Julian Vella previews Newcastle Knights v Sydney Roosters at McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
A month ago fans and media types were calling for Nathan Brown’s head as the Knights slumped to their fifth straight defeat, but they say a week is a long time in the NRL so four weeks is an eternity. Brown and his side are now flying high on a four game winning streak, the longest unbeaten run the club has had under Brown.
Last season’s premiers had been enjoying an eight game winning streak before last week’s loss to the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium, the Roosters have looked battered and bruised in recent weeks and you could tell a loss was coming. Coach Trent Robinson wouldn’t have been too worried with the defeat, but no doubt he’ll be looking for his side to bounce back after enjoying a seven day break.
Not surprisingly Brown has named the same 21 man squad from last week as he seems to have found the right balance and combinations after tinkering throughout the opening month and half of the season. It will be interesting to see though if Brown starts Kurt Mann at five-eighth again after the utility enjoyed a solid game there last week.
Brown will be hoping that the settled lineup he has picked in recent weeks will help his side as they come up against their biggest test of the season. Brown will also have one eye on upcoming fixtures for his side, with tough games against Souths, Melbourne and Brisbane to follow, Brown will know they need to win at least two of those matches otherwise his side will slip down the ladder.
Newcastle Knights: 1. Kalyn Ponga 2. Edrick Lee 3. Hymel Hunt 4. Jesse Ramien 5. Shaun Kenny-Dowall 6. Connor Watson 7. Mitchell Pearce 8. David Klemmer 9. Danny Levi 10. Daniel Saifiti 11. Lachlan Fitzgibbon 12. Mitchell Barnett 13. Tim Glasby 14. Kurt Mann 15. Herman Ese’ese 16. James Gavet 17. Sione Mata’utia 18. Josh King 19. Pasami Saulo 20. Jamie Buhrer 21. Mason Lino
The Roosters welcome back winger Daniel Tupou and Captain Boyd Cordner to their side after both missed last week’s game as a precaution after picking up knocks against the Raiders in magic round. Cordner’s inclusion is massive for the club not only for his carries and tackles, but for his leadership on the field.
After leading the competition for most of the season Trent Robinson’s side have dropped back to second after last week’s loss, that won’t bother them too much as long as they stay within touching distance of their bitter rivals Souths. A couple of the Roosters’ big guns were a little quiet last week, so expect them to fire on Friday night especially considering Cooper Cronk has announced this will be he’s last season.
Sydney Roosters: 1. James Tedesco 2. Daniel Tupou 3. Latrell Mitchell 4. Joseph Manu 5. Matt Ikuvalu 6. Luke Keary 7. Cooper Cronk 8. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves 9. Victor Radley 10. Siosiua Taukeiaho 11. Boyd Cordner 12. Angus Crichton 13. Isaac Liu 14. Nat Butcher 15. Zane Tetevano 16. Sitili Tupouniua 17. Mitchell Aubusson 18. Lindsay Collins 19. Ryan Hall 20. Josh Curran 21. Brock Lamb
HEAD TO HEAD
The Roosters and Knights have enjoyed a healthy rivalry throughout the years, especially during the late 90’s and early 2000’s where these clubs met five times in finals football and once again in 2013. But in recent times the two clubs have been on much different paths as the Roosters have enjoyed two premierships and four minor premierships since Newcastle last made the finals in 2013, the Knights of course have collected three dreaded wooden spoons and have totally rebuilt the club.
So it’s no surprise that the Roosters have dominated the Knights in recent times winning ten of the last eleven matches between the sides, including both games last season. The boys from Bondi ruined former team mate Mitchell Pearce’s home coming in their round three clash winning 38-8, but the return game in Newcastle was much closer as the Knights came within two points of a massive upset.
Newcastle head into this game full of confidence and fighting fit coming off their unbeaten run, and for coach Brown he couldn’t have wished for his side to be in better shape as they come up against their biggest test facing the champs. Although the Knights have been winning games and playing well the coach and playing group will know beating the likes of the Bulldogs and Dragons isn’t quite the same challenge as beating the Roosters.
Whilst the Roosters look to be showing the effects of a bruising start to the season which included a trip to England, they’re a battled hardened side filled with players who are used to blocking out the pain and tiredness that comes with being the defending premiers. Every side marks out the week they play the Roosters and saves their best for the tri-colours, but they know that’s just part and parcel of being the defending premiers.
They’ll know Newcastle are primed to take a shot at the champs and they won’t need any extra incentive coming off a loss and facing up against some former team mates with three ex-Roosters in the Knights’ lineup. This all promises to produce a top game taking into the account the points mentioned this game will serve up some mouth watering one-on-one match-ups.
Jesse Ramien v Latrell Mitchell will see two of the games youngest and most talented centres come face to face, with Ramien knowing a good showing could earn him a NSW Jumper alongside Latrell. The match-up in the front row between David Klemmer and Roosters’ pair Jared Waera-Hargreaves & Siosiua Taukeiaho will have a big say on the result of the game, whilst the clash between fullbacks James Tedesco and Kayln Ponga sees arguably the games two most exciting players show casing their skills.
But the big match-up is that of halfbacks Cooper Cronk and Mitchell Pearce, we all know the story that the Roosters decided to replace Pearce with Cronk last season and although Pearce is happy in Newcastle and is enjoying career best form in recent weeks, he would undoubtedly want to beat Cronk and the Roosters. With Cronk announcing he will retire at seasons end Pearce doesn’t have many chances left to one-up his former club and the man who replaced him.
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Friday 24th of May
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle
Kick-off: 7:55pm AEST
Referee: Ben Cummins and Peter Gough
WHO WILL WIN?
This game promises to be a cracker, with all the story lines of former players, Pearce v Cronk and the Knights run of form expect a tight encounter in front of a packed crowd in Newcastle. Newcastle will learn a lot about themselves and how far they’ve come, whilst the Roosters don’t like losing and especially two weeks in a row. Coming off a loss it’s hard to bet against the Roosters so I expect them to win a tight affair. Roosters 1-12