Knights v Sea Eagles Preview

Knights v Sea Eagles
EnergyAustralia Stadium
Monday 7pm

Fortify the castle, ready the steeds, polish the armour, sharpen the swords – the Knights are in the battle of their lives as they fight sudden death from here on in.

While five wins from the final six games would get the Newcastle side to the magic number of 28 competition points, the tightness of the competition and their poor differential means they really need to hit 30 to be certain of a spot in the post-season – and that means six from six, starting here at their castle, in front of what they hope will be a sell-out of their loyal subjects.

It stands to reason this game would be against Manly – a bitter rival; the rich Sydneysiders versus the working class, coal-mining Novocastrians. It shapes as a cracking end to the week of football, just like last round.

Newcastle fans have always been passionate and vocal but if ever the side needed your voice and your support it is now.

They enter the contest on the back of a golden-point loss to North Queensland, a stabbing blow to the guts, but with their heart still ticking they won’t die wondering.

Currently in 12th, a win this week could lift them to 11th while a loss could drop them to 13th… and into the moat to drown.

Ben Rogers and James McManus have succumbed to injury, forcing the team into a reshuffle.

Jarrod Mullen moves from half to five-eighth, Kurt Gidley moves up from fullback to halfback and Shannon McDonnell comes into the side at the back.

Adam MacDougall returns to the centres which allows Cooper Vuna to shift to the wing spot left vacant by McManus.

Dan Tolar also returns at prop, pushing Antonio Kaufusi to the bench, while youngster Con Mika has earned a starting spot in the second row, pushing Cameron Ciraldo to the bench. Wes Naiqama is also on the reserves list, which currently comprises six.

Manly were impressive against the Wests Tigers last week, getting the job done and moving up to fifth on the ladder. If the three teams above them lose before Monday, they could potentially jump as high as second with a win; but more importantly a loss could drop them back to eighth. They are well aware they need at least two more wins in the run home to be in the mix for finals and they want them sooner rather than later so they can put an assault on a top-four berth and a home final.

They have named the same side as per last week’s win, with the addition of Matt Cross as an 18th man.

Coach Des Hasler is searching for his 100th win as Manly coach, with only Bob Fulton having reached triple figures before him, and prop Jason King is due to make his 150th appearance for Manly.

Watch out Knights: If you don’t fortify your goal-line defence this match could get ugly – and fast. The Sea Eagles have scored more tries from inside 10 metres (36) than any other side in the NRL– they are deadly from close range.

What makes matters worse for the home side is they have leaked more tries than any other side from inside 10 metres of the line (42). There just isn’t enough communication and trust from the Knights in their defensive line. They need to get up off the line quickly and then slide as a unit, being sure to identify numbers and threats early.

Then they need to make the one-on-one tackles so team-mates aren’t forced to leave others open. If they can’t do this, the season will be gone.

Watch out Sea Eagles: It happened last week – and it could happen again. Whether you think Steve Matai collected Robbie Farah high or not last weekend, the fact remains the Sea Eagles are the most-penalised side in the NRL and the most-penalised side for high tackles.

If they continue to flirt with danger on the height of their tackles the referees will continue to blow the pea out of the whistle and put them on the back foot.

Anthony Watmough (18) and Jason King (15) are actually the most-penalised Sea Eagles, usually for interference in the play-the-ball or holding down as they search for an advantage.

With games becoming more and more important, these two guys, and Matai, need to get away from the edge of the line and start to find some halos.

Where it will be won:
Up the guts. This is a clash that will be decided by a break, a try or a try-saving tackle in the middle of the field.

The Sea Eagles have scored more tries than any other side in the NRL up the middle of the park (22) but they have also leaked the most tries up the guts with 23 conceded.

Unfortunately the Knights are the worst side in the NRL at scoring tries up the middle, with just seven for the year, but they have also leaked 22 tries up the middle, making them a wonderful target for the Sea Eagles. If the Knights are dominated through the middle and can’t find a way to do the same against the main Manly weakness, they will be in for a long night… and probably a long off-season.

With Kurt Gidley in the front line the Knights might have more potency around the rucks and might just be able to exploit the slow, lateral-moving Sea Eagles defenders but if not, better luck next year.

The history:
Played 37; Knights 15, Sea Eagles 22. The Sea Eagles have won five of the past eight, including a 36-12 triumph at Bluetongue Stadium earlier this season. But at Energy Australia Stadium the Knights hold a 10-7 advantage and have won seven of the past eight at the venue against Manly. The Sea Eagles’ lone win in Newcastle during this time came in 2006.

Did you know the record win for each team against the other came in the same season? Newcastle beat Manly 56-12 at home in 2004, only to be beaten 48-10 away the same year.

Conclusion: It would be great for the competition if the underdog Knights could find a way to win, and it’s not beyond the realms of possibility.

But if you’re smart you’ll look at tipping the Sea Eagles. They seem to be building again just at the right time and now that the top four is within reach, they could step up another gear.

Match officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Matt Cecchin; Sideline Officials – Jeff Younis & Chris James; Video Ref – Chris Ward.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm.