Julian Vella previews a Sunday afternoon special at Leichardt Oval, as Benji Marshall and the Wests Tigers welcome Kalyn Ponga and the Newcastle Knights to the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World.’
Despite their ‘no frills’ roster, Michael Maguire’s Tigers started the season in impressive style, knocking over the more fancied St George-Illawarra Dragons at Wollongong last week. The Tigers’ pack was much maligned going into the season; yet they ran riot over the Dragons’ pack, littered with stars, to lay the platform for a solid victory. The Tigers have won the last three games against the Knights, so they’ll be looking to keep this roll going.
After an extremely disappointing end to 2019, the Knights were under pressure to start this year off with a bang; and so they did by running in twenty points against a hapless Warriors outfit – without conceding a point. After mixed trial form (heavily beaten by the Dragons, and hammering a second rate Roosters’ outfit), it wasn’t clear what type of Knights side we would see in 2020, but they played the conditions well and came away with a solid victory.
Josh Reynolds wears the No.7 this week after the injury to Luke Brooks prior to round one. Michael Chee Kam has been replaced on the bench by Paul Momirovski, although Maguire may choose to reverse that change prior to kick off.
1. Corey Thompson 2. David Nofoaluma 3. Joseph Leilua 4. Adam Doueihi 5. Robert Jennings 6. Benji Marshall 7. Josh Reynolds 8. Josh Aloiai 9. Billy Walters 10. Alex Twal 11. Luke Garner 12. Luciano Leilua 13. Elijah Taylor 14. Thomas Mikaele 15. Paul Momirovski 16. Zane Musgrove 17. Chris Lawrence 18. Michael Chee-Kam 19. Oliver Clark 20. Matt Eisenhuth 21. Tommy Talau.
Adam O’Brien has named the same seventeen from last week’s victory; with the only change being Sione Mata’utia being named in jersey no. 21 on the extended bench. Word out of Newcastle is Mata’utia is still not quite fit, but we should expect to see him in the coming weeks.
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. Sione Mata’utia.
Surprisingly this is only the second time these two clubs have met at Leichardt Oval, despite this being the 31st meeting between them. On the only other occasion they faced off in Tiger heartland, the Tigers won 17-16 thanks to a late Robbie Farah field goal; there is only one player from that match who will take the field on Sunday: not surprisingly it’s Benji Marshall.
BATTLE TO WATCH
With both teams coming off solid wins in round one, this promises to be a close encounter between two sides looking to earn respect after missing finals football in 2019. Whilst the Tigers overachieved in the eyes of many, the Knights were certainly underachievers last year, which led to the sacking of Nathan Brown as head coach.
Much like last season, the Tigers’ roster has been dismissed by many pundits despite the arrival of new recruits Zane Musgrove, Adam Douehi, plus BJ and Luciano Leilua. In spite of their doubters, the Tigers over-ran a much more fancied Dragons side, with their unheralded pack dominating proceedings. The Tigers’ forwards ran for an amazing 1,068 metres compared to just 857 from the Dragons.
Newcastle will be wary of the hard-working Tigers side who beat them twice last year; looking back at their season, the Knights will know those two results were the difference between them not making the finals. One would think the playing squad would still be smarting from their round 23 encounter, where the Tigers ran away with a record 46-4 victory.
The Knights’ pack, led by David Klemmer, will be looking to limit the amount of metres Michael Maguire’s pack run for on Sunday: whoever wins the forwards battle will most likely win the game. The home field advantage the Tigers usually get from playing at Leichardt Oval will be somewhat nullified by the Covid-19-enforced lockout.
Expect this to be a tight affair between two very different yet evenly matched sides. Whilst the Knights’ line up is stacked full of stars, the Tigers will be looking to take it to them and again prove the doubters wrong. Newcastle 1-12
Date: Sunday March 22nd Venue: Leichardt Oval, Sydney
Kick-off: 4:05pm ADST