The most inexperienced team in the NRL was expected to fatigue badly come the business end of the season but the Newcastle Knights have been impressive in their last two outings. However, Nathan Brown’s young side is facing a much more challenging task than the Raiders and Dragons, when the host the Melbourne Storm on Saturday.
The Storm has coped well over the Origin period despite missing Green and Munster for large portions of it due to injury. The Victorian side finds themselves 2nd on the table, six points clear of the 3rd placed Cowboys.

LAST TIME OUT

The Knights looked in control against the Raiders two weeks ago, when they stormed to a 22-0 lead within the first 25 minutes. In a rare winning position, the young side weren’t able to hold on, eventually losing 29-25 in golden point. An interesting aspect of the Knights development was the positional change of Sione Mata’utia to the second row, where Brown thought the youngster could influence the game more.
The Storm sent out a message to the rest of the competition in round 17 as they defeated the Broncos 48-6 at Suncorp Stadium without star fullback Cameron Munster. Cooper Cronk – often the hero for the Storm come finals – set up five tries as the team scored eight tries against Wayne Bennett’s men. The returns of Munster and Chambers in the lead up to finals will add even more strike power to the September specialists.

KEY BATTLE

Trent Hodkinson v Cooper Cronk
The signing of the then incumbent NSW Blues halfback was a significant boost for the Knights, but Hodkinson hasn’t been able to inspire his team as originally hoped, so much so there have been strong rumours that he will sign for a different club this coming off-season – with the Dragons one of the options mentioned. The halfback has scored one try and assisted seven for the struggling Knights in 2016.
His opposite number, Cronk, comes into this game after playing Origin and the Knights will be hoping the 32-year-old shows fatigue. The Australian halfback is in rare form scoring nine tries this season – one try short of his 2014 and 2015 tallies combined – as well as setting up 14 for his teammates.

PREDICTION

The Storm is a well-oiled machine and will be wanting to make sure they don’t lose to the team rooted at the bottom of the ladder. The Melbourne side had trouble winning games similar to this last season but their three losses this season have come against teams all placed inside the top eight.
The two teams met earlier in the season in what was an 18-14 victory for the Storm. However, the Storm has improved rapidly since that round 5 encounter and should win this match comfortably. Only complacency and post Origin fatigue can stop them.
Storm by 18.

SQUAD

Knights: 1 Dane Gagai 2 Nathan Ross 3 Brendan Elliot 4 Peter Mata’utia-Leifi 5 Jake Mamo 6 Jarrod Mullen 7 Trent Hodkinson 8 Robert Rochow 9 Danny Levi 10 Korbin Sims 11 Sione Mata’utia 12 Mitchell Barnett 13 Jeremy Smith Interchange: 14 Joshua King 15 Sam Mataora 16 Daniel Saifiti 17 Mickey Paea 18 Pat Mata’utia 23 Pauli Pauli
Storm: 1 Young Tonumaipea 2 Suliasi Vunivalu 3 Cheyse Blair 4 Ryan Morgan 5 Marika Koroibete 6 Blake Green 7 Cooper Cronk 8 Jesse Bromwich 9 Cameron Smith 10 Felise Kaufusi 11 Kevin Proctor 12 Tohu Harris 13 Dale Finucane. Interchange: 14 Kenneth Bromwich 15 Christian Welch 16 Matthew White 17 Benjamin Hampton