Julian Vella previews this crucial clash between two top eight hopefuls, in the Newcastle Knights and the Wests Tigers, at McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle.
After a bright start to the season, where they’ve spent most of the time in the top four, Newcastle now find themselves back amongst the chasing pack after back-to-back losses. This is the first time the Knights have recorded consecutive losses this season and will know another loss here could leave them outside the eight.
They say a leopard never changes it spots: well maybe a Tiger never changes its stripes either? The Wests Tigers again failed to win a game that on paper they should have had no problems with; after a brave performance against the Eels, taking two points from the Warriors should have been a simple mission, but once again the Tigers got complacent and now find themselves facing a tough run of fixtures.
Newcastle have made a host of changes this week; injuries have cruelled their season so far and things have gotten worse with rookie sensation Bradman Best most likely ruled out for the year. Tautau Moga has been dropped after a lacklustre return to the side, Pasami Saulo is suspended after his ugly tackle on Jahrome Hughes, whilst Blake Green starts at five-eighth after his mid-season move to the Knights.
1. Kalyn Ponga 2. Starford To’a 3. Enari Tuala 4. Gehamat Shibasaki 5. Hymel Hunt 6. Blake Green 7. Mitchell Pearce 8. David Klemmer 9. Kurt Mann 10. Jacob Saifiti 11. Lachlan Fitzgibbon 12. Aidan Guerra 13. Mitchell Barnett 14. Phoenix Crossland 15. Josh King 16. Herman Ese’ese 17. Brodie Jones 18. Chris Randall 19. Tex Hoy 20. Mason Lino 21. Jirah Momoisea.
Much like Knights coach Adam O’Brien, the Tigers’ coach Michael Maguire has made plenty of changes to his side that lost last week. They have a new centre pairing of Timmy Talau and BJ Leilua (who is returning from suspension), whilst Moses Mbye moves from centre to hooker to cover for the injured Harry Grant. New recruit Asu Kepaoa makes his debut on the wing, whilst there is a return to the starting lineup for Luke Brooks. Billy Walters and Chris Lawrence revert to the bench, while Luke Garner has been dropped to the reserves.
1. Adam Doueihi 2. David Nofoaluma 3. Joseph Leilua 4. Tommy Talau 5. Asu Kepaoa 6. Luke Brooks 7. Benji Marshall 8. Josh Aloiai 9. Moses Mbye 10. Russell Packer 11. Luciano Leilua 12. Sam McIntyre 13. Matt Eisenhuth 14. Thomas Mikaele 15. Shawn Blore 16. Chris Lawrence 17. Billy Walters 18. Alex Seyfarth 19. Luke Garner 20. Josh Reynolds 21. Elijah Taylor.
If history is anything to go off we can expect lots of points in this match; during the 29 occasions these sides have faced off there has been an average of 47.5 points scored. During the last three clashes the average goes up to over 57 points per game.
BATTLE TO WATCH
Blake Green v Luke Brooks
Both sides have had to make a host of changes to their lineups due to form, injuries and suspension, so it’s no surprise this week sees both the Knights and Tigers lineup up with different faces wearing the No.6 jersey.
The Tigers have continued to change things up in their halves all season as ‘Madge’ Maguire has shown he’s not afraid to wield the axe. Luke Brooks felt the chop a few weeks back after an insipid performance against the Rabbitohs, but he now finds himself back in the starting side, knowing he has to perform to keep his spot.
Brooks – who usually plays halfback – has been named at five-eighth for the first time in his career, which might help lift the weight off his shoulders that comes standard with wearing the famous No.7 jersey. Brooks has so far failed to live up to the lofty expectations he set coming through the juniors, so the change of position and jersey number might finally set him free.
On the other side of the field, Brooks will line up against veteran playmaker Blake Green, who will now face the Tigers for the second consecutive week after moving across from the Warriors earlier in the week. Green – who is now at his seventh NRL club – will bring some much-needed composure to the last play options for the Knights, who have been especially poor in this area throughout 2020.
Green, who is now playing for a contract after being told he’s no longer needed at the Warriors, played a key role in the New Zealand side’s victory over the Tigers last week. His clever kicking game and smart selection of passes helped the Warriors build pressure and strike for points when they were on offer; the Knights will hope he can reproduce this form again to tame the Tigers.
Both sides have lost two in a row and are desperate to stop the rot as they can see the familiar tale of a lost season taking place. Of all the sides in the NRL, the Knights and Tigers are on the longest current streaks of missing the finals, with Newcastle last reaching September in 2013, whilst the Tigers haven’t been there since 2011.
So, with both sides feeling their seasons could be slipping away, this match will have that feel of desperation seeping through it. I expect this match to be close affair, with the lead to change on more than one occasion, but the added composure of Blake Green will be the difference, allowing Kalyn Ponga and Mitchell Pearce to concentrate on their attacking games.
Date: Saturday, 8th of August
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle
Kick-off: 5:30pm, AEST