Newcastle go into their 2021 season opener against the Bulldogs at McDonald Jones Stadium with star recruit Tyson Frizell in their pack and a finals campaign under their belts but lacking all-important momentum.
The Knights suffered a third successive defeat in their only 2021 trial against Melbourne, capping a sequence stretching back to their round 20 loss to the Titans which features heavy losing margins of 20 (Storm), 26 (Rabbitohs) and 30 points (Titans).
To add injury to insult Newcastle look certain to be without gun fullback Kalyn Ponga until possibly round four.
Canterbury, on the other hand, may have avoided another wooden spoon thanks to points difference in 2020 but look capable of flipping the script on their more heralded opponents after a gritty come-from-behind win in their trial against Cronulla.
Knights v Bulldogs
Match: Knights v Bulldogs
Round 1 -
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle
Knights: Hymel Hunt has overcome a hamstring injury and is a late inclusion on the wing in jersey 18. Gehamat Shibasaki drops out. In another late switch Sauaso Sue will start the game at lock and Connor Watson shifts to the bench.
Fullback Kalyn Ponga (knee) and winger Edrick Lee (foot) are both missing as is five-eighth Blake Green (knee).
Tex Hoy slots in at fullback and Kurt Mann at five-eighth.
Star recruit Tyson Frizell will launch his Knights career in the second row while Jayden Brailey is back from a knee reconstruction at hooker. Back-rower Mitch Barnett will reportedly take on the goal-kicking duties while Ponga is sidelined.
The Knights have opened the season with a win for the past three years.
Jack Johns and Simi Sasagi were the first two players cut from the squad 24 hours before kick-off. Shibasaki and Pasami Saulo were omitted an hour before game time.
Bulldogs: Trent Barrett's side is 1-17 as named. Prop Dylan Napa (knee), five-eighth Jake Averillo (elbow), back-rower Raymond Faitala-Mariner (ankle) and winger Nick Cotric (ankle) all take their place but Jeremy Marshall-King (foot) is another week away.
There was some concern about Averillo's fitness, with playmaker Brandon Wakeham included on the extended bench as cover, but Wakeham and Ava Seumanufagai were the first two players cut from the squad on Thursday.
Train-and-trialist hooker Bradley Deitz has been named on the bench in Marshall-King's absence. The 26-year-old has been given an NRL exemption to play from outside the club's top 30 given Marshall-King’s injury with Sione Katoa starting as the Bulldogs’ other hooking option.
Former Rabbitoh Corey Allan will make his Bulldog debut at fullback with former Rooster Kyle Flanagan to steer the ship from halfback. The Bulldogs have won eight of their past nine games against the Knights.
Chris Smith and Tuipolotu Katoa were the last two players cut an hour before kick-off.
Match: Knights v Bulldogs
Round 1 -
Fullback for Knights is number 1 Tex HoyFullback for Bulldogs is number 1 Corey Allan
Winger for Knights is number 2 Starford To'aWinger for Bulldogs is number 2 Nick Meaney
Centre for Knights is number 3 Enari TualaCentre for Bulldogs is number 3 Will Hopoate
Centre for Knights is number 4 Bradman BestCentre for Bulldogs is number 4 Nick Cotric
Winger for Knights is number 18 Hymel HuntWinger for Bulldogs is number 5 Dallin Watene-Zelezniak
Five-Eighth for Knights is number 6 Kurt MannFive-Eighth for Bulldogs is number 6 Jake Averillo
Halfback for Knights is number 7 Mitchell PearceHalfback for Bulldogs is number 7 Kyle Flanagan
Prop for Knights is number 8 David KlemmerProp for Bulldogs is number 8 Ofahiki Ogden
Hooker for Knights is number 9 Jayden BraileyHooker for Bulldogs is number 9 Sione Katoa
Prop for Knights is number 10 Daniel SaifitiProp for Bulldogs is number 10 Jack Hetherington
2nd Row for Knights is number 11 Tyson Frizell2nd Row for Bulldogs is number 11 Adam Elliott
2nd Row for Knights is number 12 Mitchell Barnett2nd Row for Bulldogs is number 12 Corey Waddell
Lock for Knights is number 14 Sauaso SueLock for Bulldogs is number 13 Josh Jackson
Interchange for Knights is number 13 Connor WatsonInterchange for Bulldogs is number 14 Bradley Deitz
Interchange for Knights is number 15 Jacob SaifitiInterchange for Bulldogs is number 15 Renouf Atoni
Interchange for Knights is number 16 Josh KingInterchange for Bulldogs is number 16 Raymond Faitala-Mariner
Interchange for Knights is number 17 Brodie JonesInterchange for Bulldogs is number 17 Dylan Napa
- Referee: Ben Cummins
- Touch Judge: Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski
- Touch Judge: Kasey Badger
- Senior Review Official: Alan Shortall
Mitchell Pearce v Kyle Flanagan: The Knights veteran endured a nightmare off-season away from the field but will be hoping a return to action, and the likelihood of a new deal in the near future, are a sign of better things to come.
Flanagan, on the other hand, faces all his pressures once he crosses the white line. Released by the Roosters after just one season, the young play-maker knows the heat is on after former Sharks team-mate Wade Graham gave him a torrid time in the trial.
Round 1 hype - Knights v Bulldogs
Veteran prop David Klemmer carried the young Knights pack on his back last season and he will be expected to once again lead from the front in 2021. Klemmer was second in the NRL in post-contact metres, a mere three metres behind Penrith's James Fisher-Harris, and No.2 in off-loads, nine behind Eel Junior Paulo but 10 ahead of third-placed Martin Taupau.
What will be the result in this Telstra Premiership clash?
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