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Jake Clifford hasn't had to wait long to take on his former club, with the mid-season Newcastle recruit having a played a key role in the Cowboys' one-point win over the Warriors back in round 12.

Since then Clifford played in Newcastle defeats against top-four sides Parramatta and Souths before last round's win over the Warriors.

That game was Clifford's first alongside Mitchell Pearce, back after a 10-week absence due to injury, with the new halves combination and the looming return of Kalyn Ponga giving Newcastle fans cause for optimism. 

Meanwhile, the Cowboys are coming off back-to-back losses to Manly and Cronulla after an excellent run of six wins from eight matches. It has them on the edge of the top eight, one win ahead of the Knights, with a spot in the finals well within their grasp in the run home.

The rundown

Team news

Knights: Newcastle will start 1-17, with Kalyn Ponga (groin) to make his long-awaited return while Kurt Mann, who filled in last round at fullback, returns to the centres despite concerns about an ankle injury.

Mann's move sees Brodie Jones slide back to the interchange with Jack Johns dropping to the reserves.

Daniel Saifiti backs up from Origin to join twin Jacob and Jayden Brailey in the Newcastle front row.

Phoenix Crossland and Jirah Momoisea were the two players omitted 24 hours before the match.

The Knights are aiming for back-to-back home wins for the first time in 2021.

Cowboys: In a minor change announced an hour before kick-off, Lachlan Burr has been moved into the starting 13 with Coen Hess going back to the bench.

Daejarn Asi will be the 18th man.

Coach Todd Payten named the same 17 that lost narrowly to Cronulla in round 15 but bench forward Tom Gilbert has been ruled out as he continues to isolate after Magnetic Island was declared a COVID-19 hotspot.

Gilbert returned a negative COVID-19 test, but is still in isolation as ordered by QLD Health. His place in the 17 will be taken by Heilum Luki.

Maroons trio Val Holmes, Kyle Feldt and Francis Molo will play after getting through Origin II on Sunday.

Corey Jensen and Connelly Lemuelu were left out on the eve of the match.

Cowboys winger Kyle Feldt requires two tries to reach a century of NRL tries.

Team Lists

Backs

  • Fullback for Knights is number 1 Kalyn Ponga
    Fullback for Cowboys is number 1 Valentine Holmes
  • Winger for Knights is number 2 Dominic Young
    Winger for Cowboys is number 2 Kyle Feldt
  • Centre for Knights is number 3 Kurt Mann
    Centre for Cowboys is number 3 Javid Bowen
  • Centre for Knights is number 4 Enari Tuala
    Centre for Cowboys is number 4 Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow
  • Winger for Knights is number 5 Hymel Hunt
    Winger for Cowboys is number 5 Murray Taulagi
  • Five-Eighth for Knights is number 6 Jake Clifford
    Five-Eighth for Cowboys is number 6 Scott Drinkwater
  • Halfback for Knights is number 7 Mitchell Pearce
    Halfback for Cowboys is number 7 Tom Dearden

Forwards

  • Prop for Knights is number 8 Jacob Saifiti
    Prop for Cowboys is number 10 Jordan McLean
  • Hooker for Knights is number 9 Jayden Brailey
    Hooker for Cowboys is number 9 Reece Robson
  • Prop for Knights is number 10 Daniel Saifiti
    Prop for Cowboys is number 16 Lachlan Burr
  • 2nd Row for Knights is number 11 Mitchell Barnett
    2nd Row for Cowboys is number 11 Shane Wright
  • 2nd Row for Knights is number 12 Lachlan Fitzgibbon
    2nd Row for Cowboys is number 12 Mitchell Dunn
  • Lock for Knights is number 13 Sauaso Sue
    Lock for Cowboys is number 13 Jason Taumalolo

Interchange

  • Interchange for Knights is number 14 Connor Watson
    Interchange for Cowboys is number 8 Coen Hess
  • Interchange for Knights is number 15 David Klemmer
    Interchange for Cowboys is number 14 Jake Granville
  • Interchange for Knights is number 16 Josh King
    Interchange for Cowboys is number 17 Francis Molo
  • Interchange for Knights is number 17 Brodie Jones
    Interchange for Cowboys is number 21 Heilum Luki

Reserves

  • Reserve for Knights is number 18 Jack Johns
    Reserve for Cowboys is number 19 Daejarn Asi

Match Officials

  • Referee: Chris Sutton
  • Touch Judge: Liam Kennedy
  • Touch Judge: Drew Oultram
  • Senior Review Official: Alan Shortall

Last updated:

Key match-up

Mitchell Pearce v Tom Dearden: While Clifford will draw the headlines the battle of his new halves partner and the man who replaced him at North Queensland could decide this contest.

Both these halfbacks have been put under the spotlight at a young age, Pearce with an early NSW Origin call-up in just his second season in the top grade while Dearden was once deemed the future of the Broncos before making the switch north this year.

While Pearce has a huge edge in experience Dearden has a ton of potential, still only 20 years of age despite being in his third NRL season. A big performance against the 19-time NSW halfback would be a great sign for Dearden's future at the Cowboys. 

Stat attack

In his first full season at the Knights after injury restricted him to just two games last year, hooker Jayden Brailey has been one of the busiest players in the league. No player has touched the ball more times than his 1746 receipts across 15 rounds (little brother Blayke ranks second at the Sharks) while only Dragons hooker Andrew McCullough has made more tackles than Brailey's 728.

 

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