Two teams looking to bounce back into winning form after last-start defeats face off at Hunter Stadium on Saturday.
The Knights won six straight before running into a Melbourne Storm-shaped roadblock in round 14, slumping to a 30-point defeat – their worst losing margin of 2019.
Before that loss they had played their way into the NRL top four, and Mitchell Pearce is once again in the frame for a possible State of Origin call-up following an ankle injury to Nathan Cleary.
Brisbane meanwhile are at risk of a third consecutive loss, after being stunned by the Titans then thumped 38-10 by Parramatta a fortnight ago. Coach Anthony Seibold said several of his players appeared to have the representative round on their mind during that loss, but will have their focus squarely on their club's NRL prospects now.
Knights: A big blow for Newcastle with Kayln Ponga ruled out with a calf injury, although that has been eased by the return of David Klemmer. Kurt Mann moves to fullback for Ponga, while Mason Lino starts at five-eighth. James Gavet switches to the bench. Jacob Saifiti was the last player cut before kick-off, while Aidan Guerra was trimmed from the reserves on Friday.
Broncos: Anthony Seibold has pulled a surprise move with fullback Darius Boyd and five-eighth Anthony Milford swapping positions. That's the only change made to the 17-man team unveiled on Tuesday but it's a significant one. Jamayne Isaako (personal reasons) has been left out, with Richie Kennar listed on the wing. Maroons trio Corey Oates, Matt Gillett and David Fifita will play. Rabbitohs-bound forward Jayden Su'A and James Segeyaro were cut from the reserves on Friday, while Xavier Coates and Shaun Fensom were omitted an hour before kick-off. The Broncos have won six of their past seven games against the Knights.
Daniel Saifiti will be feeling 10-feet tall after making his Origin debut and he'll be out to maintain his form against Payne Haas, who missed the Perth game due to injury. These two young bulls could be fighting it out for a Blues spot in Game Three so they'll be out to make a statement.
For the Knights to win
Cut out the errors. Newcastle actually have the fourth-fewest errors in the NRL this season, with around nine per game, but they made a whopping 17 in their heavy defeat in Melbourne. Their completion rate in the game was a truly ugly 58% (they usually complete 78% of sets, fifth-best in the league), and they gifted possession in good attacking position to their opponents too many times. Brisbane may not be the Melbourne Storm but they do have several quality attacking weapons, and the Knights can't afford to give them a leg-up with unforced errors.
For the Broncos to win
Find some rhythm in attack. Brisbane have been the third worst attacking team this year, better than only the last-placed Bulldogs and the misfiring Panthers. It's a shocking statistic considering the talent in their backline – think rep stars Anthony Milford, Corey Oates, Darius Boyd and reigning rookie of the year Jamayne Isaako. They haven't scored 20 points in a game since May 10. The ability is clearly there (Brisbane ranks among the top half of teams when it comes to line breaks and tackle breaks) but the finishing touch has been lacking and they have the chance to make amends against a Newcastle side that leaked six tries in their last match.
Brett Kimmorley says
Newcastle made a lot of errors against Melbourne and didn’t get themselves into the game. They can be much better. For the Broncos, Anthony Milford and Darius Boyd are the ones who need to stand up and get the job done. But I don’t think Brisbane will be tough enough if Newcastle turn up ready to play a tough brand of footy. Knights by 4
Mitchell Pearce has dished out 12 line-break assists to be equal-leader in the NRL with Damien Cook, while Anthony Milford is the clear leader in kick metres (5,387). Jesse Ramien is equal-fourth in tackle breaks (60) and Kalyn Ponga is equal-fourth in line breaks (10). The Broncos have more intercepts (8) than any other team.
And another thing ...
The Broncos finished above Newcastle on the ladder in 2018 but the Knights claimed bragging rights for the year with a 15-10 home victory in the only meeting between the teams. Newcastle led 7-0 at half-time and held on for an upset win. Lachlan Fitzgibbon and Daniel Saifiti scored their tries, while Kalyn Ponga booted three goals and Mitchell Pearce kicked a field goal. Corey Oates and Anthony Milford scored tries for Brisbane, while Jamayne Isaako kicked one goal.