Knights v Warriors Preview

Knights v Warriors
EnergyAustralia Stadium
Sunday 2pm

Okay you two… it’s time. If either the Knights or Warriors are going to make a serious play at the 2010 finals series, this is the match to start the ball rolling.

With the Warriors in 11th and the Knights a spot back in 12th at the halfway point of the season the pressure is on to win more games than you lose in the back-half of the year – or face extinction.

Preplanning would have this match pencilled in as a win as it is against weaker opposition… but somebody has to lose and that ‘somebody’ would be basically writing its own death warrant, especially if it is Newcastle.

In all probability, the team running eighth after this round will be on 16 competition points. Right now the Warriors are on 12, the Knights 10. Twelve points is just two wins behind – but when you stretch it out to three wins behind, the gap starts to get scary.

Of course it can be reeled in (the team running 13th at halfway has made the past four finals series) but it means you need a five- to six-game run (at a minimum) to do it. The pressure of having to win eight of your last nine is tough.

Newcastle come into the match after a poor outing against Penrith. The side has some changes with Shannon McDonnell out and Wes Naiqama set to play fullback.

New South Wales captain Kurt Gidley is also missing, which brings Scott Dureau into the team at halfback. Mark Taufua is the new man on the bench.

The Warriors just couldn’t get it done against the Dragons last week, despite a spirited effort. Plus they are now without Brent Tate again after he smashed his jaw. Joel Moon comes in at centre.

Watch out Knights: The grubber is coming. Rick Stone can’t count the hours his side has been practising defusing grubbers at training, but it has still been to little avail as his side is the worst in the NRL at cleaning up the rolling ball kicks.

Almost half of all grubbers sent Newcastle’s way aren’t dealt with and considering the side have conceded 14 tries from the boot – the most in the league – the Warriors will be peppering them. The Warriors have also scored 11 tries from the boot, so they are no slouches at putting the pressure on.
 
Watch out Warriors: The Knights’ back three have recorded more kick-return metres than any other side with 1571 for the year. Regardless of who has pulled on the boots at fullback and on the wings, the Novocastrians have had the benefit of their kick-returners eating up the metres.

The Warriors really need to also find a way to stop Akuila Uate. This mammoth winger, much like their own Manu Vatuvei, is proving a colossus this season. He is averaging 141 metres a match and has an amazing 17 line-breaks and 13 tries. Maybe we’ll get lucky and see Uate and Vatuvei come head-to-head at some stage (although they guard opposite sides of the field)!

Where it will be won: Desire and will. Both these sides are extremely closely matched statistically. They have the same strengths and the same weaknesses, so essentially it is going to come down to who wants it more.

The Warriors have conceded just two fewer points in defence, while the Knights have scored two more points, giving them identical differentials. They both make and concede similar run metres, they have similar line-breaking ability, they have close to the same effective tackle percentages, their kick accuracy is almost identical, offload numbers are close… the list goes on. So this will come down to a desire to be better than your opposite man. To hit him a little harder, to run a little faster, to dive on the loose ball a little quicker.

The history: Played 24; Knights 14, Warriors 9, drawn 1. The Warriors might be behind in the overall stakes but recently they have had the wood on the Knights, winning six of the past eight games and only losing those two other matches by six and two points. At EnergyAustralia Stadium the Knights lead 7-4.  

Conclusion: Think of a number between one and 10. Got it? Okay… if it was an even number go with the Knights, if it was an odd number, pick the Warriors.

Seriously, this game shapes up as a ‘who knows?’, as the Warriors still have a reasonable side but they are travelling; while the Knights always lift at home. Surely Jarrod Mullen is going to fire at some stage, which keeps the Knights in calculations here.

Match officials: Referees – Steve Lyons & Tony De Las Heras; Sideline Officials – Daniel Eastwood & Ricky McFarlane; Video Ref – Phil Cooley.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 2pm.