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2020 NRL Round 14 Preview, Knights Vs Sea Eagles

Julian Vella previews a Sunday afternoon sizzler between two clubs who just don’t like each other.

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FORM LINE

Newcastle Knights

After suffering consecutive losses for the first time this season, Newcastle bounced back in impressive fashion, thrashing the hapless Tigers 44-4. The Knights’ attack has come under massive criticism in season 2020, as they’ve struggled for cohesion and ultimately points, but with the addition of veteran playmaker Blake Green the Knights pilled on the points. Star fullback Kalyn Ponga made a timely return to form, scoring two tries and setting another two up as he put in a five-star performance.

Manly Warringah Sea Eagles

Manly looked as though they had turned their season around as they put back-to-back wins together against the Eels and Cowboys, but after being brought back down to earth against the competition leading Panthers, Manly slumped to a disappointing home loss to the Warriors. The Northern Beaches side now find themselves on another losing streak; and with a tough three weeks ahead of them the last thing they needed was a trip up the M1 to face their arch-rivals.

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SQUAD NEWS

Newcastle Knights

After last week’s big win over the Tigers, Newcastle coach Adam O’Brien claimed that having no injuries out of the game was almost as valuable as the two competition points. Although this quote may have slightly been ‘tongue in cheek’, the Knights have suffered a horrendous injury toll this season, and O’Brien was obviously thrilled to come out of a game unscathed for once. In more good news, the Knights welcome back State of Origin prop Daniel Saifiti, who takes his brother Jacob’s spot in the starting side; Jacob reverts to the bench.

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. Daniel Saifiti 11. Lachlan Fitzgibbon 12. Aidan Guerra 13. Mitchell Barnett 14. Phoenix Crossland 15. Jacob Saifiti 16. Herman Ese’ese 17. Josh King 18. Tex Hoy 19. Brodie Jones 20. Chris Randall 21. Mason Lino.

Manly Warringah Sea Eagles

Much like the Knights, Manly can’t catch a break injury-wise in season 2020; just when they start to get some players back, more fall down with injury. Last week saw prop Addin Fonua-Blake damage his PCL in his knee, this will see him miss the best part of a month. Manly do welcome back centre Brad Parker; whilst they’ve also named Curtis Sironen and Marty Taupau in their starting lineup. Both players are still yet to be fully cleared to return, with Sironen managing a knee injury and Taupau suffering a bad concussion last week.

1. Brendan Elliot 2. Jorge Taufua 3. Brad Parker 4. Moses Suli 5. Reuben Garrick 6. Cade Cust 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Taniela Paseka 9. Danny Levi 10. Martin Taupau 11. Joel Thompson 12. Curtis Sironen 13. Jake Trbojevic 14. Lachlan Croker 15. Corey Waddell 16. Sean Keppie 17. Haumole Olakau’atu 18. Morgan Boyle 19. Tevita Funa 20. Abbas Miski 21. Jack Gosiewski.

KEY STAT

Both sides sit inside the top four clubs for set completions in season 2020; this suggests we will see a high quality game with little errors from either side. In a game like this, field position will be key and either side will have to make sure they take advantage of their chances when they come.

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BATTLE TO WATCH

Mitchell Pearce vs Daly Cherry-Evans

This clash sees two of the games elite halfbacks square off; Pearce and Cherry-Evans are also the two most experienced No.7s in the NRL and were the State of Origin halfbacks in game three last year. Despite all this, it’s fair to say both players have struggled to find consistency thus far in 2020, as their teams’ positions on the ladder reflect.

Pearce has carried his indifferent form from the back end of 2019 into this year; after setting the competition alight during the Knights’ mid-season winning streak, he has failed to recapture that form throughout 2020. The Knights’ captain has been carrying the load of directing his side around the park and being the number one last play option; Pearce has also been carrying a knee injury for over a month, which has been hindering his running game.

But the addition of Blake Green from the Warriors will help carry the load and responsibility of  directing the play and finishing off sets, which should hopefully allow Pearce to find his game again and also rekindle his combination with Ponga. If Newcastle are to be a force in 2020 they need that Pearce-Ponga combination to fire again.

Cherry-Evans has been up and down all season as he – much like Pearce – has struggled to find his best form that he showed 12 months ago; 2019 was arguably DCE’s best season as he became Queensland Origin captain and cemented himself as the premier No.7 in the game. Injuries, which has forced constant reshuffles around him, haven’t helped; mainly the loss of star fullback Tom Trbojevic, who much like Pearce and Ponga have a deadly combination.

But Cherry-Evans will have to find another way to out-gun the Knights without his trusty fullback as Trbojevic remains sidelined, and the player he will have to lean on is five-eighth Cude Cust. The Manly No.6 has found himself in and out of the side this year, but there is no doubt he is the best five-eighth at the club. Cust was one of Manly’s best players last week against the Warriors and much like Green is doing for Pearce, Cust is taking some pressure and burden off his halves partner.

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GAME DETAILS

Much like their earlier meeting this year, I expect this game to be a tight tussle with not much between the sides; the clash at Brookvale Oval was a dour affair as neither side really got too expansive throughout the 80 minutes. You could have almost be forgiven for falling asleep until the final play where all hell broke lose, ending in a Bunker controversy and Fonua-Blake sent off.

Hopefully conditions allow for a more free-flowing game, where I see Newcastle having slightly too much fire power out wide for Manly to handle.

Knights 1-12.

Date: Sunday, August 16th
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle
Kick-off: 2:00pm AEST

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