Newcastle Knights v St George Illawarra Dragons
The ladder-leading, undefeated Knights face off against the St George Illawarra Dragons this weekend at Newcastle's Hunter Stadium for an honour both clubs are sure to fight hammer-and-tongs for.
You see, the Knights and Dragons will play for the inaugural Alex McKinnon Cup on Easter Saturday to recognise McKinnon's contributions to both clubs.
The Cup will go up for grabs on the first occasion these two clubs meet each season from now on, and will only add to the existing rivalry between these teams as the Dragons look to avenge their 40-10 loss to the Knights in Round 26 last year.
In team news, Tariq Sims will make his long-awaited Newcastle debut, with his five-game suspension finally coming to an end, in place of Joseph Tapine. James McManus also returns with Sione Mata'utia dropping back to 18th man.
The Dragons remain unchanged from last weekend's win over the Sea Eagles. Knights winger Akuila Uate is one try away from racking up 100 four-pointers in the NRL.
Watch out Knights: Defence wins games is how the saying goes and it never rung truer than in the Dragons' win over the Sea Eagles last weekend. However if it weren't for one Josh Dugan the Red V would be staring down the barrel of a 1-4 start to the year. Against Manly, Dugan was responsible for setting up the Red V's one and only try while his 222 metres and seven tackles breaks from the back weren't too shabby either.
Watch out Dragons: If Newcastle's bullying of Penrith's halves last round was any indication then maybe this segment should be renamed "Watch out Benji and Widdop because Beau Scott is coming for you". With Scott showcasing his thunderous impact in pressuring opposition playmakers, the Red V halves will need to be fleet-footed around the Knights enforcer or otherwise risk their health.
Key Match-Up: Proving points – Jack Stockwell v Paul McGregor: Newcastle recruit and former Dragons prop Jack Stockwell has a point to prove against his former club. Happily let go by relatively new Red V coach Paul McGregor, Stockwell would've arrived in the Hunter with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. At just 23, Stockwell has remarkably played 41 NRL games already and considering he is averaging 82.1 metres and 27.8 tackles off the bench this year, McGregor may start to regret his off-season decision.
The History: Played 29, Knights 10, Dragons 19. Newcastle's 40-10 victory in Round 26 last year was their first over the Red V since 2011. In fact the Knights have only won five of their past 18 meetings against St George Illawarra. You have to go way back to Round 25, 2003 to track down the last time Newcastle won consecutive matches against this week's opponents.
What are the Odds: Back-to-back wins have Sportsbet customers interested in the Dragons at their juicy price. There's almost as much money on St George Illawarra as there is on the Knights. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee – Gavin Badger; Assistant Referee – Chris Sutton; Sideline Officials – Rick MacFarlane and David Ryan; Video Referees – Steve Clark and Luke Patten.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live (7:30pm)
The Way We See It: Newcastle at home, having won their past seven games there, is quickly becoming an improbable task for opposing teams. At this rate they are well on their way to making Hunter Stadium a fortress once again. Considering the Dragons have kicked off their season in such an inconsistent manner, they'll find it hard to topple the re-energised Knights. Newcastle by 14 points.