Julian Vella previews this Sunday afternoon clash between the Newcastle Knights and Canterbury Bulldogs. Newcastle will be looking to avenge last season’s loss to Canterbury at this very ground.
Newcastle continued their ‘win-loss-win’ streak on the weekend with a 20-18 victory over a fast-finishing Rabbitohs side. Despite scoring the first 20 points of the game, it was a nervy finish for the Knights as they leaked three tries in final quarter of the game. After avoiding their first back-to-back losses of the season, Newcastle will attempt to win consecutive games for the first time since rounds one and two.
Another week, another loss for the hapless Bulldogs side: rooted to the bottom of the table with just the solitary victory so far in 2020. Despite losing head coach Dean Pay during the week, the Dogs put in a spirited display as they lead the Dragons 22-10, but like their opponents this week, Canterbury fell to pieces in the final quarter, conceding three tries. Unlike the Knights, the Bulldogs couldn’t hold on and gave up their lead in the final minutes to break the hearts of their players, coaches and fans alike.
No changes for the Knights for the first time since the restart of the season and no doubt their coach Adam O’Brien will have appreciated his turn of luck. Despite not having the biggest injury toll compared to some other sides, the Knights have had to tinker with their lineup on a weekly basis.
1. Kalyn Ponga 2. Enari Tuala 3. Tautau Moga 4. Bradman Best 5. Hymel Hunt 6. Kurt Mann 7. Mitchell Pearce 8. David Klemmer 9. Andrew McCullough 10. Jacob Saifiti 11. Lachlan Fitzgibbon 12. Aidan Guerra 13. Herman Ese’ese 14. Connor Watson 15. Mitchell Barnett 16. Pasami Saulo 17. Sione Mata’utia 18. Tex Hoy 19. Josh King 20. Phoenix Crossland 21. Gehamat Shibasaki.
Steve Georgallis has made a couple of changes to his side that fell just short last week: the Dogs welcome back exciting youngster Jake Averillo, whilst they’ve included Brandon Wakeham on the bench instead of Sauaso Sue. The inclusion of Wakeham on the bench alongside hooker Sione Katoa is surprising and it will be interesting to see how Georgallis injects both players into the game.
1. Nick Meaney 2. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 3. Kerrod Holland 4. Jake Averillo 5. Marcelo Montoya 6. Kieran Foran 7. Lachlan Lewis 8. Aiden Tolman 9. Jeremy Marshall-King 10. Dylan Napa 11. Josh Jackson 12. Raymond Faitala-Mariner 13. Luke Thompson 14. Brandon Wakeham 15. Sione Katoa 16. Renouf To’omaga 17. Ofahiki Ogden 19. Dean Britt 20. Reimis Smith 21. Chris Smith 22. Jack Cogger
Looking at this game through blue and white eyes, there aren’t many positive stats for the Bulldogs. Newcastle lead the Dogs in all the key stat areas and their positions on the ladder reflect this. But ignoring the numbers from 2020, the recent meetings between these sides will indicate Canterbury are a strong chance in this match: the Bulldogs have won seven of the last eight meetings and they’ve haven’t lost to the Knights in Newcastle since 2013.
BATTLE TO WATCH
Mitchell Pearce v Kieran Foran
Mitchell Pearce and Kieran Foran grew up as best mates in school, but this week they will be enemies on the field as they look to lead their sides to victory. Both players hold the role as the senior playmaker of their respective sides and posses the key to victory.
Despite having another season interrupted by injuries, Foran has showed that when he is on the field he still has the skills and desire to be one of the best halves in the competition. He is in the process of extending his stay at the Bulldogs and will be buoyed by the signings this week of International winger Nick Cotric from Canberra and new coach Trent Barrett.
Pearce hasn’t quite reached the lofty heights we have expected of him this season as his form has fluctuated along with the results for his side, but last week he enjoyed a much improved performance as he rekindled his combination with fullback Kalyn Ponga.
Whilst Pearce’s try assists have been down in 2020, it’s clear he has made an assertive effort to become a better game manager this season. Newcastle seemed to lose a lot of games they should have won last season, but with Pearce becoming a wiser player the Knights are winning the close games they might have lost previously.
You would expect these two good friends to exchange a few texts or possibly a phone call during the week in the lead up to this match, but be sure that once the whistle blows and the match starts these two fierce competitors will put their friendship aside and strive for victory.
On paper this looks like a done deal victory to the Knights, but as we know the game isn’t played on paper and we only have to go back to last year to see the Bulldogs are capable of winning this match. In the corresponding fixture last year, the Knights were flying high in the top eight, whilst the Bulldogs were languishing down the bottom; but despite the odds it was the Bulldogs who won the match in a huge upset. In saying this, I expect the Knights to have learnt from their mistakes and win comfortably.
Date: Sunday, July 26th
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle
Kick-off: 2:00pm AEST