Newcastle Knights v Sydney Roosters preview
The Danny Buderus era at the Knights began with plenty of positives last weekend, when Newcastle faced the Dragons. That was, until half-time. Outscored 32-4 in the second half by the Red V, the Knights at least set themselves a platform to work from in the first 40 minutes for their remaining five games.
Unlike their opponents, the Roosters kept the good times rolling when they won their seventh consecutive match last Friday night against the Bulldogs. Uncharacteristically conceding 28 points after being up 22-0, the Roosters will be looking for a more steely performance against the Knights.
A stat of note lies in the fact the Roosters have allowed just 240 points past them this season, a whole 260 points fewer than the Knights.
Though they are clear favourites to win, the Roosters will have to make do without Sam Moa who dislocated his wrist last round, replaced by Isaac Liu on the bench. Shaun Kenny-Dowall also replaces Brendan Elliot on the wing.
As for the home team, Tariq Sims and David Fa'alogo return in the back row and on the bench respectively. Their inclusion means Chris Houston drops back to the bench while Joe Tapine and Lachlan Fitzgibbon return to NSW Cup in what is also Korbin Sims's 50th NRL game.
Watch out Knights: From their ridiculous back five including Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Blake Ferguson, to their halves Mitchell Pearce and James Maloney who lead a forward pack littered with Origin and International stars, the Knights will have to be wary of absolutely every single Rooster. They aren't competition favourites for no reason.
Watch out Roosters: When these two last played – a shock Newcastle victory late on last year – it was Knights' halfback Tyrone Roberts who stood tall. Much like last time Roberts will have to make do without Jarrod Mullen, a perfect opportunity to improve on his season tally of 25 tackle breaks and two try assists, while also showing he isn't going to give up his Knights' spot to Trent Hodkinson in 2016 without a fight.
Key Match-Up: Dane Gagai v Michael Jennings – The last time these two played one another it was Gagai who stood tall for Queensland in Origin III. Jennings will have to tread carefully around the Knights centre, who is currently averaging 141.2 metres and 3.7 tackle breaks per game. While the Roosters haven't been inclined to throw it to Jennings's left edge lately, it hasn't stopped the veteran from averaging very similar numbers to his upcoming opponent (99 metres, 3.5 tackle breaks per game).
The History: Played 46; Knights 19, Roosters 25, Drawn 2. Apart from their shock 16-12 victory over the Roosters in Round 20 last season, the Knights had previously failed to beat the Tricolours in their past four meetings at an average losing margin of around 19 points.
What are the Odds: The Roosters have been included in a stack of multis with Sportsbet punters, and there are very few people willing to back the Knights at their huge price. Roosters 13-plus is a lock with Sportsbet customers. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Ashley Klein. Assistant Referee: Chris James. Sideline Officials: Jeff Younis and Rohan Best. Video Referees: Matt Cecchin and Luke Patten.
Televised: Channel Nine (Live) – 3:30pm
The Way We See It: Who knows how the Roosters will bounce back from their hard-fought win over the Bulldogs last weekend. Having played a similar game against the Cowboys in the semi finals last year, the Tricolours were a shamble against the Rabbitohs the next week – although the reigning premiers are far superior than the Knights. Newcastle won't die wondering though, and it will be a lot closer than what popular opinion suggests. Roosters by eight points.