Julian Vella previews the clash between the Newcastle Knights and the Brisbane Broncos, who kick off round six of the 2020 NRL season.
After sending a warning to the rest of the competition by knocking off the high-flying Raiders, Newcastle were brought back down to earth by the Melbourne Storm last week. The Knights had been undefeated up until that point, as new coach Adam O’Brien tasted his first loss in the NRL. Newcastle started slowly. but despite a solid second half where they threatened to overcome the Storm, it was always going to be a tall order to claw back 18 points.
The Broncos were a much-improved side last week after coming off a record defeat to the Roosters the week before; some astute positional changes by coach Anthony Seibold and a more committed defence saw them shoot to an early lead against Manly. But their inexperience showed again, as the Baby Broncos gave up an 18-point lead. Despite the significant gains the side made in a week, it was still their third loss in a row, as they remain winless post-Covid.
Newcastle welcome back Lachlan Fitzgibbon, who has missed the last three weeks with a hamstring injury; the back-rower will be eager to impress after pulling up lame the morning of the Knights’ first game back from Covid. Coach O’Brien continues to ‘mix-up’ his reserve list with youngster Starford To’a making his first-team list of the season.
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. Lachlan Fitzgibbon 12. Sione Mata’utia 13. Herman Ese’ese 14. Tex Hoy 15. Jacob Saifiti 16. Tim Glasby 17. Aidan Guerra 18. Gehamat Shibasaki 19. Pasami Saulo 20. Phoenix Crossland 21. Starford To’a.
Despite the loss of star centre Kotoni Staggs to injury, this is easily the best line-up Seibold has been able to name since the return from Covid. With Tevita Pangai Jr finally free to play again after a lengthy suspension, he takes his place with captain Alex Glenn – who is returning from injury. Corey Oates moves back to the wing, whilst Herbie Farnsworth will line-up at right centre with the massive task of containing Bradman Best.
1. Jamayne Isaako 2. Corey Oates 3. Herbie Farnworth 4. Darius Boyd 5. Xavier Coates 6. Anthony Milford 7. Brodie Croft 8. Matthew Lodge 9. Cory Paix 10. Payne Haas 11. Alex Glenn 12. Tevita Pangai Junior 13. Patrick Carrigan 14. Tesi Niu 15. Ben Te’o 16. Joe Ofahengaue 17. Thomas Flegler 18. Issac Luke 19. Rhys Kennedy 20. Tom Dearden 21. Jamil Hopoate.
Despite entering into the competition together in 1988, the Knights have always been chasing the Broncos’ tail; it took no less than 12 matches for the Knights to finally taste victory over the Broncos. Since then the Broncos have continued to dominate the Knights; in fact there is no other side the Knights have lost to more than the Broncos – with 35 losses.
BATTLE TO WATCH
Kalyn Ponga v Anthony Milford
This match promises to be a very entertaining affair, although that might not have seemed the case a week ago. Newcastle were coming off a great win over Canberra, whilst Brisbane were belted by the Roosters, but a week is a long time in the NRL. Whilst the Knights might have lost some ground, the Broncos certainly gained some.
Both sides boast plenty of talented youngsters, but it’s the clash of two Queensland Origin players in Kalyn Ponga and Anthony Milford that will be the highlight of the match. Both players are supremely talented and can win games on their own, but both will be looking for big performances in this game as they look to turn their potential into competition points.
Ponga has been the knight in shining armour the Novocastrian crowd had been waiting for to save their side from the depths of the NRL cellar. He has lived up to the hype and more, already putting together endless highlight reels of dazzling plays. But after missing the finals in both of his seasons at the Knights, ‘KP’ knows it’s time he takes his game to the next level and guide the Knights to battle in October.
On the other side, Milford has been under tremendous pressure at the Broncos as he has struggled to live up to his price tag during his time in Brisbane. Despite leading them to the 2015 grand final, Milford has failed to reach the heights expected of him by the Broncos faithful. One feels time is starting to run out for Milford, and with every defeat the pressure mounts and the patience of the fans wears thin.
With the new rule changes suiting a more expansive game, Ponga and Milford need to get their hands on the ball a lot, especially in good field position on the back of a solid platform laid by their forwards. Both teams boast a number of representative forwards who like to churn out the metres in what is another key battle in this match.
Despite the improved showing last week and the returning stars for Brisbane, the win they long for might still be a week away. Newcastle seem a more balanced and settled side, whilst Brisbane is still trying to find who fits where in their best side. I expect this to be a close affair early, but Newcastle to prevail in the end.
Date: Thursday, June 18th.
Venue: Central Coast Stadium, Gosford.
Kick-off: 7:50pm AEST.