Julian Vella previews a Saturday afternoon blockbuster between the high flying Newcastle Knights and the Melbourne Storm, that promises to be a tough encounter at Central Coast Stadium.
Newcastle remain undefeated throughout season 2020 and are coming off their best performance in recent memory after easily dispatching the Canberra Raiders. Newcastle were somewhat travelling under the radar with all the talk leading up to the week surrounding Canberra, but after a resounding victory the rest of the competition is now well aware this is a Knights outfit to be reckoned with.
The Storm were smarting from their Round 3 loss to the Raiders. With plenty of pundits ready to write the Storm off due to the new rule changes, they are a side with a point to prove. The scoreline against the Raiders didn’t truly reflect the contest as the Storm were closer than the sixteen-point margin suggests, and despite still not finding their best form against the Rabbitohs on Friday night, Craig Bellamy’s side were good enough to claim the two competition points.
Adam O’Brien has unsurprisingly named an unchanged side for this weekend’s match, however five-eighth Kurt Mann is under serious doubt after sustaining an ankle injury. Rookie play-maker Phoenix Crossland has been named as cover for Mann, whilst second-rower Lachlan Fitzgibbon has been named in jersey No.21 but is an unlikely starter.
1. Kalyn Ponga 2. Edrick Lee 3. Enari Tuala 4. Bradman Best 5. Hymel Hunt 6. Kurt Mann 7. Mitchell Pearce 8. David Klemmer 9. Andrew McCullough 10. Daniel Saifiti 11. Aidan Guerra 12. Sione Mata’utia 13. Herman Ese’ese 14. Tex Hoy 15. Jacob Saifiti 16. Tim Glasby 17. Brodie Jones 18. Tautau Moga 19. Josh King 20. Phoenix Crossland 21. Lachlan Fitzgibbon.
The Storm have made a couple of changes to their side with big man Nelson Asofa-Solomona returning from suspension to take his place on the bench. Halfback Jahrome Hughes is out with a hand injury which will sideline him for a few weeks. His replacement is Ryley Jacks, having this season returned from the Titans. There was some talk that former Knights’ legend and media personality Matthew Johns’ son Cooper Johns could debut in the No.7, but Bellamy has taken the tried and tested option in Jacks.
1. Ryan Papenhuyzen 2. Suliasi Vunivalu 3. Justin Olam 18. Brenko Lee 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Cameron Munster 7. Ryley Jacks 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Cameron Smith 10. Christian Welch 11. Felise Kaufusi 12. Kenneath Bromwich 13. Dale Finucane 14. Brandon Smith 15. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui 16. Max King 17. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 19. Tom Eisenhuth 20. Marion Seve 21. Cooper Johns 22. Nicholas Hynes.
Newcastle have struggled against a lot of sides in recent times, but none more so than the Melbourne Storm. The Storm have won the last seven matches against the Knights, with Newcastle last tasting victory against the men in purple way back in 2015. Knights’ second-rower Sione Mata’utia is the only Knights’ player to have ever tasted victory against the Storm in the red and blue jersey.
BATTLE TO WATCH
In what is shaping as the game of the week there are half a dozen battles on the field which alone would be worth the price of admission (if anyone could go to the games). But the match-up that could prove to be most crucial and has the most intrigue is the battle of the coaches.
The Master vs The Apprentice, this phrase has never been more fitting than the clash of super-coach Craig Bellamy and his former under study Adam O’Brien. It’s well known that O’Brien was plucked from obscurity by former Storm NYC coach and now Eels main man Brad Arthur to work at the Storm, before serving a lengthy apprenticeship under Bellamy where they formed a strong bond.
But after a year at the Roosters, O’Brien has landed himself his first head coaching gig at Newcastle and will no doubt have went looking for this clash the moment the draw was released. There is great respect between the pair no doubt, but if O’Brien has learnt anything from Bellamy, it’s that friendships can wait, and winning is all that matters.
Bellamy himself undertook a lengthy apprenticeship under another super-coach Wayne Bennett, since Bellamy took over the Storm he has always had the wood over Bennett throughout the years. Maybe Bennett taught Bellamy too many secrets? Has Bellamy made the same mistake with O’Brien?
While everyone has been busy writing their eulogy for the Storm Dynasty, Bellamy and his side have been working out ways to adapt to the new rules and discover ways to gain an advantage. The improvement was there to be seen from rounds three to four, so we can expect the Storm to again be better this week.
Newcastle look like they may have finally turned the corner as they announced themselves as contenders last week, but recent history will tell you the Knights have had a few false dawns before. Expect this game to be very close but Newcastle to prevail with Kayln Ponga being the difference.
Knights by 1-12
Date: Saturday June 13th
Venue: Central Coast Stadium, Gosford
Kick-off: 5:30pm AEDT