Warriors v Knights
Mt Smart Stadium
Down on form and luck over the past two months, the last thing Newcastle Knights coach Rick Stone wants to be doing is travelling to Auckland to face the Warriors this weekend.
With just a single win since Round 4 the Knights are struggling for answers and know the job won't get any easier this Sunday at Mt Smart Stadium, against a Kiwi outfit who are growing in confidence after a couple of recent gritty wins.
The Warriors will have appreciated the week off for the bye, with several players – particularly their back row – playing big minutes through the opening 10 rounds of the Telstra Premiership.
Neither side will be hurt too badly by the Origin clash mid-week, with Jacob Lillyman and Ryan Hoffman the only Warriors involved and the Knights having just Beau Scott backing up.
Both Adam Clydsdale and Jeremy Smith return to the Newcastle side as well, which sees Clint Newton, Chad Redman and Pat Vaivai all drop out.
Warriors coach Andrew McFadden welcomes back the experienced duo of Manu Vatuvei and Sam Tomkins, while local juniors Sebastine Ikahihifo and Siliva Havili are named on the bench.
Watch out Warriors: Periods of poor defence and concentration have been the story of the Warriors' season, and only pieces of individual brilliance saved them from defeat in their last two encounters. Get out of jail free cards are rare in the NRL, and Mannering and Co need to perform better and not rely on one against Newcastle.
The Knights were strong through the opening 40 minutes last week, leading 18-10 at the break and outplaying the Broncos in most areas of the game. If they can repeat that against the Warriors – minus the second-half collapse – they will be tough to match.
Watch out Knights: Warriors halves Shaun Johnson and Chad Townsend have been on fire in their last two matches, running the ball a combined 38 times for 296 metres. They have been deadly when tucking the ball under the wing, and equally dangerous when they hand it off; Townsend has two try assists in the last two games, and Johnson one assist with a brace of tries for himself.
The Warriors get two of their best attacking weapons back this week in Tomkins and Vatuvei, which makes them a much tougher opponent across the board. With his high involvement on the ball Tomkins takes responsibility away from the halves and allows them to play what they see, while Vatuvei is the number one target anytime the Warriors enter the attacking 20.
Key Match-Up: Manu Vatuvei v Akuila Uate. The all-time leading try scorers for their respective clubs, the powerful duo will mark up on each other this weekend in a clash which always gets the punters excited. Vatuvei has been in career-best form so far in 2015, with seven tries and an average of 140 running metres per game. On the right edge for the Knights Uate has proved one of their most dangerous attacking options, averaging 139 metres and breaking the line on seven occasions in 2015.
The History: Played 33; Knights 17, Warriors 15, drawn 1. The overall head-to-head battle is fairly even, with the Knights grabbing the advantage thanks to victories in their last two meetings with the Warriors. Prior to that however Newcastle had little luck against the New Zealanders, and in 13 games since 2008 they have just four wins.
What Are The Odds: The Warriors are heavy favourites with Sportsbet, but there's more money invested on the Knights' away from home as customers sniff around for some value. It comes as little surprise that big Manu Vatuvei has been extremely well backed in first try scorer betting.
Did You Know: If Newcastle can secure victory this weekend it will make three in a row against the Warriors, something they haven't achieved since back in the 2003/04 seasons. Since that period the Knights have only won six games against the Warriors, and their head-to-head record against the New Zealand side is among their worst in the competition.
Match Officials: Referee: Ben Cummins. Assistant Referee: David Munro. Touch Judges: Rick MacFarlane and Anthony Eliott. Video Referees: Matt Cecchin and Daniel Irvine.
Televised: Sky Sport – Live from 4.00pm NZT. Fox Sports – Live from 2.00pm AEDT.
The Way We See It: The Knights have just one victory since Round 4, and while they were good for 40 minutes last week there isn't much to suggest they will leave Auckland with the two points on Sunday. The Warriors are growing in confidence after back-to-back wins, and head into this clash fresh off a bye week. Warriors by 16.