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Knights v Sharks
Hunter Stadium
Sunday, 2pm 

Dark clouds may continue to hover over Cronulla but the future looks very bright in Newcastle. The story of the Knights and the Sharks in 2013 is a tale of two contrasting teams – one club making steady progress up the competition ladder, the other seemingly in freefall as off-field distractions choke their footballing focus.

The Knights have begun 2013 in sparkling form, winning five of their opening seven matches to sit in fifth place on the table. Perhaps most impressive has been their efficiency in attack – they have completed almost 78 per cent of their sets so far in 2013 on their way to beating the Tigers, Cowboys, Raiders, Panthers and Titans.

The Sharks, meantime, have never truly got going in 2013. Sure, they’ve won a couple of games and aren’t dead and buried just yet in 12th place, but from day one the ASADA investigation has wafted a stink over their season. Who knows when that’ll finish – and how and if Cronulla can get their title challenge underway once again.

The Knights have made only a couple of minor changes to the team that smashed the Gold Coast 30-6 last weekend. Forward Neville Costigan has been added to a five-man bench after missing last week’s victory, while Kurt Gidley has been named at hooker after starting last week at No.7.

The Sharks, meanwhile, have resisted the urge to make changes to the team beaten 24-8 by the Bulldogs last Sunday, naming the same 1-17 for this weekend’s clash. There’s one addition, however, with forward Sam Tagataese added to create a five-man interchange bench that needs to be culled to four before kick-off.

Watch Out Knights: Facing a team under round-the-clock pressure, the Knights are advised to be cautious entering this clash. Sure, the Sharkies have been anything but brilliant so far in 2013 but eventually – surely – the pressure’s going to build and the team will be affected. Perhaps it’ll have a positive influence? The constant scrutiny could well drive them to come out, play good football and blow an opposition side off the park – much like it has done to ladder-leaders Essendon in the AFL. The Sharks certainly have the talent. 

Watch Out Sharks: Newcastle will be believing they’ve turned a corner following their victory against the Gold Coast last weekend – it was their first away win since beating the Raiders in Canberra in Round 21, 2012! An increase in confidence could ultimately result in an increase in ball movement, too – and the Sharks just don’t have the backline brilliance or manpower to mark the likes of Darius Boyd, James McManus, Timana Tahu and Akuila Uate.

Plays To Watch: Knight Dane Gagai bobbing up in the Sharks’ backline looking for another intercept – particular after Cronulla five-eighth Todd Carney threw one to the Bulldogs last week; Carney bombing for Uate’s wing – if the Fijian flyer has one weakness it is in the air; Newcastle No.1 Darius Boyd looping behind teammates to throw a pass to an unmarked man or to search for an opening himself; Sharks custodian Michael Gordon searching here, there and everywhere for a rare Cronulla attacking opportunity.

Key Match-Up: The battle of the boys at the back is actually a war of these teams’ two best-performing players. Boyd might have scored just two tries this season, but already he’s averaged 141 metres gained per match, busted 23 tackles and set up five tries and four line-breaks. He’s instrumental at the back for Newcastle – as is Gordon in the No.1 jersey for Cronulla. 

The former Panther, a NSW Origin candidate after a strong start to the season, has already racked up 42 points, 28 tackle busts, four line-breaks and an average of 157 metres gained per game. They’re both electric, and chances are they’ll be brilliant once again.

Where It Will Be Won: The battle of the five-eighths Jarrod Mullen and Todd Carney will be crucial. Both have had solid starts to the season but it is up to them to provide the direction for their side in this game. Both possess great kicking, passing and running games, but perhaps it’s the unknown – and unreported tasks – that’ll prove the difference here. 

The glue to their sides, which of the five-eighths will provide the motivation and communication needed to guide their team to the ‘W’ here? 

Additional pressure is lumped on both five-eighths’ shoulders in this one: Mullen following captain Kurt Gidley’s exit from the halves; Carney after another poor attacking display that highlighted why Cronulla are ranked 15th for points and tries scored.

The History: Played 40; Knights 24, Sharks 15, drawn 1. At Hunter Stadium the record is firmly in favour of the Knights, who have won 13 of the 18 matches. 

Match Officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Alan Shortall; Touch Judges – Nick Beashel & Brenden Wood; Video Referees – Shayne Hayne & Paul Mellor.

NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week, including the Knights v Sharks clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.

Download NRL Live 2013 now for iPhone or Andriod

Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 2pm.

The Way We See It: The season is slowly slipping away for the Sharks, and a big performance is needed not only to boost their standing on the table but to boost their morale too. The Knights, however, are very strong at home and we can’t see Cronulla’s recent efforts challenging them too much. Newcastle by 12 points.

*Statistics: NRL Stats
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