Julian Vella previews the lone game on Saturday between the Newcastle Knights and New Zealand Warriors at Newcastle’s McDonald Jones Stadium.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
Newcastle bounced back from their disappointing loss to the Storm – beating the Broncos 26-12 in front of a packed house at McDonald Jones Stadium. This was the Knights’ seventh win from their last eight starts, continuing the club’s best run since the early 2000s.
New Zealand Warriors
Stephen Kearney’s men continued their patchy run of form that has plagued their season with another close loss (this time to the Panthers), their third in four matches. They’re now four points out of the top eight. The Warriors usually make up ground during the Origin period, but that hasn’t been the case this season.
Newcastle are decimated by injuries and Origin commitments this week, which got worse when both David Klemmer and Mitchell Pearce were called up to the Blues’ side on Wednesday. Daniel Saifiti and Tim Glasby were already named to play Game III, whilst Kalyn Ponga and Edrick Lee are missing through injury.
Newcastle welcome back a couple of experienced players with Danny Levi and Aidan Guerra expected to play. There are whispers of a young gun making his debut, with Phoniex Crossland expected to be named on the bench. The young halfback should see time in the second half when Levi requires a spell.
Newcastle Knights squad: 1. Connor Watson 2. Hymel Hunt 3. Kurt Mann 4. Jesse Ramien 5. Shaun Kenny-Dowall 6. Mason Lino 14. Jamie Buhrer 8. James Gavet 9. Danny Levi 10. Jacob Saifiti 11. Lachlan Fitzgibbon 12. Sione Mata’utia 15. Herman Ese’ese 16. Josh King 17. Pasami Saulo 18. Aidan Guerra 19. Brodie Jones 20. Tex Hoy 21. Tautau Moga 22. Jirah Momoiesa 23. Phoniex Crossland
New Zealand Warriors
In contrast to the Knights, the Warriors don’t have any players involved in Origin and have named a very strong squad. The only changes have come on the bench with the season-ending ACL injury to Nathaniel Roache forcing him out of the side. Issac Luke has earned a reprieve, replacing him on the bench.
The other change is Lachlan Burr replacing Leivaha Pulu on the bench. Burr was a strong performer for the Warriors early in the season and will help strengthen their middle-of-the-field defence.
New Zealand Warriors squad: 1 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (c) 2 David Fusitu’a 3 Peta Hiku 4 Patrick Herbert 5 Ken Maumalo 6 Kodi Nikorima 7 Blake Green 8 Agnastius Paasi 9 Karl Lawton 10 Leeson Ah Mau 11 Adam Blair 12 Isaiah Papali’I 13 Jazz Tevaga 14 Issac Luke 15 Bunty Afoa 16 Sam Lisone 17 Lachlan Burr 18 Gerard Beale 20 Ligi Sao 21 Leivaha Pulu 22 Chanel Harris-Tavita
HEAD TO HEAD
This is the second meeting this year after Newcastle prevailed 36-18 in round 8. It was a close encounter before the Knights ran away with the game, scoring the last 18 points. The Warriors hold a slight advantage in the previous meetings, winning 20 games to Newcastle’s 19.
Last time these two sides met it was the Mitchell Pearce and Kayln Ponga show, leading the Knights to a resounding victory. It will be a much different Knights side this time, with both Pearce and Ponga missing along with their three starting middle players Daniel Saifiti, David Klemmer and Tim Glasby.
Missing these players – along with flyer Edrick Lee – makes this an uphill battle for the Knights against a Warriors side unaffected by Origin and who are smarting from last week’s one-point loss to Penrith. The Warriors know they should win this game, but sometimes the weight of expectation doesn’t sit well with them, so getting his side mentally prepared will be half the battle for Stephen Kearney.
The Warriors looked good in patches last week, but will be hoping for an improved effort from start to finish. Playmakers Blake Green and Kodi Nikorima have combined well at times since Nikorima’s move from the Broncos, but – much like his time in Brisbane – Nikorima has struggled to stay in the game consistently.
Newcastle will be looking to rely on other players to step up this week, especially centre Jesse Ramien, who has been quiet for most of this year. Ramien did show signs of improvement last week when he ran over the top of Darius Boyd to set up the match-sealing try for Mason Lino, another player who Nathan Brown will be relying on in this game.
Lino – much like Ramien – had his best game in a Knights’ jersey on the weekend. With Pearce and Ponga away, he’ll be relied on not only for direction around the field but to add the attacking class when they look for points. In the forwards James Gavet and Hermen Ese’ese will need to step up and do the hard yards through the middle, along with Jacob Saifiti, who plays his first game of the year.
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Saturday July 6th
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle
Kick-off: 7:35pm AEST
Referee: Adam Gee and Gavin Badger
WHO WILL WIN?
This is a hard one to tip because Newcastle have been so good for the last few months, but they’re missing so many key players up against a near full-strength Warriors side. But it’s a funny game sometimes and when you’re winning you’ll find a way to keep winning, just as when you’re losing you’ll find a way to lose.