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Knights v Broncos
Ausgrid Stadium
Monday 7pm

After three recent wins on the trot the Knights looked headed for the finals – but this competition ain’t over until the fat lady sings… and she ain’t belting out a tune just yet. 

Last week’s loss to the Warriors and wins by the Rabbitohs and Bulldogs have the Newcastle premiership tilt on a knife’s edge. And while the eighth-placed Knights have their destiny in their hands and are at home in this crucial match, they are up against a Broncos’ team on a roll.

The Broncos are coming off three wins in a row, five of the past six and eight of the past 10 going their way… they’ve got a heap of momentum. 

They sit in third place and with another win will be shoo-ins for the top four. But they have the Sea Eagles in their sights, looking to try to leapfrog Manly into the top two.

The good news, or perhaps the bad news, is the Knights will know how they stand before kick-off. They’ll know if the Rabbitohs and Bulldogs have joined them on 26 points. If they have, it’s obviously game on. Even if they haven’t, it represents a great chance to put the chasers to bed. 

After last week’s loss the Knights have stuck solid, with just Matt Hilder rejoining the side on an extended bench. 

The Broncos have unsurprisingly kept the same 17 (although this means Jharal YowYeh and Ben Hannant haven’t recovered from injuries). 

It’s a massive test for the home side who have won only two of 11 games against teams currently in the top eight. If they are to gain the respect of the other sides in contention they need to start winning games like this one. 

Watch Out Knights: After last week’s stunning three-try effort kudos has to go to Brisbane fullback Josh Hoffman. His performance was so impressive it basically overshadowed Darren Lockyer’s record 350th appearance!

In the past two weeks Hoffman has notched an astonishing 22 tackle-breaks taking his tally for the season to 86. His 5.5 per game over his 39-game career currently has him averaging the fifth-highest rate in NRL history. This season he is averaging 157 metres a game, has seven line-breaks, six tries and three try assists. 

Danger Sign: The potential future Kiwi fullback isn’t afraid to have a crack on his kick returns so the Knights need to ensure their kick-chase game is solid. With 32 ‘poor’ kick-chase efforts this year the Knights rank in the bottom half of teams in the NRL. If they get lazy they’ll get burned. 

Watch Out Broncos: It’s no secret the Knights will be heading right – often and hard! When you have the Fijian flyer Akuila Uate on the right wing you would be mad not to use him. Adam MacDougall, although limited for game time this season, is also showing some vintage form. They have 34 tries on the right side of the field this year compared to just 23 on the left. Uate is scoring a try every 22 times he touches the ball and is looking to create some history this week by becoming the first player to score multiple tries in three straight Knights’ home games. He scored three against the Titans and two against the Raiders… can he get at least a double against the Broncos? Even last week, across the Tasman, he was good in a losing side going up against Manu Vatuvei (although some errors lowered his rating). He ran for 121 metres, had 11 tackle-breaks, an offload and a try. His season stats now have him averaging 137 metres, he has 14 line-breaks, two from kick returns and 14 tries plus 127 tackle-breaks (best in the NRL).

Danger Sign: The Broncos will know Uate means business if he comes at them hard with dummy-half runs early in the match. He is at his best when he is taking the challenge to the defence over and over again.
Plays To Watch: Lockyer switching back to the blind; watching what unfolds should the Broncos kick towards Uate; Peter Wallace taking on the line from close range; Kurt Gidley sliding in as a playmaker; Ryan Stig trying to match Wallace in taking on the line; Jarrod Mullen’s long cut-out passes.

Where It Will Be Won: Taking chances. The bugbear for the Knights all season has been making the most of their attacking proficiency. The side leads the NRL in line-breaks and tackle-breaks but is ranked ninth in points scored. This is a translation not conducive to winning a competition. The home side must find a way to add points to their breaks. 
The Broncos are to a degree in the same boat. When you enter the home of the Knights you don’t get a free ride. They’ll need to create more chances than usual and make them count.  

The History: Played 36; Knights 12, Broncos 24. The Broncos took care of the Knights 17-6 in Brisbane in Round 5, taking their recent form to six wins from the past nine against the Newcastle boys. But before that the Knights had won three straight, meaning they have still won three of the past four. At Ausgrid Stadium the Broncos have won 11, the Knights nine. Since entering the league together in 1988 the Broncos have never kept the Knights scoreless.

Conclusion: The Broncos deserve favouritism here as they have earned it but if the Knights can’t get up for this match they probably will be just making up the numbers in the finals, should they advance. Expect a huge performance from the home side, especially if one of the chasing teams behind them on the ladder wins.
Match Officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Ashley Klein; Touch Judges – Luke Potter & Gavin Reynolds; Video Ref – Steve Clark. 

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.