Knights v Panthers preview
Newcastle Knights v Penrith Panthers
Despite trailing in every game so far, the Newcastle Knights are somehow undefeated after three weeks and will look to continue their impressive winning streak against the Penrith Panthers on Saturday afternoon.
Including the backend of the 2014 season, Newcastle have won their past five games and 11 of their last 14 – including their last six games at home.
Yet their biggest test now lies in the Panthers.
Even without lynchpin Jamie Soward, Penrith remained impressive against a full-strength Roosters outfit on Monday night despite finishing the game on the wrong end of the scoreboard. They've named an unchanged side this week.
The home side has been forced into making one change following Korbin Sims's two-match suspension. David Fa'alogo will start at prop while Paterika Vaivai will come onto the bench for Newcastle. Tyler Randell has also been named though Sione Mata'utia is favoured to be in the final 17. Akuila Uate requires two more tries to reach the century mark.
Watch out Knights: Wingers are usually the least of a team's worries but when you're faced with the challenge of Josh Mansour then you have to change your tune very quickly. Mansour was a man on a mission in his return to the NRL in Round 3. Now with four Tests for Australia to his name, Mansour has taken plenty of his confidence from his 2014 Four Nations tournament and it showed last week when he produced 219 metres, nine tackle breaks and a brilliant try assist for his centre Jamal Idris.
Watch out Panthers: It's unusual to see a fullback come up with 30 tackles in a game. But considering Newcastle's current tactic of shifting Kurt Gidley to hooker when Mata'utia replaces starting dummy-half Adam Clydsdale, it becomes understandable. Gidley well and truly earned man-of-match honours against the Titans last week, and with his hamstring qualms improving by the day expect the same kind of influence from the Knights legend in this one.
Key Match-Up: Dane Gagai vs. Jamal Idris. These tackle-busting centres will be readying themselves for an absolutely outstanding showdown. Combining for a ridiculous seven tries in the first three rounds of the season, Idris and Gagai should expect plenty of traffic in both attack and defence considering they're both key mens for their teams. Gagai (18 tackle breaks; second in the NRL) and Idris (15 tackle breaks; equal fourth) will give each other plenty of headaches in defence, though Gagai has been getting through more work with the ball in hand with double the yardage of his opponent so far this season.
The History: Played 40; Knights 22, Panthers 15, Drawn 3. Newcastle didn't go close to getting a win against the Panthers in 2014. Facing off in Rounds 1 and 9, Penrith disposed of Newcastle by 22 points each time in what was a lean period for the Knights. However before then, Penrith hadn't beaten Newcastle since 2010.
What are the Odds: Newcastle may be unbeaten and at home but Sportsbet customers are all over the Panthers at $1.85 in head-to-head betting. The money is running three to one in favour of Penrith despite their shorter turnaround and again being without Jamie Soward. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee – Jared Maxwell; Assistant Referee – Gavin Morris; Sideline Officials – Russell Turner and Jon Stone; Video Referees – Steve Clark and Luke Phillips.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live (3:00pm)
The Way We See It: Penrith's loss in Round 3 proved how important Soward is to the Panthers' fortunes. Matt Moylan wasn't half as effective as he is with his usual five-eighth by his side – something Isaac John will have to sort out quick smart. Considering how strong Newcastle has been at home in recent times, an upset may be on the cards. Newcastle by two points.