Newcastle Knights v Brisbane Broncos preview
With Brisbane missing captain Justin Hodges, Darius Boyd, Corey Parker, Sam Thaiday, Matt Gillett and Josh McGuire for Queensland State of Origin duty, the Knights have an opportunity to grab a greatly needed second-consecutive win.
It seems a perfect opportunity for Newcastle who will only need Joe Tapine to replace Blues back-rower Beau Scott.
While the Broncos are missing six of their stars, coach Wayne Bennett – in his first trip back to the Hunter since leaving last year – has named veteran back-rower David Stagg, centre Dale Copley and winger Daniel Vidot as well as fringe first-graders Jordan Kahu and Joe Ofahengaue in their place.
In fact former Newcastle Holden National Youth Competition graduate Joe Boyce is the only player who will make his NRL debut on Monday night.
Watch out Knights: Sure, the Broncos are vulnerable – a weird thing to say considering they're sitting pretty at third on the NRL Telstra Premiership ladder – but their regular spine is very much intact with Ben Hunt, Anthony Milford and Anthony McCullough, the Broncos have three linchpins who could easily do a job for Queensland. You can throw in Kahu, who has filled in at fullback for the previously injured Boyd for most of the season. Write off the Broncos at your peril.
Watch out Broncos: It's nice to see Tariq Sims finally start to hit his straps. While his long-term suspension acquired before he had even arrived at his new club wasn't ideal, Sims is starting to repay the faith of coach Rick Stone by easily being the Knights best player in their past two games. With Scott absent for this one, expect Sims to rack up more than his usual 125.6 metres and 34.5 tackles per game.
Key Match-Up: Joe Tapine v Joe Boyce – Reflections of Origin: Such is the nature of the State of Origin period – where rookies get a shot to impress on the main stage with the stars away – the match-up between these two former Newcastle Under 20s graduates is something special. In Boyce, you have an NRL debutant who will attempt to best Tapine and another former teammate in Sione Mata'utia. Tapine, who will look to continue building on his 11 first-grade games and average 53.7 metres and 16 tackles per game, will be out to prove he is a suitable replacement for Scott for not only this week but for when he departs for Parramatta at season's end.
The History: Played 43; Knights 13, Broncos 29, Drawn 1. Newcastle are battlers when it comes to beating Brisbane. Since 2007, the Knights have only bested the Broncos four times in 15 attempts, with three of them coming consecutively between seasons 2009 and 2010. In their 10 wins (they drew in 2013) the Broncos have beaten their upcoming opponents eight times by 13 points or more.
What are the Odds: Knights ($1:50) v Broncos ($2:60). The Origin period has historically been tough for Brisbane, but Sportsbet punters are backing them to get past the Knights with four times the cash invested on them. Brisbane 13-plus has been extremely well backed at big odds. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Gavin Badger. Assistant Referee: David Munro. Touch Judges: Steve Carrall and David Ryan. Video Referees: Steve Clark and Steve Folkes.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 (Live) – 7pm
The Way We See It: You can write off the Knights in 2015 if they don't win this one. While the Broncos replacements for their six Origin stars are admirable, the Knights have named enough fire power to best them. With only Scott, Robbie Rochow and Jarrod Mullen missing, we are predicting the Knights will prevail. Newcastle by 14 points.