The wait is over as season 2018 kicks off this weekend, and it will be fierce rivals Newcastle and Manly starting their seasons at McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle with a big home crowd expected to cheer on the Knights.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
With as many as nine new faces in the Knights lineup their trial form was a mixture with some good signs in the win over Melbourne, before the loss against Parramatta coming as a good reminder there is still plenty of things to work on for Nathan Brown and his men. The combinations of a brand new spine showed promise as the Knights put on slick tries in the victory over the Storm but their forwards were out muscled by an impressive Eels pack.
Manly Sea Eagles
Whilst Manly lost both of their trial matches against the Sharks and Roosters there were still plenty of good signs and positives to take away, most notably the form of the Trbojevic brothers who look set for another big year. Trent Barrett will be pleased he got two solid hit outs against two quality sides and if trial form is anything to go by the Sea Eagles will be tough to beat again this season.
Newcastle has undertaken the largest roster overhaul in the clubs history putting together a squad with plenty of depth resulting in a healthy competition for spots in Nathan Brown’s round one side. Newcastle will field nine new faces against Manly including a brand new spine and a few surprise selections most notably the omission of Kiwi Test Hooker Danny Levi who will play reserve grade with Brock Lamb named on the bench in his place.
Manly Sea Eagles
Unlike Newcastle Trent Barrett has kept the core of his successful 2017 side barring the loss of five-eighth Blake Green, whilst star centre Dylan Walker is still missing with a leg injury and Darcey Lussick has yet to recover from an injury picked up in the trial against the Sharks. Manly will have a couple of new faces in their 17 with Lachlan Croker winning the race to Green’s old No.6 jersey to partner Daly Cherry-Evans in the halves and former Dragons forward Joel Thompson will lineup in the back row.
Manly have always been one of the more ‘disliked’ sides in the NRL going back to the start of their existence, so if you asked Manly fans who their biggest rival was you would get various answers, but there is no doubting who Knights’ fans see as their fierce-est rival that being the Sea Eagles. The rivalry was born in the mid 90’s with tempers often flaring between the two sides and although the days of Spud Carroll and Paul ‘the Chief’ Harragon taking shots at each other are long over Knights fans still hold a dark place in their hearts for the Men in Maroon.
With so much talk surrounding the Knights’ new look side it’s no surprise the key players for Newcastle are a couple of new faces, that being fullback Kayln Ponga and new ‘co-captain’ Mitchell Pearce. The Knights fans got a small glimpse of what they hope will be a long successful combination with Pearce laying on a good try for Ponga with a grubber kick against the Storm.
For Manly all eyes are on captain and Half-Back Daly Cherry-Evans who will again shoulder most of the responsibility of guiding the side around the park after the departure of Green and inclusion of rookie Croker. Some experts have questioned the decision to release Green and have concerns that Cherry-Evans’ game will suffer with the burden as it did in 2016 after Keiran Foran left the club, for Manly to win this game they will need DCE to be at his creative best and his combination with the Trbojevic brothers will be key.
With the key players from each side coming from the halves it’s no surprise the key battle will be between the men wearing the number seven, with both teams evenly matched across the park it may come down to a special play from either Pearce or DCE to decide the match. Both players also carry the responsibility of chief player maker and captaining their sides so expect big games from both players and the winner of this dual will likely lead his side of the field with victory.
Knights’ new recruit Hermen Ese’ese has had a big off-season and won himself a starting place in Brown’s side, after playing limited minutes for the Broncos Ese’ese is looking forward to playing bigger minutes. He told nrl.com “I’m really looking forward to a bit of ball playing and playing longer minutes.”
Whilst Tom Trbojevic has backed Lachlan Croker to handle the No.6 jumper. “Young Croker has been training the house down, he’ll go out and lead the side around with Cherry and I know they’ll do a great job”, said Trbojevic.
Manly has won their last seven matches against Newcastle the last time the Knights tasted victory against their bitter rivals was July 14th 2012, from that side there are no current Knights players.
Knights: 1 Kalyn Ponga, 2 Shaun Kenny-Dowall, 3 Sione Mata’utia, 4 Tautau Moga, 5 Nathan Ross, 6 Connor Watson, 7 Mitchell Pearce (c), 8 Herman Ese’ese, 9 Slade Griffin, 10 Jacob Lillyman, 11 Lachlan Fitzgibbon, 12 Aidan Guerra, 13 Mitchell Barnett, 14 Brock Lamb, 15 Chris Heighington, 16 Jamie Buhrer (c), 17 Daniel Saifiti, 18 Ken Sio, 19 Jacob Saifiti, 20 Daniel Levi, 21 Luke Yates
Sea Eagles: Tom Trbojevic, 2 Jorge Taufua, 3 Matthew Wright, 4 Brian Kelly, 5 Akuila Uate, 6 Lachlan Croker, 7 Daly Cherry-Evans (c), 8 Addin Fonua-Blake, 9 Apisai Koroisau, 10 Martin Taupau, 11 Joel Thompson, 12 Curtis Sironen, 13 Jake Trbojevic, 14 Lewis Brown, 15 Shaun Lane, 16 Frank Winterstein, 17 Kelepi Tanginoa, 18 Bradley Parker, 19 Jackson Hastings, 20 Jack Gosiewski, 21 Lloyd Perrett
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: March 9, 2018
Venue: McDonalds Jones Stadium, Newcastle
Referee: Adam Gee
WHO WILL WIN?
The betting sites can’t split these two sides with good reason on paper they look very evenly matched, Newcastle will be hoping their new combinations gel quickly whilst Manly will be relying on combinations built over the pass two seasons to see them home. With a big home crowd willing them on expect Newcastle to get home in a close encounter.
Newcastle by 2.