Panthers v Knights preview
Penrith Panthers v Newcastle Knights
People laugh at the concept of the 'Spoonbowl'. The Newcastle Knights have played out games matching that description – between teams running second-last and last – twice this year (against the Titans in Round 19, and Wests Tigers in Round 23) and have come out victors both times.
But it hasn't been enough to lift them off the foot off the ladder.
For the third time this season Newcastle will participate in a wooden spoon battle, this time against an equally desperate Penrith Panthers team.
Whoever loses this match will take little solace in being the most successful cellar-dwelling team in history, matching the 20 competition points managed by the Knights themselves in 2005.
The Panthers are unchanged following last week's huge loss to the Raiders, though injury clouds remain over Bryce Cartwright (lacerated kidney) and Jamie Soward (concussion).
They will also celebrate David Simmons 200th and final NRL game, with Lewis Brown running out for game 150 before he heads to the Sea Eagles.
Beau Scott will also play his 200th NRL game before he departs Newcastle for Parramatta, while Adam Clydsdale who returns from illness at the expense of Danny Levi at hooker.
Watch out Panthers: If it weren't for departing captain Kurt Gidley, Newcastle wouldn't have gone close against the Bulldogs last week. Gidley's short kicking game to force a couple of drop outs was top class, and he scored a solo try and provided a try assist as well in his Knights final game on home turf.
Watch out Knights: Spotted at Hunter Stadium during Old Boys Day last weekend, Newcastle junior and Panthers utility Will Smith will have to lift to new heights in his career against his former team if Soward was to be ruled out. A threat at fullback since the season-ending injuries of Matt Moylan and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Smith is averaging 119.3 metres and four tackle breaks per game and also has six try assists this season.
Key Match-Up: Isaah Yeo v Chris Houston. Lock isn't either player's usual position but Panther Issah Yeo and Knight Chris Houston are sure making a decent fist of it this season. Against Canberra, Yeo ran for 118 metres and made 36 tackles. Similarly – in the absence of regular No.13 Jeremy Smith – Houston punched out 133 metres and 40 tackles in just 55 minutes on the field. With these two tightening the screws in the middle of their respective packs, it'll be interesting to see who cracks first.
The History: Played 41; Panthers 15, Knights 23, Draw 3. Bar their two losses to the Panthers last year the Knights have recent history in their favour. Since 2011 Newcastle have won six of their past eight against the Panthers, including their most recent game back in Round 4 when they beat Penrith 26-14 at Hunter Stadium.
What are the Odds: Sportsbet reports three times the number of individual bets placed on Newcastle in this match-up, and Knights winning 13-plus is the most popular margin according to punters. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee – Gavin Reynolds; Assistant Referee – Adam Gee; Sideline Officials – David Ryan & Lawrence McDonell; Video Referees – Steve Clark and Steve Folkes.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 (Live) – 3:00pm
The Way We See It: If Jamie Soward and Bryce Cartwright are ruled out as expected, you can probably put a fork in the Panthers for season 2015. Considering their short turnaround and the fact Newcastle are in pretty good form, the Panthers may very well go from preliminary finalist one year to the bottom rung of the NRL Telstra Premiership the next. Knights by eight points.