Schick Hydro Preview: Newcastle Knights v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
If it's any consolation for the Knights, the Bulldogs are quite vulnerable at the minute.
Canterbury were soundly beaten by reigning premiers North Queensland a fortnight ago and managed to get away with the two competition points against St George Illawarra last week thanks to a defensive display that was at times both questionable and amazing.
The Bulldogs will be without Greg Eastwood, with Raymond Faitala-Mariner slated to start in the back row and Tony Williams named on the bench.
They'll come up against a Knights outfit desperate to avoid an outright club record for most consecutive defeats. They equalled the feat following their 36-16 loss to the Sea Eagles in Round 21 of the NRL Telstra Premiership.
The Knights will welcome back veteran five-eighth Jarrod Mullen at the expense of Jack Cogger. A new-look front-row partnership of Sam Mataora and Daniel Saifiti sees Korbin Sims shift to the back row.
Josh King is out while David Bhana will join usual centre Pat Mata'utia on a five-man Newcastle interchange.
Watch out Knights: The Knights' edge defence has been deplorable of late. Combined, their edges this year have conceded 88 tries (50 on the left, 38 right). Life has been difficult for wingers Nathan Ross and Brendan Elliot of late and they'll have to be on high alert this weekend, with the Bulldogs scoring 44 of their 72 tries (61 per cent) on opposition edges.
Watch out Bulldogs: Knights co-captain Trent Hodkinson will face off against his former Bulldogs teammates for the first time. Coincidentally the last time he played for them was when he broke his arm in Newcastle last year. Hodkinson has been unfairly criticised for the Knights' poor form in different circles this year with there being no better time for him to prove his worth than against his former club.
Key match-up: Jarrod Mullen v Josh Reynolds – Mullen has only played 10 times this year due to separate hamstring issues. Regardless his experience is felt (and much needed) within the Knights' inexperienced 17 when he does play. The one-time NSW Origin representative has produced six try assists this year, a mean feat considering Newcastle's lack of four-pointers and his lack of game time. In comparison Reynolds has racked up 10 try assists (in 19 games) as he shares the workload with fellow playmaker Moses Mbye.
The history: Played 42; Knights 20, Bulldogs 21, Drawn 1. The Bulldogs have won their past two games against the Knights, including their 20-18 win in Round 25, 2015. Prior to the Bulldogs' recent winning run, the Knights were a thorn in their side. The Knights eliminated the Bulldogs from the 2013 finals series and beat them twice earlier that year.
What are the odds: Sportsbet has found it difficult to take a bet on Newcastle, with 95 per cent of the money being invested on the Bulldogs at a very short price. They have been included as a lock in multi bets while Bulldogs 13-plus has been more popular than all of the other margin options combined. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match Officials: Referee: Henry Perenara. Assistant Referee: Chris Butler. Sideline Officials: Rohan Best and Belinda Sleeman.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live Coverage from 2:35pm.
The way we see it: If the Bulldogs want to be viewed as serious top four contenders then they must make light work of the Knights. The Bulldogs currently sit at fifth and will likely remain there if they can't string consecutive wins together. Unfortunately for Newcastle, a loss here would result in a new club record for their biggest losing streak. Bulldogs by 10 points.