Newcastle Knights v Warriors
Saturday, September 20
Allianz Stadium, 5.15pm
A week after the Knights were crowned Holden Cup minor premiers and the Warriors were elevated into the finals on for-and-against ahead of two other teams after a sideline conversion earned them a draw in Round 26, these two teams put their seasons on the line on Saturday evening.
Clearly the best side in the competition throughout the regular season, the Knights were last week bolstered by the returns of RLPA NYC Player of the Year Sione Mata'utia and Jake Mamo yet were left stunned by the Dragons 30-22 having beaten them convincingly less than seven days earlier.
The Roosters had finished just one point outside the top four but were last week sent packing by the eighth-placed Warriors who ran rampant in racing out to a 44-18 lead before conceding a couple of late tries to win 44-30.
The return of Tuimoala Lolohea from the NSW Cup team to the under-20s provided a great foil for halfback Mason Lino while powerhouse front-rower and co-captain Sam Lisone scored twice.
Knights coach Mick Crawley – the NYC Coach of the Year – has named the same 17 that went down to the Dragons last week with prop James Taylor to start on the bench having made a mid-season switch to the Knights from the Warriors.
Knights: 17 wins, five losses, two draws (1st)
Warriors: 12 wins, 11 losses, one draw (8th)
Joseph Tapine (Knights) v Adam Tuimavave-Gerrard (Warriors)
When Holden Cup defences can be exposed in the manner in which they often are, having powerful ball-runners on the edges who are also capable of playing with the footy are a sure-fire way to try-scoring opportunities. Twenty-year-old Tapine has been given a taste of the NRL this season with seven games in the top grade while Tuimavave-Gerrard is not only adept at getting away on offload on the right edge but also isn't afraid to look for opportunities in the middle, as he showed last weke with his try against the Roosters. If the edges start to get stretched, these two young men will be the ones to slice their way through.
2014 results: Warriors 34 def. Knights 22 (Rd 12); Knights 40 def. Warriors 34 (Rd 22)
Knights coach Mick Crawley: "It was a difficult one for us because we played the Dragons two weeks in a row. We played them at home and beat them comprehensively and as much as I talked about the fact that they were going to be a lot more intense in the semi-final, I don't think the players really realise that until they get out on the field. In the first few minutes it was easy to see that they'd turned up with a totally different mindset and we were struggling to hold on. The last time we had Joe Tapine, Jake Mamo and Sione Mata'utia playing together we played Cronulla who were down the bottom of the ladder and we had a draw. With those three boys we try to let them come back in and just play their role but Sione is naturally a good talker anyway but in our group he doesn't have to do all the talking. The Warriors are big across the park, they run hard, they're athletic and they unload the ball so our defence is going to have to be really strong and we're going to have to look after possession and be more disciplined than we were against the Dragons. When you play the Warriors it's a matter of taking opportunities when they're there and limiting the amount of possession you give them in your end. It's a pretty easy game plan but doing it's going to be a lot tougher than that."
Warriors coach Stacey Jones: "We got into the finals on the back of a sideline conversion from our captain Mason Lino and had a good win last week so there's a bit of confidence and I think we deserved to be in the eight. The biggest thing for us is making sure we're mentally fresh and prepared and you do ride the wave of how good it was to win and to be in Sydney at this time of year and knowing that there are a lot of teams that aren't involved. The Knights are a team that can turn a game real quick and put points on quite easily and we certainly know that they have got some key players that can do some damage. Jake Mamo is a handful, Joseph Tapine is a handful out on their edge, Sione Mata'utia and what he's gained from playing NRL and their hooker Danny Levi, who is central to most of their plays. You're not going to stop him but you can do your best to limit what he can do."
Knights: 1. Jake Mamo, 2. Bryce Donovan, 3. Sione Mata’utia, 4. Chance Peni, 5. Braden Robson, 6. Brock Lamb, 7. Jaelen Feeney, 8. Jah Pakau, 9. Danny Levi (c), 10. Luke Yates, 11. Lachlan Fitzgibbon, 12. Joseph Tapine, 13. Joseph Boyce. Interchange: 14. James De Saxe, 15. Pride Petterson-Robati, 16. Tuiala Togitasi, 17. James Taylor.
Warriors: 1. Brad Abbey, 2. Ngataua Hukatai, 3. Nathaniel Roache, 4. Solomone Kata, 5. Metia Lisati, 6. Tuimoala Lolohea, 7. Mason Lino, 8. Sam Lisone, 9. Kurt Robinson, 10. Kouma Samson, 11. Marata Niukore, 12. Adam Tuimavave-Gerrard, 13. Jazz Tevaga. Interchange: 14. James Bell, 15. Toafofoa Sipley, 16. Ken Maumalo, 17. Iulio Afoa, 20. Ofahiki Ogen.