Storm v Knights
Two top-eight teams collide down south of the border in a mouth-watering Saturday night footy feast! And with Test and City-Country spots up for grabs, both sides have extra incentive to keep their clubs in the playoff zone with big performances.
The Storm were somewhat surprisingly taken down at home on Anzac Day by the rejuvenated Warriors, leaving them with a 5-2 record and in third place on the ladder. They rarely lose two in a row, particularly when playing at home, but the Knights came from behind to continue Canberra’s misery last weekend and will be hoping to keep the Storm down also.
Newcastle are the lone team in the NRL with a 4-3 record, giving them seventh place on the ladder. However, it will take a mammoth effort on the road to avoid falling back into the quagmire of teams on the rungs below them.
The Storm have stuck with their 17 players from the Warriors match, although Todd Lowrie is named to start at lock with Ryan Hinchcliffe moving back to the bench.
The Knights are sticking with the same side from the Raiders triumph, as they look for their first win in Melbourne in more than seven years!
Watch Out Storm: Knights’ centre Junior Sa’u wants a Kiwi Test jersey after this round of football, so you can expect a torrid display from him. Sa’u lost his centre jersey to Simon Mannering right before the Four Nations final last year, but gets a chance to get back into the mix (alongside Manly’s Steve Matai) with a big performance here.
Powerful Sa’u is averaging 108 metres, has four line-breaks, two line-break assists, two try assists, three tries and 23 broken tackles so far this season. If he can dominate the Storm’s outside backs he will give the Knights plenty of drive out wide and take some of the pressure off Kurt Gidley and wingman Akuila Uate.
Danger Sign: Sa’u likes early ball with space, so watch to see if Jarrod Mullen and Gidley get it wide early or if they stick to a simpler game plan. If Sa’u is unleashed they just might get a jump-start.
Watch Out Knights: The Storm have the wood over the Knights defensively. While the Knights have conceded just 29 more points than the Storm, closer inspection shows the Storm have made 151 dominant tackles this year (third in the NRL), while the Knights have just 97, ranking them second last in the competition in front of only the bumbling Gold Coast.
Also, an avalanche of ineffective tackles has the Knights ranked 14th in effective tackle percentage – they are ineffective or missing tackles on 15.8 per cent of occasions, while the Storm run at just 10.5 per cent ineffective, the best in the NRL.
Danger Sign: If you see red and blue jumpers sliding off tackles early, or more importantly you see two or three in the tackle and an offload comes, you know the Knights are going to be behind the eight ball all night.
Plays To Watch: 40/20s from Mullen and Cronk; Gidley and Slater having a sly dummy-half run; Cory Paterson’s strength in the tackle to still get an offload away; Adam Woolnough charging hard against his old club; Gareth Widdop doing a fine impersonation of Gidley’s all-round attacking skills.
Where It Will Be Won: This clash is going to come down to whichever side can hang on to the ball the longest (i.e. who makes the fewest errors).
Both teams have been brilliant in minimising errors so far this season. The Knights have an NRL-low 78 for the year, while the Storm have the fifth-fewest with 84. The Knights’ figure is the fewest errors per game they’ve made since 2002. In order to keep pace with the Storm in Melbourne the Newcastle boys must maintain this sort of discipline with ball in hand.
Both teams will look to target the other’s most-likely error culprits – for the Storm that means Knights halfback Jarrod Mullen who has the most with 12. But they will also target Junior Sa’u, who has eight errors, Wes Naiqama who has seven and forward Richie Fa’aoso who has six (mainly due to his loose carry and penchant for offloading).
For the Storm, playmakers Cronk (11 errors) and Slater (10) lead the way but the Knights will also target winger Anthony Quinn (eight), young prop Jesse Bromwich (seven) and five-eighth Gareth Widdop (seven). The side that maintains discipline will get the chance to put the other away.
The History: Played 25; Storm 13, Knights 12. The Storm have won seven of the past nine against the Knights, including two matches last season. The last time these sides met was also the only time the clubs have played at AAMI Park, with the Storm spanking Newcastle 34-4.
Two crucial stats: Melbourne haven’t lost consecutive home games in the space of a week since May 2002, while the Knights haven’t won a game in Melbourne since Round 2, 2004.
Conclusion: Newcastle are a gutsy team that play hard on spirit but the Storm have been impressive and rather clinical this year. While they fell to the Warriors last week it appears probable that this was just a minor speed bump on the road to improvement.
The Knights’ awful record in Melbourne is enough to give you confidence to tip the Storm here. They should give a good account of themselves and you can be certain Jarrod Mullen will fire up for a big performance before the Country team is named, but it might not be enough.
Melbourne by two tries looks about right.
Match Officials: Referees – Jason Robinson & Chris James; Touch Judges – Steve Chiddy & Luke Potter; Video Ref – Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7.30pm (viewer’s choice); delayed 9.20pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.
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