Andrew Pelechaty previews Newcastle’s crucial Friday night home game against the Wests Tigers.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
At one point sitting in the top four, Newcastle (8-9) have gotten the post-Origin wobbles, losing to the NZ Warriors, Canterbury-Bankstown and the Sydney Roosters. Both the Warriors and Bulldogs losses were at home (their home record dropping to 4-5), while they were hammered by the Roosters at the SCG, a possible indication of the gulf in class between the top four and the rest. The Knights are clinging onto eighth by points differential: an almost certain finals spot now in jeopardy.
The Tigers have also fallen hard, losing three straight to the Roosters, Parramatta and Canberra. The Tigers were competitive in the second half in Canberra, but couldn’t get close enough to threaten the Raiders. The Tigers now sit in 12th with a 7-10 record, though are only one win behind the Knights thanks to a congested middle of the table.
Newcastle are unchanged, with Kalyn Ponga returning last week against the Roosters.
Newcastle Knights’ squad: 1. Kalyn Ponga, 2. Hymel Hunt, 3. Tautau Moga, 4. Jesse Ramien, 5. Shaun Kenny-Dowall, 6. Kurt Mann, 7. Mitchell Pearce, 8. Daniel Saifiti, 9. Danny Levi, 10.David Klemmer, 11. Mitchell Barnett, 12. Sione Mata’utia, 13. Tim Glasby. 14. Connor Watson, 15. James Gavet, 17. Herman Ese’Ese, 19. Jamie Buhrer.
Fullback Corey Thompson returns. Moses Mbye returns centre after playing fullback in Canberra, with Michael Chee Kam moving to the back row. Alex Twal is on the bench, with Oliver Clark in the front row.
Wests Tigers’ squad: 1. Corey Thompson 2. Paul Momirovski 3. Moses Mbye 4. Esan Marsters 5. David Nofoaluma 6. Benji Marshall 7. Luke Brooks 8. Josh Aloiai 9. Robbie Farah 10. Oliver Clark l 11. Luke Garner 12. Michael Chee Kam 13. Ryan Matterson 14. Jacob Liddle 15. Thomas Mikaele 16. Alex Twal 17. Chris Lawrence.
HEAD TO HEAD
Since 1998, Newcastle and the Wests Tigers share a 13-13 record from 26 games. In keeping with this record, the clubs split their 2018 clashes. Newcastle won 22-20 in round 7, while the Tigers won 25-16 in round 21. Both times the away side won, a promising omen for the Tigers on Friday night.
Kalyn Ponga vs Corey Thompson.
It’s the battle of the returning fullbacks in Newcastle. Ponga returned from a month out last weekend, kicking one goal from two attempts as the Roosters cantered home at the SCG. If Newcastle are to hang onto their finals spot, Ponga quickly needs to find his pre-Origin form (with seven tries and 46 goals so far) that propelled Newcastle on their seven-game winning run from rounds seven to thirteen.
Corey Thompson has enjoyed a wonderful season for the joint venture club so far: only missing the Tigers’ loss in Canberra last weekend, and scoring seven tries in his sixteen games.
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Friday 26 July.
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium.
WHO WILL WIN?
A huge battle for a top eight spot. While neither team is in great form, Newcastle’s home ground advantage, driven by a partisan crowd, should be enough.
Newcastle by four.