Nathan Smith previews Saturday night’s match between the Parramatta Eels and Newcastle Knights.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
Parramatta have won three from their past four matches. They comfortably sit at sixth (four points above the last two spots of the top eight). They will be looking to maintain a very impressive home record (one loss) when they host the Newcastle Knights on Saturday and, in doing so, continue their charge towards the finals.
In short, Newcastle has been terrible. Five straight defeats has left them at 11th, two points outside of the top eight. Their season isn’t over yet, but a sixth straight loss could be the final nail in the coffin.
There are no changes to Parramatta’s 17, with Brad Arthur opting to stick with the men that were able to get the job done last week against the Dragons.
Parramatta Eels squad: 1. Clint Gutherson 2. Maika Sivo 3. Michael Jennings 4. Waqa Blake 5. Brad Takairangi 6. Dylan Brown 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Kane Evans 9. Reed Mahoney 10. Junior Paulo 11. Shaun Lane 12. Manu Ma’u 13. Nathan Brown 14. Marata Niukore 15. Daniel Alvaro 16. David Gower 17. Tepai Moeroa 18. Greg Lelesiuao 19. Peni Terepo 20. Jaeman Salmon 21. Stefano Utoikamanu
Similarly, Nathan Brown has not made any changes to the top 17 despite a hefty loss to Manly. Danny Levi has been added to the reserves.
Newcastle Knights squad: 1. Kalyn Ponga 2. Kurt Mann 3. Hymel Hunt 4. Tautau Moga 5. Shaun Kenny-Dowall 6. Mason Lino 7. Mitchell Pearce 8. David Klemmer 9. Connor Watson 10. Daniel Saifiti 11. Lachlan Fitzgibbon 12. Mitchell Barnett 13. Tim Glasby 14. Jacob Saifiti 15. James Gavet 16. Sione Mata’utia 17. Aidan Guerra 18. Jamie Buhrer 19. Beau Fermor 20. Jirah Momoisea 21. Danny Levi
HEAD TO HEAD
All the stats favour Newcastle. They’ve won 30 of their past 52 encounters including a 28-14 victory earlier this year. Both sides were in a similar position during that round seven clash: Newcastle had only won a single game up until that point, while Parramatta were four from six and coming off of a huge win against the Tigers. The result? Newcastle upset the favourites at home and kickstarted a winning run. It gets worse, Eels fans, as Parramatta haven’t won against the Knights since 2016. The only statistic that favours Parramatta is their form at Bankwest Stadium: six wins, one loss.
Maika Sivo v Kalyn Ponga
Two “X-factor” players for each side are Maika Sivo of the Parramatta Eels, and the super-talented Kalyn Ponga for the Newcastle Knights.
Maika Sivo, in debut year, is proving to be a massive pick up for the Eels. He leads the try scoring list at 15 and is second only to James Tedesco for the most linebreaks made. With a strong fend, explosive pace and a knack for finding the try line, the Newcastle Knights and indeed Ponga will have their hands full if he finds open space.
Nothing needs to be said about what Ponga brings to his team. What must be pointed out, as obvious as it might be, is that Newcastle’s fortunes depend on him (and Mitchell Pearce) steering the side back out of their current slump. This is where this particular battle becomes interesting: Ponga loves attacking the left edge, where Sivo is situated. Of all the positives to Sivo’s game, one drawback is that he rushes up in defence and subsequently leaves his wing unmarked. It will be interesting to see how Ponga reads this and whether there are points for him to score, or set-up on that edge as a result. Furthermore, how Sivo handles the explosive, fleet-footed Ponga as he hops down the his side, looking for a gap, or a player to put into a gap, makes for an exciting match-up.
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Saturday, 10th August
Venue: Bankwest Stadium, Parramatta
Kick-off: 5.30pm (local)
Referee: Adam Gee, Jon Stone
WHO WILL WIN?
History is against Parramatta for the most part and Newcastle will be desperate. This match could go down to the wire and be decided by two points or less. Despite Newcastle’s form against the Eels, Parramatta should just scrape through.
Parramatta by two.