Knights v Dragons preview

Knights v Dragons
Hunter Stadium
Sunday 2pm

We are optimists here at NRL.com so Dragons fans we have to ask – do you believe in miracles?

If the Broncos and Warriors lose by 50 and the Eels straight up lose to Canberra, and your team beats Newcastle by 80 (give or take) then the Red V is on its way to the finals!

Ok, so this game is a dead rubber. But that won't stop these two combatants from going hammer and tongs to try and close out their respective seasons with a win.

Having not played each other in 2014 it has been hard to gauge how these two will shape up but if history is anything to go by then Newcastle will have to work hard to earn their first win over the Red V for the first time since 2011.

The Dragons will have to overcome some of Newcastle's own streaks though. The Knights have won their past four games at Hunter Stadium and seven of their last 10. This game is as wide open as they come on what is Newcastle's traditional Old Boys Day.

Newcastle will welcome back Travis Waddell in place of last week's debutant Tyler Randell, with Adam Clydsdale named in the starting team. As well as Old Boys Day, the Knights will also celebrate centre Joey Leilua's 100th appearance in the NRL.

With Ben Creagh injuring his ankle – an injury that requires surgery – pommy prop Mike Cooper will start in his captain's place with Bronson Harrison coming onto the bench. Jack de Belin also moves to the back row which means Tyson Frizell moves up front and Leeson Ah Mau shifts back to the pine.  Mitch Rein's one-week suspension will see Kyle Stanley move to hooker with Shane Pumipi also earning a recall on the interchange.

Watch out Knights: Benji Marshall has toned down the flashier parts of his game this season and is now proving a reliable link between the edge players and the Red V forwards, but the Benji magic of old still pops up every now and again. With their season now dead and buried, we may see a no-holds-barred attitude from the former Kiwi Test captain provide some extra spark.

And despite rumours back-rower Joel Thompson might be on his way back home to the Canberra Raiders next season, the 100-game veteran is still trying his absolute hardest for the Dragons. Thompson played arguably his best game in the Red V jumper last round, including a runaway try, try assist, 161 metres, three tackle breaks and 21 tackles.

Watch out Dragons: You couldn't blame Dragons centre Peter Mata'utia for being slightly jealous considering his younger brothers, Knights wingers Chanel and Sione, are currently the talk of the town in Newcastle. Peter, who left the Knights for greener pastures in Sydney at the end of last season, will have to be ready for his siblings to continue their onslaught considering they have scored 10 tries between them in 12 games.

To be fair, much of the Mata'utia brothers' success has come on the back of Knights centre pairing Joey Leilua and Dane Gagai. Only 22 and 23 years old respectively, these two have a bright future ahead of them. Last weekend alone against Parramatta, they combined for a total of 302 metres, 12 tackle breaks and four try assists.

Plays to Watch: Newcastle's recent surge in form, especially against some of the giants in the competition, has coincided with their surge of successful offloads. Against the Eels alone last weekend the Knights threw 25 offloads with two of them proving vital for Gagai's fingertip grab of the footy from a Beau Scott offload which consequently allowed for the young centre to pass it off for Chanel Mata'utia to score his second try of the afternoon.

The Dragons' kicking game proved vital at different times against Brisbane in Round 25. Jason Nightingale scored his 16th try of season early last round when he outleapt Daniel Vidot while another kick towards the same wing lead to Josh Dugan getting his team back in the hunt late in the fixture. With the Mata'utia brothers relatively new to the competition expect them to be tested by kicks from Gareth Widdop and Marshall.   

Where It Will Be Won: Mindset is a fickle thing. The Knights have known for quite a while now that their finals chances are long gone whereas the Dragons are heading into their first dead rubber of the year. The Red V will have to get over any qualms quickly if they want to finish their season on high; Newcastle in this instance will need to keep themselves grounded if they are to continue their streak of home wins leading into 2015.

The History: Played 28; Knights 9, Dragons 19. Newcastle have typically struggled against the Dragons in the past decade. Since 2004, the Knights have won just four times with their most recent victory coming in 2011. These teams last played 15 months ago in Round 13, 2013 when the Red V came up with a 14-8 win at Hunter Stadium.

What Are The Odds: Money coming in two to one for the Dragons despite Newcastle’s big win at home last weekend. Sportsbet reports a stack of bets being placed on St George-Illawarra at the line, receiving four points. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.

Match Officials: Referees – Adam Devcich & Dave Munro; Touch Judges – Dan Eastwood & Luke Potter; Video Referees – Matt Cecchin & Steve Folkes.

Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live, 2pm.

The Way We See It: Newcastle players have been saying since they beat the Sydney Roosters back in Round 20 that their goal for the remainder of the year was to keep the home fans happy by winning their remaining games at Hunter Stadium. So far, they have done that and they'll be up for it again on Old Boys Day. Knights by 14 points.