Schick Hydro Preview: Newcastle Knights v South Sydney Rabbitohs
It's that time of the year again when the Newcastle Knights' form is thrown out the window because Old Boys Day is upon us.
The Knights have spent over four months in the losers' circle but none of that matters when the club's legends are in town, with Newcastle winning 12 of their last 16 final games of a season at Hunter Stadium.
The club's ex-players would've been proud for 55 minutes of the Knights' loss to the Titans in Round 24. It's just a shame the first 25 were not up to standard.
Newcastle will aim to rectify that with the return of veteran playmaker Jarrod Mullen, who comes in for Will Pearsall. Cory Denniss replaces the suspended Nathan Ross on the wing while Sione Mata'utia returns in the back row at the expense of Mickey Paea.
Knights hooker Danny Levi will miss out on farewelling retiring co-captain Jeremy Smith after undergoing back surgery on Monday. Pat Mata'utia replaces him on the bench.
South Sydney are certainly no easy beats and are coming off a massive fortnight of wins over finals hopefuls Cronulla and the Warriors.
Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire has named an unchanged 17 but will bring along an extended bench of Zane Musgrove, Dave Tyrrell and Cameron McInnes for Souths' first trip to Newcastle in four years.
Watch out Knights: All four of the Titans' tries came from forwards, through simple hit-ups and plays, against Newcastle. Ryan James, Chris McQueen and Luke Douglas are excellent players in their own right but they're no Sam Burgess. The England international was at his destructive best against Cronulla (181 metres, 50 tackles).
Watch out Rabbitohs: One positive for Newcastle remains the rising star of Queensland representative Dane Gagai. The 25-year-old's form took a hit earlier this year when he was shifted to fullback. But since moving back to the centres Gagai has been a man on a mission. Against the Titans last week Gagai held steady in defence up against cousin Josh Hoffman and broke 14 tackles with the ball in hand.
Key Match-Up: Tyler Randell v Damien Cook – Cook has been a rock for the Rabbitohs over the past fortnight. With halfback Adam Reynolds failing to finish his past two games, Cook has had to take control of the Rabbitohs' attack from dummy half. Cook is finally hitting his straps and he'll come up against Tyler Randell, who is likely to play the entire 80 minutes for the first time since Round 1 in Danny Levi's absence.
The History: Played 38; Knights 25, Rabbitohs 13. The Knights have lost their past six games to the Rabbitohs dating back to Round 18, 2012. They last faced off in March where Souths emerged 48-6 victors. Coincidentally, while the Knights' Old Boys Day record is amazing, the last time the Rabbitohs played at Hunter Stadium (in 2012) they ruined Newcastle's final home game celebrations with an 18-6 win.
What are the Odds: Nine out of every 10 bets have been on South Sydney according to Sportsbet. Rabbitohs 13-plus is the way punters are going. There's not even any love for the Knights at the line. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Henry Perenara. Assistant Referee: Jon Stone. Sideline Officials: Dave Ryan and Clayton Sharpe.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live Coverage from 3:30pm; Fox Sports 1 – Live Coverage from 4pm.
The way we see it: The Rabbitohs have bucked the Old Boys Day trend before and they're in good enough form to do it again. Newcastle have lost their past 16 games and recent form suggests they won't be able to contend with South Sydney's recent defensive dexterity. Souths have beaten finals hopefuls the Sharks and Warriors over the past fortnight, and should have no issues dealing with the Knights. Souths by 10 points.
Game on. Data off.
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