Knights v Warriors
Here we have a sensational match-up of two sides smack bang in the middle of the table.
The Warriors have seemingly turned the corner after an indifferent start to the year and have now notched three wins in a row to take up a position in the finals zone, currently sitting eighth.
Their impressive away win over the Titans last round came on a Test match weekend and should have lifted their confidence significantly.
The Knights had the luxury of the bye last week but without a chance to add to their differential the Warriors jumped above them, leaving them ninth on the ladder.
The winner of this game can be certain of staying in the top eight while the loser will end Round 10 on the outside looking in.
The home side, who were spanked by Melbourne in their last hit-out, are without the services of inspirational skipper Kurt Gidley, still nursing his injured shoulder. Tyrone Roberts will take his place at five-eighth.
They will however be boosted by the return of enforcer Neville Costigan in the back row, a move that has seen Cory Paterson shift back to the bench.
Marvin Karawana has been bumped off the bench, with Isaac De Gois and Mark Taufua added to a five-man list.
The Warriors, on the road again, welcome back hooker Aaron Heremaia, which sees Alehana Mara return to the pine. It is their only change from the side that destroyed the Titans on the Gold Coast. (Oh, and when we say ‘on the road’ it’s not been the usual away trip for them; the Warriors stayed on the Gold Coast after last weekend’s game and have simply travelled down the Pacific Highway.)
Watch Out Knights: Simon Mannering will be determined to break his Knights hoodoo when he leads out the Warriors. This will be the 11th time Mannering has faced Newcastle during his NRL career, yet remarkably he has never scored a try. They remain the only opposition the Test centre has failed to do so against – despite finishing on the winning side seven times.
Mannering averages 82 metres a match in 2011, has made two line-breaks, two tries and 15 offloads.
Danger Sign: As a second rower-style of centre Mannering is at his most dangerous when he runs hard lines close to the line. Look for him to slip back on the inside shoulder from close range.
Watch Out Warriors: There is another ‘forgotten’ former Blues player in this game who just might see plenty of action. While all the talk is on his fellow winger and team-mate Akuila Uate, Knights flyer James McManus could come back into calculations with a big effort against a team he has a good history against.
There’s been plenty of action down McManus’ wing when it comes to games between the Warriors and Knights and Sunday might be no different, despite the Uate-Vatuvei clash on the opposite side. McManus has faced the Warriors on seven occasions for just four victories but he has nevertheless crossed for five tries – making the Warriors his ‘bunny’ opponent. If he can grab one more he will equal the record set by Timana Tahu for most tries scored by a Knights winger against the Warriors.
Danger Sign: The Knights aren’t afraid to kick for McManus – they like his hands over Uate’s (plus Vatuvei has been known to drop some in the past).
Plays To Watch: A newly shorn Vatuvei and Uate coming face to face and causing earth tremors; Jarrod Mullen running the ball to the line; Lance Hohaia coming on and swarming around the middle for offloads.
Where It Will Be Won: Right-edge attack. While earlier in this preview we referenced both teams sending the ball to the wings it is the times they head to the right edge that could prove to be the most crucial.
Both sides have had the most success when they attack the right edge, with the Warriors posting 10 tries and the Knights eight in this section of the field. It puts both teams up in the higher echelon of clubs for this part of the paddock.
What can we garner from this? Well, both sides will once again head to their strength and perhaps the side that executes best will gain the edge.
Obviously defensively they’ll need to lift here also: the Warriors have leaked seven tries in this space, the Knights five.
The History: Played 26; Knights 14, Warriors 11, drawn 1. The Warriors have had the wood over the Knights in recent times, winning six of the past seven matches including the past three straight.
The sides met twice last season, with Warriors wins on both occasions. At Ausgrid Stadium the Knights have a small advantage, winning seven and losing five against the Kiwi-based side.
The average winning margin in the past six games has been just over seven points.
This match is the Warriors’ 400th of all time – they have won 187. The Warriors have won five of their past six daytime matches away from home.
Conclusion: The Knights without Gidley are much weaker… but they are still at home. The Warriors are on a run though and have a good record against the Knights.
It really is one of those games where you want to lean towards the in-form Warriors – but pulling the trigger with confidence is hard, as their past is littered with poor performances in games they were expected to win.
Match Officials: Referees – Tony Archer & Brett Suttor; Touch Judges – Jason Walsh & Luke Potter; Video Ref – Phil Cooley.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 2pm
* Statistics: NRL Stats.
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