Knights get Pearce era underway on winning note
We may be barely a week into February but already we have some football to dissect, with plenty of talking points to come from Newcastle's 26-22 win over the Storm at AAMI Park on Wednesday. Here's what you need to know if you're playing NRL Fantasy, presented by Youi.
Trimmed-down Kasiano fine for round one
A minor ankle injury is not expected to prevent Storm recruit Sam Kasiano from featuring in the club's season opener in Perth against his old club Canterbury.
The former Bulldogs behemoth has never been much of a Fantasy scorer, due in large part to his role as a bench impact weapon who rarely accrues big numbers in either carries or tackles in his limited minutes. However some Fantasy coaches who have spied pics of a trimmed-down Kasiano on social media through the off-season have been eyeing the talented Samoa prop as a possible low-range cash cow.
Those plans were at risk of being put on ice after Kasiano picked up a minor ankle injury against the Knights. However the club said the front-rower – who is a big chance of a spot somewhere in coach Craig Bellamy's 17 for round one – suffered no structural damage and while he is expected to miss next week's World Club Challenge against Leeds he should be fit to face the Bulldogs.
Watson and Pearce to start the season
Although Knights coach Nathan Brown could have opted for a Mitch Pearce-Brock Lamb halves combination with Connor Watson as utility, he has chosen the two former Roosters as his first-choice halves to start the season. Brown told The Daily Telegraph after the game that Pearce and Watson were locked in for round one.
The pair played the first half together before being replaced by Brock Lamb and Jack Cogger. Watson spent 20 minutes at fullback before joining Pearce on the bench in what could be an indication that any injury to Kalyn Ponga could hand Brock Lamb a halves lifeline with Watson to shift to the back.
For his part, Pearce did everything his coach could have asked in an opening 40 minute hit-out, laying on two tries and regularly testing the defence with sharp runs.
Sky's the limit for Ponga
Prodigiously talented teenager Kalyn Ponga was already on the radar of plenty of coaches but it was nothing but good news for prospective owners on Wednesday.
Ponga scored one try (from a deftly weighted Mitchell Pearce grubber) and assumed goal-kicking duties, booting two goals from three attempts. The former Cowboy is well above basement price due to some periods of heavy scoring in 2017 but his price also includes a injury-affected -4 on the wing in his last game, as well as being discounted for only having played seven matches.
The early signs from the Storm trial are that not only will he be an 80-minute fullback – as expected – but will be first-choice goal-kicker in Lamb's absence and likely have plenty of chances at four-pointers in 2018 as well.
Fitzgibbon still runs good lines
One of 2017's breakout Fantasy stars, Knights back-rower Lachlan Fitzgibbon, may be hard-pressed squeezing into a full-strength Knights 17, such is the calibre of their recruiting. However the rugged South Newcastle junior crashed over near the posts in the first half while running a good line off a Mitch Pearce short ball as he looks to prove that even with the likes of Aidan Guerra, Chris Heighington and Herman Ese'ese joining the club he still has plenty to offer.
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Pearce impressed by Knights' start