Bulldogs v Knights
This is a Bulldogs home game the club has taken to Mackay. They took a home game against Melbourne to Mackay last year and won it, 20-4, with home-town boy Ben Barba starring and the crowd loving it. If you’re going to give up the home-ground advantage, at least it makes sense to go somewhere you can still be sure you’ll get the majority of the crowd support.
The Bulldogs are coming off the bye. Immediately before that, they lost 20-18 to the Roosters. That loss ended a winning streak that had stretched to four games for the Bulldogs, against the Broncos (24-14), Dragons (16-14), Cowboys (36-26) and Sea Eagles (32-30). In fact, they had won seven out of their previous eight before meeting the Roosters.
Worryingly the only loss during that eight-game, seven-win stretch for the Bulldogs was against the Knights, at Hunter Stadium in Round 10. The Bulldogs were well in the game at halftime, trailing 12-8, but were outscored 32-0 in the second half of a 44-8 loss. In another example of how wacky form can be, the Knights lost four straight after beating the Bulldogs.
The Knights only returned to the winning list last weekend, when they thrashed the Titans 46-16 at home. It was 36-0 at halftime. The pressure is now on the Knights to back up that performance in this game, because several times this season they have won big only to lose big the following week. That sort of form must be a huge source of frustration for everyone at the club.
Origin players Josh Morris and Josh Reynolds come back in at centre and five-eighth respectively for the Bulldogs, replacing Tim Lafai and Joel Romelo. Martin Taupau is added to what is a five-man bench.
Korbin Sims has been added to what is a five-man bench for the Knights, who are otherwise unchanged.
Watch Out Bulldogs: The Knights’ halves are in form. Jarrod Mullen scored a try and had one line-break and one offload against the Titans. He has made a line-break in each of his past three games. Tyrone Roberts scored a try and had a line-break and an offload against the Titans.
Watch Out Knights: In the loss to the Roosters, Barba scored a try and had one line-break and four offloads, and it is only natural he will be up for this game because it is being played in his old backyard. That makes him an enormous threat.
Plays To Watch: The Bulldogs have been getting their short passing game going through their big forwards, including Frank Pritchard, Aiden Tolman, James Graham. It’s starting to put opposition sides under pressure. Knights wingers James McManus and Akuila Uate have scored 15 and eight tries respectively this season. Mullen knows how to get to them quickly and accurately, through sharp passing movements and great kicking.
Where It Will Be Won: Both teams have some dynamite in the backs, but while the Bulldogs’ forwards contribute with tries, there isn’t much try-scoring coming from the Knights’ forwards. That could make a big difference here. Pritchard, with three tries from the second row this season, is a particular threat.
The History: Played 38; Bulldogs 19, Knights 18, drawn 1. The Knights have won six of the past 10 clashes, including two of the past three.
Match Officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Jared Maxwell; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Luke Potter; Video Referees – Steve Clark & Justin Morgan.
NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone, iPad or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.
Televised: Channel Nine – delayed, 4pm.
The Way We See It: It’s hard to trust the Knights coming off a big win. Their form in such circumstances this season is inexplicably poor. It’s also hard to go past the Barba factor in Mackay. The Bulldogs will get all the love from the crowd, and that always helps. Bulldogs by 10 points.