Newcastle Knights will be looking to turn the tables from their trial defeat against Cronulla Sharks, when both teams face off on Friday night.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
Every coach will tell you trial form means nothing and Newcastle’s coach Nathan Brown will be hoping that’s true after the Knights lost both of their trials to the Dragons and this weeks opponents the Sharks. The Sharks loss will be of more concern considering both teams played their strongest sides for the majority of the game in which the Sharks dominated, Knight’s fans will be hoping Brown has kept a few tricks up his sleeve.
In comparison the Sharks won both of their trials and have looked like a side ready to start the year off with a bang despite an off-season filled with drama. After starting last year slowly new coach John Morris has made it a priority for his side to not make the same mistake again making sure all his stars have seen plenty of game time to dust off the cobwebs.
The big shock coming out of Newcastle when the 21 man squads were announced was the exclusion of Big Man Herman Ese’ese from the 17 man game day squad, after being one of the Knights’ best in 2018 Ese’ese will have to win his place back in reserve grade in a clear sign from Brown that no body is safe in 2019.
After so much debate regarding Kayln Ponga’s switch from fullback to five-eighth the young gun will get his first real chance to prove himself in the No.6 after some mixed results in the All-Star Game and trial matches, Hymel Hunt also earns a spot in the centres with Sione Mata’utia moving to the back row.
Newcastle Knights 21-man squad: 1 Connor Watson 2 Edrick Lee 3 Hymel Hunt 4 Jesse Ramien 5 Shaun Kenny-Dowall 6 Kalyn Ponga 7 Mitchell Pearce (c) 8 David Klemmer 9 Danny Levi 10 James Gavet 11 Lachlan Fitzgibbon 12 Sione Mata’utia 13 Tim Glasby 14 Kurt Mann 15 Aidan Guerra 16 Mitchell Barnett 17 Daniel Saifiti 18 Jamie Buhrer 19 Herman Ese’ese 20 Josh King 21 Brodie Jones
Despite keeping the main nucleus of their squad from last season there are few new faces lining up for the boys from the shire most notably former Warriors’ Star Shaun Johnson. Johnson needed a fresh start and he looked very slick in the trial against the Knights a couple of weeks ago and will be the main danger man for the Sharks.
There’s also a new look back row for Cronulla with the retirement of Luke Lewis and Wade Graham still recovering from ACL surgery Kurt Capewell and Briton Nikora have won the race and will start on the edges in Round 1. New Zealand born Nikora is the shock selection with many people expecting Scott Sorenson to take Lewis’ spot, but the youngster has had a big off-season and is one to look out for.
Cronulla Sharks 21-man squad: 1 Matt Moylan 2 Sosaia Feki 3 Josh Dugan 4 Josh Morris 5 Sione Katoa 6 Shaun Johnson 7 Chad Townsend 8 Andrew Fifita 9 Jayden Brailey 10 Matt Prior 11 Briton Nikora 12 Kurt Capewell 13 Paul Gallen (c) 14 Blayke Brailey 15 Jayson Bukuya 16 Aaron Woods 17 Jack Williams 18 Scott Sorensen 19 Kyle Flanagan 20 Bronson Xerri 21 Braden Uele
HEAD TO HEAD
Newcastle have had their struggles in recent times and no side has inflicted more pain on them than the Sharks with eight consecutive losses to Paul Gallen and his men which includes a 62-0 drubbing at Hunter Stadium in 2016. In the return match that season a more spirited Knights’ side but in a better performance in a spiteful game, but the end result was another big win for Cronulla.
This lite a spark between the two sides who have traded barbs on the field and in media ever since, the Knights and their fans will want to finally put and end to this losing streak to the Sharks, especially to Gallen who has shown little respect to the Knights with his comments during this time. The cross over of a couple of star Sharks players in Jessie Ramien and Edrick Lee will also add some more heat to the pot that is already boiling over.
Every side goes into Round 1 wanting to start the season with a win, after grinding through a long preseason the buildup to season kickoff brings excitement for the players and fans alike, but a first round loss can take all the air out and place the side straight into the pressure cooker.
Newcastle come into season 2019 with plenty of hope of having a good year, but after being brought back down to earth in the trial they’ll know they need to lift their game a couple of notches if they’re to take the points from Cronulla. The Sharks’ pack dominated the trial and with wet weather expected for the night the match will likely be played predominately through the middle third.
David Klemmer’s arrival has been the main point of excitement for Knights who have long been after a big man capable of dominating the yardage game, the Origin enforcer will have his work cut out for him though as he comes up against no less than four fellow Blues Big Men in Andrew Fifita, Matt Prior, Paul Gallen and Aaron Woods. Cronulla’s pack has dominated their Knights counterparts in recent times so Klemmer will need some help from his mates and fellow new recruits James Gavet and Tim Glasby to nullify the fearsome Sharks’ forwards.
If the bad weather does set in the chances for the creative players will be scarce, but when the game is in the balance it’s up to the likes of Johnson or Ponga to make the play to win the game. Expect both players to see plenty of traffic in defence but also plenty of ball in the attacking zones in what will be an interesting match-up of two of the most exciting players in the NRL.
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Friday 15th of March
Venue: Hunter Stadium, Newcastle
Kick-off: 6:00pm AEST
Referee: Peter Gough
WHO WILL WIN?
Some teams just don’t match-up well against particular sides and for Newcastle that side is the Sharks, the eight game streak is proof of that and although the Knights have improved their roster it might take time for them to reach their best and beat a side like Cronulla.
Sharks by 6