Sharks v Knights: Flanagan to debut; Ponga out
The Knights won't get a better chance to measure the improvement they've made in 2018 than when they visit Southern Cross Group Stadium to take on the Sharks on Sunday.
The low-point of Newcastle's season came in their previous meeting with the Sharks – a 48-10 hammering back in round 12.
Conceding nine tries at home – including a burst of four in 12 minutes either side of the break – had as much to do with a rampant Sharks side as it did an unhappy day for Nathan Brown's team.
An impressive road win over the finals-bound Panthers last weekend will have the Knights in a confident mood, but an ankle injury is set to keep their young star Kalyn Ponga out of the side this week.
The Sharks will wear black armbands in honour of former second-rower Lance Thompson, who died on Thursday night. They have also retired the No.12 jersey for the day in his honour, with Wade Graham to run out in No.23.
Match: Sharks v Knights
Round 24 -
Venue: Southern Cross Group Stadium
- Fox League
- LIVE PASS
Key match up: Andrew Fifita v Herman Ese'ese. If the Sharks are to make any noise in the finals they need Fifita to play at a consistently high level. After they were battered by the Sharks pack back in round 12, Ese'ese needs to lead from the front.
For the Sharks to win: Their plan for the round 12 demolition of the Knights was to physically challenge their opponents. It worked a treat that day and they will head into this contest planning on a repeat performance.
For the Knights to win: You never know what you are going to get with the Knights. If they can replicate the way they played against Penrith, they can win this match. If the bad Knights turn up, another heavy loss is likely to follow.
Sharks Stat Attack: It's a record no team wants, but the Sharks are on the way to having the most penalised player in the competition for two straight years. After now-Panther James Maloney gave away 36 penalties last year, Andrew Fifita shares top spot with Manly lock Jake Trbojevic with two rounds remaining. Fifita would need to give away six penalties over the last two rounds to top Maloney's 2017 total.
Knights Stat Attack: Newcastle could struggle with out injured star Ponga who leads the NRL in tackle breaks heading into the final two rounds. His total of 140 is all the more impressive considering that he has missed three matches this year.
And another thing: Newcastle need one win from their final two matches to have 10 or more wins in a season for the first time since 2014. After winning a combined 14 matches in the previous three years, a 10- or 11-win season would represent a step in the right direction.
Fullback for Sharks is number 1 Valentine HolmesFullback for Knights is number 1 Nick Meaney
Winger for Sharks is number 2 Sosaia FekiWinger for Knights is number 2 Ken Sio
Centre for Sharks is number 3 Josh DuganCentre for Knights is number 3 Sione Mata'utia
Centre for Sharks is number 4 Kurt CapewellCentre for Knights is number 4 Cory Denniss
Winger for Sharks is number 5 Edrick LeeWinger for Knights is number 5 Shaun Kenny-Dowall
Five-Eighth for Sharks is number 21 Kyle FlanaganFive-Eighth for Knights is number 20 Connor Watson
Halfback for Sharks is number 7 Chad TownsendHalfback for Knights is number 7 Mitchell Pearce
Prop for Sharks is number 8 Andrew FifitaProp for Knights is number 8 Herman Ese'ese
Hooker for Sharks is number 9 Jayden BraileyHooker for Knights is number 9 Danny Levi
Prop for Sharks is number 10 Matt PriorProp for Knights is number 10 Daniel Saifiti
2nd Row for Sharks is number 11 Luke Lewis2nd Row for Knights is number 11 Lachlan Fitzgibbon
2nd Row for Sharks is number 23 Wade Graham2nd Row for Knights is number 12 Aidan Guerra
Lock for Sharks is number 13 Paul GallenLock for Knights is number 13 Mitchell Barnett
Interchange for Sharks is number 14 Scott SorensenInterchange for Knights is number 14 Jamie Buhrer
Interchange for Sharks is number 15 James SegeyaroInterchange for Knights is number 15 Chris Heighington
Interchange for Sharks is number 16 Aaron WoodsInterchange for Knights is number 17 Josh King
Interchange for Sharks is number 17 Jayson BukuyaInterchange for Knights is number 21 Luke Yates
Sharks: The club has announced Kyle Flanagan will make his NRL debut, replacing Matt Moylan at five-eighth. Wade Graham will take his spot in the starting side. After Ava Seumanufagai and Sione Katoa dropped off the reserves list 24 hours out from game time, Joseph Paulo and Moylan were omitted an hour before kick-off.
Knights: Kalyn Ponga is out, with Connor Watson to start at five-eighth. Jacob Lillyman and JJ Felise were the two players left out an hour before kick-off.
Head-to-head: Played 51; Knights 27 wins, Sharks 23 wins, 1 draw
Previous result: Sharks won 48-10 in round 12
Points per game: Sharks 20.5; Knights 17.6
Points conceded per game: Sharks 17.9; Knights 24.8
Televised: Live on Fox League
Petero Civoniceva's prediction: The Knights are brimming with youth and they have troubled plenty of good sides but I expect the Sharks' older heads to take charge of this one. The controversy around Andrew Fifita was a hot topic on Sunday but that will have been put to bed and they'll be focusing on securing a top-four spot. With the finals in sight the Sharks will tune up with a clinical victory.
Tip: Sharks by 14.