Brendan Wood previews the pivotal round 23 clash on Saturday night between the Wests Tigers and the Newcastle Knights from Campbelltown Stadium.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
The Tigers are in free fall. After jumping into the eight with an impressive win over the Cowboys in round 20, they backed up that performance with two straight losses against the Bulldogs and Manly. They need to win to stay in the hunt for the top eight.
The Knights have also fallen out of the top eight after losing six games in a row in the lead up to last week. However, they were able to bounce back to form by smashing the Cowboys 42-6. They too must continue winning to keep their hopes of playing finals footy alive.
Mass changes for the Tigers this week. Josh Reynolds returns to the side at hooker in place of Jacob Liddle (ACL injury). Paul Momirovksi moves into the centres, with Tommy Talau dropping to the reserves and Robert Jennings getting a recall on the wing. Thomas Mikaele and Chris Lawrence have been named to start at prop and in the second row respectively, with Matt Eisenhuth and Michael Chee-Kam moving back to the bench. Luke Garner returns from suspension in the second row, meaning Chris McQueen drops back to the reserves.
Tigers squad: 1. Corey Thompson 2. Robert Jennings 3. Paul Momirovski 4. Esan Marsters 5. David Nofoaluma 6. Benji Marshall 7. Luke Brooks 8. Thomas Mikaele 9. Josh Reynolds 10. Oliver Clark 11. Luke Garner 12. Chris Lawrence 13. Ryan Matterson Bench: 14. Matt Eisenhuth 15. Elijah Taylor 16. Alex Twal 17. Michael Chee-Kam Reserves: 18. Tommy Talau 19. Chris McQueen 20. Sam McIntyre.
Tautau Moga has been named but looks likely to be ruled out with a hamstring injury. If he misses the game, 18 year-old Bradman Best will make his NRL debut on the wing in his place, with Hymel Hunt moving into the centres. Danny Levi returns at hooker in place of the injured Connor Watson. Tim Glasby remains in the reserves as he recovers from a concussion.
Knights squad: 1. Kalyn Ponga 2. Hymel Hunt 3. Sione Mata’utia 4. Tautau Moga 5. Shaun Kenny-Dowall 6. Mason Lino 7. Mitchell Pearce 8. David Klemmer 9. Danny Levi 10. Daniel Saifiti 11. Lachlan Fitzgibbon 12. Mitchell Barnett 13. Josh King Bench: 14. Kurt Mann 15. Herman Ese’ese 16. Jacob Saifiti 17. Aidan Guerra Reserves: 18. Jamie Buhrer 19. Chris Randall 20. Bradman Best 21. Tim Glasby.
HEAD TO HEAD
This game marks the second meeting between the two sides this year, with their previous meeting coming just four weeks ago in round 19. On that occasion, it was the controversial sin-binning of Kalyn Ponga late in the game that helped the Tigers to a closely fought 28-26 win in Newcastle. Overall head to head is almost dead even, with the Tigers holding a slight advantage over the past 20 seasons. They have played each other 27 times, the Tigers winning 14, the Knights 13.
Kalyn Ponga vs Corey Thompson. They are two of the more elusive fullbacks in the NRL, so there should be a lot of exciting attacking play from both players. The last time these two sides met, Kalyn Ponga was sin-binned in the dying moments of the match. With Ponga off the field, the Knights look a completely different side and often will struggle to score points against the stronger defensive teams. He has also scored four tires in his last four games, so be on the lookout for him to continue his try scoring form against an understrength Tigers side.
The same can be said for Corey Thompson. With him off the field, the Tigers attack is just not the same. He adds a lot of speed and agility to their backline and while he isn’t the biggest player on the field, he is deceptively strong. Keep an eye on him with Robbie Farah and Jacob Liddle both out of the side. He’ll look to strike up a combination with Josh Reynolds around the ruck to create some opportunities around the Knights forwards as they get tired.
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Saturday 24th of August
Venue: Campbelltown Stadium
Referees: Adam Gee, John Stone
WHO WILL WIN?
There’s a lot on the line in this game, with both sides desperate to keep winning games to stay in the hunt for the top eight. The Tigers have lost Robbie Farah and Jacob Liddle, so the Knights may have the slight advantage in the middle of the field if they can exploit Josh Reynolds defensively. Even though this is being played in Campbelltown, the Knights should be able to take the confidence they got last week and carry it into this game, but it will be a very tough contest. Knights by 2.