The equation is simple for Newcastle – win and win well or officially say goodnight to the 2010 finals.
The tiniest thread of hope is holding up the Knights’ finals dreams but it is fraying fast and if they don’t win all three remaining games, by reasonable margins, the dream is over.
Currently in 12th spot on the NRL ladder, Newcastle’s loss to the Warriors last weekend puts them four points adrift of the top eight, and their negative differential means even three wins might not be enough.
But while there is hope there will be fire in the belly of the home side, who have implored Newcastle’s fans to get out to the ground and make life difficult for the under-strength Broncos.
Jarrod Mullen returns at five-eighth despite busted ribs, taking over from France-bound Scott Dureau.
The Broncos are also amongst the scramble for finals spots and need at least one win from the final three games, two if they want to be certain they’ll increase their finals run to 19 straight years.
After losing to the Eels last weekend the Broncos sit in eighth spot and are still without captain Darren Lockyer.
A win could get them back up to fifth on the ladder but a loss could see them drop out of the top eight with matches against the Warriors (away) and Raiders (home) to come.
After experimenting with Matt Gillett at five-eighth last weekend Brisbane coach Ivan Henjak has apparently shelved the idea and has renamed Corey Norman at pivot, pushing Gillett to the second row, Ben Te’o to prop and Mitchell Dodds to the bench.
It remains to be seen if he pulls a late switch again like the Eels game.
A victory by Newcastle will see them equal their most consecutive wins against Brisbane with three; for the Broncos, Corey Parker needs five more goals for 300 in his career.
Watch out Knights: The Broncos are pumping out a significantly higher number of metres both on the ground and through the kick, potentially giving them a deadly advantage in field position.
So far this season the Knights average just 1259 metres across the ground and 484 metres from kicks in each game. On the other hand the Broncos average 1386 metres on the ground and 602 metres from the boot. This is 127 metres more on the ground and 118 metres kicking (or 245 metres overall).
Considering the Knights concede more tries from 0-10 metres from their goal line than any other sides in the NRL, giving up prime field position to the Broncos could be catastrophic. To make matters worse, the Broncos have scored 39 tries from this close distance, the second best rate in the competition. If the Knights don’t aim up in this regard, even a million boisterous fans won’t help.
Watch out Broncos: He was known as a hot head when he played local football in the Canberra district rugby league, seemingly sent off or cited every few games, but now Knights prop Ben Cross has his aggression under control. However, during the week the little known fact that Cross has NEVER scored an NRL try was revealed; worse, he is creeping up towards being the record holder for not doing so!
Former Bulldog Mark Brokenshire played 103 games in the top grade without ever scoring but Cross is now up to 92 games… and counting. If he can’t find a way to get across the line before his career ends he is odds-on to be the new record holder. The 31-year-old recently signed a one-year extension with the club, which should easily get him beyond 103 games… now he just needs a try.
The Broncos better watch this guy close to the line. They should also watch Akuila Uate and Adam MacDougall, two stars also looking for tryscoring feats of their own. MacDougall wants the club try scoring record, currently held by Matt Gidley, while Uate wants to maintain his rank as the season’s leading tryscorer.
Where it will be won: Building pressure will be the key here, as the team that scores back-to-back tries will take momentum and likely run with it.
When the two sides played earlier this season there were obvious shifts in momentum to each side but it was the Knights who took more advantage, scoring more points in their golden section. This puts a lot of emphasis on the Peter Wallace/Corey Norman pair against the Kurt Gidley/Jarrod Mullen pairing in this game. The playmakers need to get the ball into the in-goal for repeat sets if they can’t score, to further build pressure.
Also, Newcastle have to tighten up their discipline significantly. They have been stung by 133 penalties this year – the second most in the NRL – while the Broncos are at just 95 to be the NRL’s “cleanskins”. Whoever surfs their wave the longest, and pulls off the most tricks while riding through the barrel, will avoid a wipeout.
The History: Played 34; Knights 11, Broncos 23. The Broncos have won five of the past seven between the clubs; however, the Knights have won the past two matches including a 30-22 win in Brisbane earlier this season.
At EnergyAustralia Stadium the Broncos hold an 11-8 advantage over the home side.
Conclusion: Newcastle have their backs to the wall and as such should really come out firing in front of their home fans. The Broncos look far less potent without Lockyer making this a tough road trip. They certainly have the power to take the Knights down, but whether they have the composure without their regular captain remains to be seen.
It could go either way, but wait until the last minute to tip, in case Lockyer does play and the under-a-cloud Mullen does not.
Match officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Gavin Badger; Sideline Officials – David Abood & Adam Devcich; Video Ref – Paul Simpkins.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7.30pm (Qld); delayed 9.30pm (NSW).