Schick Hydro Preview: Newcastle Knights v Penrith Panthers
McDonald Jones Stadium
Two sides that tasted their first victory in over a month have the chance to make it back-to-back for the first time this season heading into their first bye.
Newcastle's 14-point win over the Raiders was impressive and it was the second time the Knights had won a possession count and completed at over 85 per cent – the other was in the victory over the Titans back in Round 2.
Penrith were forced to enter the record books and deliver a miracle comeback over the Warriors after trailing 28-6 at the break – the victory giving them some momentum heading into the State of Origin period.
For representative hopefuls Trent Merrin and James Tamou this will be the final chance to impress coach Laurie Daley for Blues selection, while Panthers skipper Matt Moylan can also put his name on the front-line with a strong performance on Sunday.
Newcastle prop-forward Daniel Saifiti has been enormous for the club in recent weeks and along with back-rower Sione Mata'utia has shown why they're both already involved in representative football at just 21 and 20 years old respectively.
The Knights welcome back lock forward Mitchell Barnett after a rapid recovery from an ankle injury, while Queensland representative Dane Gagai has been retained in the fullback role with Englishmen Joe Wardle named to line-up in the centres.
Sam Stone also returns in the No.12 jersey in place of Lachlan Fitzgibbon who suffered a knee injury in the win over the Raiders.
For Penrith, James Fisher-Harris has succumbed to a hamstring strain with young rookie Corey Harawira-Naera taking his place in the starting side.
Panthers coach Anthony Griffin has stuck with Bryce Cartwright and Nathan Cleary once more in the halves with Te Maire Martin named in the reserves.
Why the Knights can win: Home is where the heart is and the Knights have won their only three games in the last two seasons in front of the parochial home crowd. Defensively Nathan Brown's men have improved at McDonald Jones Stadium and have been in every game in the past five clashes. Newcastle conceded on average 31.5 points on home turf last year but that figure has dropped to 23.2 at the venue this season. Considering the Panthers have conceded an average of 24.4 points per game on the road so far in 2017, the Novocastrians should be giving themselves every chance despite a blowout 40-0 scoreline the last time the two sides met at Pepper Stadium.
Why the Panthers can win: Second halves have been an issue for the Knights prior to their win over the Raiders. On the flipside, Penrith have come out firing in recent rounds against the Warriors and Broncos at the backend to pile on points. Newcastle have blown four half-time leads this season and have conceded seven tries in the final 10 minutes of games, in comparison with the Panthers' three in 2017.
The history: Played 44; Knights 23; Panthers 18; Drawn 3.
Newcastle holds an overall lead off the back of a dominant record in the early 2000s between the two sides, however Penrith have won five of the last six clashes and have scored 40+ points in the two most recent outings.
What are the odds: Sportsbet punters seem to be a bit concerned about taking Penrith at such a short price and have actually seen more money wagered on Newcastle in the head-to-head market. It's all the Knights in the handicap betting where they're receiving a very handy points start. Latest odds at sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Referee: David Munro. Assistant referee: Chris James. Touch judges: Ricky McFarlane and Adam Reid. Review Officials: Luke Patten and Jared Maxwell.
Televised: Fox League – Live from 2:00pm.
NRL.com predicts: After last week's mighty effort to knock off the Raiders, you have to give the Knights a good chance to put on a repeat performance. However Penrith showed in the second half against the Warriors that when they're on… they're on. With the Panthers recent record over the Novocastrians and their dominance over them back in Round 2, it is hard anything but a victory to the visitors. Panthers by 12.