Julian Vella previews Saturday night’s blockbuster between the Newcastle Knights and Brisbane Broncos at McDonald Jones Stadium.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
After running hot on a six-game unbeaten run (including wins over the Dragons, Roosters and Rabbitohs) the Knights were brought back down to earth with a thumping loss to the Storm. The Knights will be wary not to fall into another slump like they did at the start of the year, with a five-game winless run preceding their streak of wins.
The Broncos also started the season with some indifferent form before finding their feet during a three-game winning run leading into their bye week. Since then they seem to have fallen back into losing ways, going down to the Titans and Eels, both games they were expected to win easily.
Newcastle will be sweating on the fitness of Queensland Origin prop Tim Glasby, who damaged ligaments in his elbow on Sunday night. It would seem the former Storm lock is an unlikely starter, which could pave the way for either David Klemmer or Aiden Guerra to return from injury.
If Klemmer is fit he will be rushed in regardless, but the Knights’ coaching staff would rather give Guerra another week in the Canterbury Cup. Sione Mata’utia has been promoted to start on the right edge in place of the suspended Mitch Barnett, whilst Josh King takes his place on the bench. Kalyn Ponga picked up a cork during Origin, but is likely to play.
Newcastle Knights squad: 1. Kalyn Ponga 2. Edrick Lee 3. Hymel Hunt 4. Jesse Ramien 5. Shaun Kenny-Dowall 6. Kurt Mann 7. Mitchell Pearce 8. James Gavet 9. Connor Watson 10. Daniel Saifiti 11. Lachlan Fitzgibbon 12. Sione Mata’utia 13. Tim Glasby 14. Jamie Buhrer 15. Herman Ese’ese 16. Josh King 17. Pasami Saulo 18. Mason Lino 19. David Klemmer 20. Jacob Saifiti 21. Aidan Guerra
Anthony Seibold has made a few changes to the side that was thrashed by the Eels, with Samoan International Jamayne Isaako dropped for Richard Kennar, whilst Origin prop Joe Ofahengaue replaces Jayden S’uA on the bench. Funnily enough, S’uA has been linked to the Knights in the past few days, as an early exit looms for the young backrower.
Seibold has also decided to start veteran hooker Andrew McCullough over youngster Jake Turpin despite Turpin impressing during McCullough’s absence. The drums are starting to beat in ‘Bris Vegas’ with plenty of fans – and even some former players – suggesting the side plays better with Turpin distributing the ball from dummy half.
Brisbane Broncos squad: 1. Darius Boyd 2. Corey Oates 3. Kotoni Staggs 4. Gehamat Shibasaki 5. Richard Kennar 6. Anthony Milford 7. Sean O’Sullivan 8. Matthew Lodge 9. Andrew McCullough 10. Payne Haas 11. David Fifita 12. Matt Gillett 13. Tevita Pangai 14. Jake Turpin 15. Joe Ofahengaue 16. Thomas Flegler 17. Patty Carrigan 18. Xavier Coates 19. Jaydn Su’A 20. James Segeyaro 21. Shaun Fensom
HEAD TO HEAD
These two sides met just the once in 2018 (Newcastle winning 15-10), but the match is remembered more from the post-game press conference, where Knights’ coach Nathan Brown had a dig at Wayne Bennett with the infamous ‘Little Wayne’ remark.
With Bennett now gone the focus will be on the field, where the Broncos have historically done all the talking: 35 wins from the 51 meetings for the Broncos including 6 in a row before last year’s game.
The Broncos need to start showing some of the form so many experts predicted when they instilled them as one of the competition favourites. Maybe those predictions were a bit too bold for a young side who are not only trying to find their feet in the NRL, but for a coach who seems to be having a case of ‘second year syndrome’.
In Seibold’s first season coaching South Sydney he inherited an experienced, battled-hardened side who just needed a change of voice to inspire them to within a game of the grand final. This year he’s taken over a side very low on experience – especially in their forward pack – and who have huge question marks over all four members of their spine.
Seibold needs those members of his spine to step up and help direct their young powerful pack around the field – especially Anthony Milford, who has shown glimpses of brilliance this year, but hasn’t been able to string enough good games together in a row. He was the standout player for Samoa on the weekend and he’ll need to reproduce that form this Saturday if the Broncos are any chance of winning.
Newcastle are stewing on their deplorable loss to Melbourne two weeks ago in round 14; after talking up a big game leading up to the match, Newcastle failed to fire a shot as they put in the worst performance of their season. With a packed home crowd awaiting them, they’ll have a chance to put that game behind them and get back into the winners circle.
During their winning run it was the Mitchell Pearce – Kayln Ponga show, as the two marquee men from Newcastle had been putting teams to the sword weekly. Their combination seems to get better every week, and it will again be relied on this week for points if Newcastle want to move back into the top four.
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Saturday 29th of June
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle.
Kick-off: 5:30pm AEST
Referee: Ashley Klein & Matt Noyen
WHO WILL WIN?
It’s hard to go past the Knights at home considering their form prior to the Storm game, whilst the Broncos seem to have fallen off a cliff coming off their last bye; it will be interesting to see how they respond this time around.