Julian Vella previews the Newcastle Knights’ home opener against the New Zealand Warriors on Saturday afternoon; with both sides coming off disappointing seasons, they’ll be looking to start off 2020 with a bang.
The Knights finished off 2019 with a miserable performance away to the Panthers, suffering a record loss. The Knights’ 2020 trial form has done little to gauge how well they will fare this year; their opening trial against the Dragons was a lop-sided affair where both teams fielded weakened sides for the majority of the match. The Knights’ next trial against the Roosters was supposed to be a dress rehearsal for the season proper, but the Roosters decided to send in a park team which resulted in a resounding victory for the Knights.
The Warriors are coming into season 2020 with very little expectation; despite this they are under lots of pressure as they continue to be the competition’s biggest underachievers. Stephen Kearney’s men have also gone through the trials without a win, after losing a tight tussle against an inexperienced Storm side, before losing in New Zealand to the Tigers. Despite their poor trial form, the Warriors will be confident of a strong start to the season, after beginning their previous three seasons with a victory.
1. Kalyn Ponga, 2. Edrick Lee, 3. Enari Tuala, 4. Gehamat Shibasaki, 5. Hymel Hunt, 6. Kurt Mann, 7. Mitchell Pearce, 8. David Klemmer, 9. Jayden Brailey, 10. Daniel Saifiti, 11. Lachlan Fitzgibbon, 12. Mitchell Barnett, 13. Herman Ese’ese, 14. Connor Watson, 15. Jacob Saifiti, 16. Tim Glasby, 17. Aidan Guerra, 18. Pasami Saulo, 19. Starford To’a, 20. Mason Lino, 21. Brodie Jones
1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (c), 2. Patrick Herbert, 3. David Fusitu’a, 4. Peta Hiku, 5. Ken Maumalo, 6. Chanel Haris-Tavita, 7. Blake Green, 8. Leeson Ah Mau, 9.Wayde Egan, 10. Lachlan Burr, 11. Adam Blair, 12. Tohu Harris, 13. Isaiah Papali’i, 14. Kodi Nikorima, 15. Jamayne Taunoa-Brown, 16. Eliesa Katoa, 17. Karl Lawton, 18. King Vuniyayawa, 20. Hayze Perham, 21. Leivaha Pulu, 22. Taane Milne
Newcastle had the wood over the Warriors during the early years of the New Zealand side’s existence, as Newcastle won eleven of the first fourteen meetings. But since then the Warriors have dominated this fixture, winning nineteen of the next twenty-seven encounters.
BATTLE TO WATCH
Kalyn Ponga v Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
Both sides come into season 2020 in similar circumstances after suffering through an underwhelming 2019. They start the season with new hookers after the Knights replaced Kiwi International Danny Levi with former Shark Jayden Brailey, whilst the Warriors have also done away with a former Kiwi number nine in Issac Luke, replacing him with Wayde Egan from the Panthers.
They will also be relying on big games from their mercurial fullbacks Kalyn Ponga and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, and that’s the match up that will most likely decide who takes home their first competition points in 2020. Ponga and Tuivasa-Sheck had big seasons in 2019, yet their clubs will be asking for more again in 2020 as they push for a return to September football.
This match up is most intriguing as they are contrasting fullbacks who like to attack different areas of the football field. Ponga likes to hang around the edges of the field, preying on tired edge back rowers who can’t cope with his elusive speed and agility, whilst RTS will be found more frequently roaming around the middle of the ruck, trying to isolate opposing props one-on-one and take advantage of their lack of lateral movement.
Despite their different ways of finding space, one thing they both have in common is their ability to find the try line once they get through the front line of defence. Taking into consideration early season fatigue, there should be plenty of tired forwards lumbering around the field for both fullbacks to have a field day.
Date: Saturday March 14th
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle
Kick-off: 3:00pm ADST