Schick Hydro Preview: Newcastle Knights v Wests Tigers
Only points differential was the difference between these teams last season, while Newcastle finished with the wooden spoon, when it came to facing the Wests Tigers they beat them not once but twice.
Both wins last year coincidentally ended lengthy Knights losing runs. Considering they have lost six of their past seven games (the remaining game being a draw) history could very well repeat for the third consecutive time on Sunday afternoon.
The Tigers are facing similar woes of their own – having lost their past three games – but will certainly be up for this one in what is halfback Luke Brooks's 50th NRL game. They'll also welcome the return of Curtis Sironen (hamstring) on their bench, in place of Manaia Cherrington.
Newcastle has a card up their sleeve in the form of co-captain Tariq Sims, who has been named to return from a five-game suspension in the back row. Jacob Saifiti will play from the bench.
Watch out Knights: Tigers fans feared the worst when James Tedesco was carried off within a minute of their last start clash against the Sharks. Those fears were allayed 15 minutes later when the fullback returned and quickly laid on a try for David Nofoaluma. Tedesco has been in irresistible form to start the season and will be the man to stop if Newcastle are to get their first win of the season.
Watch out Wests Tigers: Sims's two seasons at the Knights so far have begun with suspensions. Last year his return coincided with the end of Newcastle's early four-game winning streak. Considering the Knights are yet to win in 2016, many Novocastrians are hoping for the opposite effect from his return.
Key Match-Up: Aaron Woods v Sam Mataora – Despite his team's very ordinary start to the year Sam Mataora has been one of the NRL's most improved players. This weekend will prove his biggest test so far especially when it comes to facing Tigers skipper Aaron Woods. Besides outside backs Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Josh Mansour, Woods has averaged the most metres per game so far in 2016 (185.2 metres).
The History: Played 21; Knights 11, Wests Tigers 10. Newcastle have beaten the Tigers in four of their past five meetings. It's very rare these two actually meet in Sydney meaning wins have come few and far between for the Tigers at Hunter Stadium – their last Newcastle victory coming in 2010.
What are the Odds: Sportsbet reports slightly more investment on the Tigers however both sides have been backed to win 1-12 so we could be in for a tight one. Tedesco is the best backed in the first try scorer market as usual. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au: http://www.sportsbet.com.au/betting/rugby-league/
Match Officials: Referee: Gavin Badger. Assistant Referee: Chris Butler. Sideline Officials: Michael Wise and Ricky MacFarlane.
Televised: Channel 9 – Live coverage from 3:30pm; Fox Sports 1 – Live coverage from 4pm
The way we see it: Newcastle have shown glimpses in the past fortnight against the Warriors and Melbourne to suggest they're slowly building to a maiden victory. Don't discount the Tigers however. They proved in the opening fortnight of the year they can be very dangerous. Picking a winner of this particular clash is a difficult task for a plethora of reasons, but an upset could be on the cards. Newcastle by 2.