but the Wests Tigers have won three of the past four matches between the two clubs. At EnergyAustralia Stadium the Knights have a slender 4-3 advantage.

Conclusion: Both sides are under-strength, but still reasonably matched.

The Knights at home are always tough but the Wests Tigers have the side to get the job done... but do they have the will? Pressure is building around the club and rumours exist of player unrest. If all of this continues to distract the players, their next win could be a long while off.

Meanwhile, if the Knights don't experience a hangover from last weekend's emotional win over the Roosters, they can certainly steal this match – but don't place all of your hard-earned on it.

Match Officials: Referees: Jason Robinson & Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials: Jeff Younis & Daniel Eastwood; Video Ref: Steve Clark.

Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7.30pm (NSW & Qld); Fox Sports – Delayed 10.30pm.