Knights v Warriors
Shambolic was the word yours truly used to describe the Knights after their 50-10 capitulation to Souths in Round 21. How their fortunes have turned, with a dramatic win over the Storm having all at the Hunter upbeat despite their lowly ladder position.
However, if Newcastle lose to the Warriors on Sunday, their last outing will mean nothing. They must rally against an opponent sitting nicely in the top eight, with firm finals credentials.
While the Warriors were not at their best against the Sharks last weekend, they still came away with a 16-12 win, conceding just two tries in the process. Meanwhile the Knights let in six four-pointers in their win over the Storm. With history on their side against Newcastle over the past five seasons, it will be another tough challenge for the Warriors.
An interesting stat has also been brought to our attention via Andrew Voss on Twitter is the fact that both of these clubs have won five of their past seven games in the NRL. Who will grow their percentage?
In a massive positive for the Warriors, Shaun Johnson has been cleared to return from his groin injury though they will be without Dane Nielsen (concussion) and Tuimoala Lolohea (hamstring). David Fusitu'a and Ben Henry have been named as their replacements. With Johnson back, Thomas Leuluai shifts to hooker with Nathan Friend moving to the bench, while Jayson Bukuya comes into the side in the back row. Ben Matulino moves to back row with Sione Lousi dropping to the interchange and Sebastine Ikahihifo moving to 18th man.
Jarrod Mullen returns for the Knights this weekend in a move that sees captain Kurt Gidley move back to fullback and Sione Mata'utia drop back to the NYC, having overcome a jaw complaint. Beau Scott also returns which sees Chris Houston drop back to the bench while Travis Waddell and Adam Clydsdale switch between the bench and the starting team.
Newcastle will also celebrate Adam Cuthbertson's 50th game as a Knight this weekend.
Watch out Knights: Knights beware: He's back! Shaun Johnson will make his long-awaited return for the Warriors this weekend after finally overcoming a groin complaint. Having missed the past three weeks with said injury, Johnson will be a welcome return to the club that is ever so desperate to make the finals under new coach Andrew McFadden. The Warriors currently sit in sixth spot and are still a possibility of securing a top-four berth. With Johnson at the helm this can only help their cause; the man they call 'Magic' has produced eight tries, nine line breaks, 12 line break assists and 5335 kicking metres in 17 appearances in 2014.
Watch Out Warriors: The Warriors will be pretty nervous walking into Hunter Stadium. Newcastle's miracle comebacks in their past two games at home might be leaving a few Warriors' palms a little sweaty. Countering Johnson's return is the comeback of Knights' half Jarrod Mullen. Mullen has tallied four try assists and four line break assists throughout the season and also brings a much-missed kicking game to proceedings.
Plays To Watch: While the Knights left it late to account for the Storm on the weekend, they did so with a play that didn't appear desperate or frantic despite the fulltime siren sounding in the background. The play started from the left-hand side of the field with Tyrone Roberts who handed it off to Kade Snowden. With David Fa'alogo running a decoy, Snowden passed to Gidley who, with Houston running through as a decoy, passed on for Mata'utia to slip it through the hands to Dane Gagai and then to Uate to score the winner. If they pull it off earlier and regularly then the Knights will pose some threats.
The Warriors engaged a similar shape against the Sharks and it paid off for centre Ngani Laumape twice in their win; Joey Leilua will need to be careful this week with Laumape possessing speed to burn.
Where It Will Be Won: Execution. There were times last weekend when both clubs appeared flat and struggled. It is fair to say the Knights were looking mighty uncertain after they fell to a 12-0 deficit after only 10 minutes against Melbourne, while the Warriors, after going into the sheds 16-6 up against Cronulla, only snuck away with a 16-12 win. These teams have provided a mixed bag this season, so execution will be crucial.
The History: Played 31; Knights 15, Warriors 15, drawn 1. While their current overall history looks an even war since the Warriors came into the competition in 1995, it really has been anything; the Warriors have in fact made up lost for time with plenty of wins since 2009. The Knights have lost seven of their past nine appearances against the Kiwis, including a 38-18 loss at Mt Smart Stadium chalked up in Round 12.
What Are The Odds: The Knights seem to be the flavour of the week with Sportsbet customers – there have been more dollars, and more individual bets on the Knights to beat the Warriors in this match. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match Officials: Referee – Gavin Morris; Assistant Referee –Gavin Reynolds; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Jon Stone; Video Referees – Bernard Sutton & Steve Folkes.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live, 2pm.
The Way We See It: The Warriors struggled at home against the Sharks last weekend and looked extremely flat at different points of the game. While the Knights have battled throughout the year and in recent seasons against the lads from across the ditch, the boys from the Hunter are full of confidence heading into another home game. With a big crowd sure to turn up the Knights should have the edge provided they hit the ground running. Newcastle by four points.