Julian Vella previews the Newcastle Knights and St. George Illawarra Dragons clash at McDonald Jones Stadium with both sides coming into the game with one win and two losses, the pressure will be on the loser of this game.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
After starting the season with a gritty win over the Sharks things were looking bright for Nathan Brown’s Newcastle side, but the following two weeks have resulted in back-to-back losses where the team’s offence has failed to fire. Despite only losing by seven points to the Raiders, you never quite felt the Knights were going to win that game, a change of tactic and attitude is required if they want to put an end to this losing run.
St George-Illawarra Dragons
No team has more heat on them to start the season than the St. George Illawarra side, following an off-season from hell the club has been scrutinised for its controversial spine ‘rotation policy’ whilst injuries to key players left them win-less after two games. But a win changes everything and despite losing skipper Gareth Widdop to a shoulder injury, the sun has been shining on the Dragons this week following their impressive win over the Broncos.
The big change has finally come in Newcastle with Kayln Ponga moving back to his more comfortable role of fullback. After remaining strongly committed to the move to five-eighth Ponga has taken the positional switch well, although despite saying he’s happy to play anywhere his comments suggested he hasn’t totally given up on the idea of playing in the halves.
But the sides’ attack has been struggling all season with the Mitchell Pearce – Kayln Ponga combination which worked so well last year struggling for cohesion and points in 2019. The move back to fullback should allow Ponga move breathing space out wide, whilst the inclusion of Mason Lino at five-eighth should take some pressure off Pearce regarding last tackle plays and general direction around the field.
Newcastle Knights squad: 1 Kalyn Ponga, 2 Edrick Lee, 3 Hymel Hunt, 4 Jesse Ramien, 5 Shaun Kenny-Dowall, 6 Mason Lino, 7 Mitchell Pearce, 8 David Klemmer, 9 Danny Levi, 10 Tim Glasby, 11 Lachlan Fitzgibbon 12 Sione Mata’utia, 13 Mitchell Barnett. Interchange: 14 Kurt Mann, 15 Aidan Guerra, 16 Daniel Saifiti, 17 Josh King. Reserves: 18 Herman Ese’ese 19 Brodie Johns 20 Jamie Buhrer 21 Tautau Moga
St George-Illawarra Dragons
The Dragons have also had a big change with Matt Dufty coming back into the side at fullback to replace the injured Gareth Widdop, it’s a funny game sometimes with so much talk around the Dragons spine rotation, but with the injury to Widdop we’ve likely heard the last of it.
With Widdop leaving at season’s end the future for the Red V is in the form of a halves combination of Corey Norman and Ben Hunt. The former Broncos’ team mates have found each other again and will look to build on last weeks impressive display against their former side. Interestingly Tyson Frizell has been named on an extended bench but it’s unknown if he will actually play.
Dragons squad: 1 Matt Dufty, 2 Jordan Pereira, 3 Euan Aitken, 4 Tim Lafai, 5 Mikaele Ravalawa, 6 Corey Norman, 7 Ben Hunt, 8 James Graham, 9 Cameron McInnes, 10 Paul Vaughan, 11 Jacob Host, 12 Tariq Sims, 13 Blake Lawrie. Interchange: 14 Jeremy Latimore, 15 Zac Lomax, 16 Korbin Sims, 17 Luciano Leilua. Reserves: 18 Tyson Frizell 19 Mitchell Allgood 20 Jai Field 21 Jonus Pearson
HEAD TO HEAD
St. George Illawarra have dominated this fixture ever since the joint venture side entered the competition in 1999, for some reason now matter what the situation each club finds themselves in more often than not the Dragons find a way to beat the Knights.
The last few years for Newcastle have been bleak but especially against the Dragons who have won eleven of the past thirteen matches played between these sides. Last year saw the Dragons win the Round 4 fixture easily, whilst a more spirited Knights’ performance on old boys day almost seen the them beat the Dragons before some late errors handed the Red V another win.
It’s still only early in the season and the experts will say ‘you don’t win premierships in April’ but with the way society is these days it seems success is more so expected rather than celebrated, and failure is scrutinised more so than ever, and for both of these sides their early season short comings have not be missed by their fans.
Newcastle’s fans have been patiently waiting for the ‘Nathan Brown Rebuild’ to evolve, happy to say ‘wait till next year’. But next year has come and the fans have run out of patience, they see the roster they have filled with big name players like Ponga, Pearce, Ramien and Klemmer, they see it as their time is now, so after a lacklustre start to the season questions are being asked already after just three rounds.
For the Dragons who are used to starting seasons off with a bang this one has been anything but, off-field dramas, injuries and uncertainty surrounding the sides’ make-up have left their fans also wondering if this will be anther season of disappointment? Despite it only be Round 4 both sets of fans are already making noise and the pressure is on big time to win this match.
One part of the Knights’ game that has improved has been their defence, this time last year they’d already conceded more than double the amount of points, so Brown will be confident if his miss-firing attack can find their groove this Sunday the rest should fall into place. It will be interesting to see how much of an effect it will have on the side moving Ponga back to fullback, the Dragons will be hoping not much changes and will be doing their utmost to nullify the Queenslanders’ impact on the game.
Without Ponga being in the front line of defence it will be much harder for the Dragons to target him, so expect them to kick deep to corners to force Ponga to return the ball against a solid kick chase, this will be the Dragons best chance to get at the Knights No.1.
For the Dragons expect big games from a couple of ex-Knights in brothers Tariq and Korbin Sims, both players left the struggling club before the end of their agreed terms, a fact Knights’ fans haven’t forgotten. But the Sims boys love the confrontation and if last weeks’ display against the Broncos is anything to go by, they’ll both be up for the challenge.
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Sunday April 7th
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle
Kick-off: 6:10pm ADST
WHO WILL WIN?
Hard to split these sides with both yet to find their best football in season 2019, the Dragons were staring down the barrel of a 0-3 start to the season before Norman saved them with his match winning field goal, whilst the Knights have been close in the last two weeks despite going down. This game is anyone’s but I’ll take Newcastle in a close one. Knights 1-12