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Knights v Eels
Ausgrid Stadium
Saturday 5.30pm

The time has come for both the Knights and the Eels to make their moves. Sitting just a win outside the top eight approaching the halfway point of the season, both clubs are at the crossroads.

With the Origin period upon us the next chunk of the year becomes very important to the sides in and around the periphery of the top eight. They don’t have the luxury of a side like the Dragons who have breathing room… they need to get the wins on the board.

The Eels lose prop Tim Mannah to the New South Wales bench while the Knights only have winger Akuila Uate in the Origin fixture, giving both units little excuse to be off their games.

The home-side Knights are ninth on the ladder after just falling short in their comeback against the Roosters last week. They have now lost three on the trot and need to right their ship quick smart.

Personnel-wise, Junior Sa’u returns at centre and with Uate due back on the wing, Keith Lulia and Peter Mata’utia make way. Richie Fa’aoso starts at prop pushing Antonio Kaufusi to the bench, while Marvin Filipo has been dumped from the reserves, with Cameron Ciraldo joining the roster.

The Eels come into the clash with confidence after they pummelled the Sharks, with the result lifting them to 11th, equal with the Knights on wins but behind them on differential.

Should Mannah return to start at prop, it would push Shane Shackleton to the bench while Matthew Keating is slated to start at hooker with Anthony Mitchell reverting to the pine. Carl Webb is the man to miss out.

Daniel Mortimer remains in limbo.

Watch Out Knights: While halfback Jeff Robson (three try assists) was probably the main man in the win over the Sharks, Jarryd Hayne sent a timely reminder to Origin coach Ricky Stuart. Hayne has figured out it will take consistent performance on the field to win over the Blues’ mentor. This fire from within could create huge problems for the Knights, as it did for the Sharks.

Hayne is averaging 147 metres running, 210 metres kicking and while he only has two line-breaks and four tries this year, he has 13 line-break assists and eight try assists (including two last week) as he sets up his mates when the defence comes his way.

Danger Sign: Hayne loves to chime in as a second receiver and is certainly not afraid to throw long, cut-out passes, as we witnessed last Monday night. If he gets the ball the Knights have to be prepared for any of a run, a kick or a pass – but that pass could travel as far as 30 metres so allowing an opposite man to get on the outside at any time could spell danger.

Watch Out Eels: While the Knights boast a current State of Origin winger on their right wing they will spend plenty of time going to another former Blues winger in James McManus on their left side, after taking a look at the Eels’ shaky defensive stats. The Eels have leaked an NRL-high 14 tries on the left sideline, giving the Knights more than a green light.

They have also leaked nine tries on the left fringe – another massive invitation.

Danger Sign: Centre Junior Sa’u is an under-rated talent – but not by the Knights. They’ll look to get him early ball up against Chris Walker, who can be a bit ‘rocks or diamonds’ in defence.

Plays To Watch: Wes Naiqama and Sa’u hitting flat lines; Jarrod Mullen taking the line on from close range; Neville Costigan bruising the Eels with big hits; Jeff Robson picking up where he left of last week with his running game; Jarryd Hayne chiming in whenever, wherever.

Where It Will Be Won: It sounds simplistic but the reality is the team that puts the points on the board will win. Attack is definitely the key.

Neither side has been outstanding in attack, but the Knights certainly have an edge here. In fact, until the Eels posted a big number last Monday night they were really struggling. The Knights are averaging 19.6 points a match, while the Eels are at 17.2. The Eels have a new halves pairing (no Daniel Mortimer again) who rocked the Sharks last week, while the Knights have their first string pair back together.

Part of the attacking puzzle will certainly lie in tries from kicks. The Knights are equal third in the NRL with 10 tries from kicks while the Eels aren’t far behind with nine. You can be certain they’ll resort to the boot on many occasions in the attacking zone.

While the Knights have scored an extra try from a kick they have let in considerably more. Opposition teams have posted eight tries from kicks against the Knights while the Eels have leaked just two.

The History: Played 40; Knights 20, Eels 19, drawn 1. The Knights won the only encounter last year – a dour 6-4 win in Newcastle. But the Eels won the two matches prior in 2009 so both teams have some recent form. The Eels’ 20-18 win in Newcastle in 2009 was just their sixth win at Ausgrid Stadium from 19 attempts. The Knights have won 13 against the Eels at home – or a whopping 68 per cent of matches.

Conclusion: Despite the great result for the Eels last Monday night and the Knights’ three-game slide, the home side still gets the lean here. They seem to be just a little off hitting their straps – and what better time than a game in front of their home faithful?

The Eels are by no means out of it – but one swallow does not make a winter. They have struggled most weeks and need a few more determined performances over better oppositions to garner some serious belief.

Match Officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Brett Suttor; Touch Judges – Steve Chiddy & Adam Gee; Video Ref – Bernard Sutton.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 5.30pm

* Statistics: NRL Stats.