Julian Vella previews this Saturday Afternoon clash between New Zealand Warriors and Newcastle Knights. This is what we have to look forward to.
New Zealand Warriors
The Warriors have enjoyed a good patch of form during the last five weeks: despite losing to the Panthers and Roosters during this time, they’ve picked up crucial wins over the Tigers, Sea Eagles and Bulldogs. Their performances during this period have been truly admirable considering the circumstances the club has had to deal with so far this season.
Newcastle are currently enjoying their longest winning streak of the season, as they chalked up their third consecutive win (beating North Queensland) last Sunday. But once again the Knights won ugly as the 12-0 scoreline suggests; their attack never recovered from the loss of five-eighth Blake Green, as they struggled to breakdown a usually feeble Cowboys defence.
New Zealand Warriors
The Warriors received a massive boost during the week, with the club agreeing to further extend the loan deals of Parramatta players George Jennings and Daniel Alvaro for an extra week. Both players have helped fill the void left by injuries and players returning home, and they’ll both be looking to finish their stays on a winning note. Impressive rookie second row forward Eliesa Katoa has made a return to the side replacing Isaiah Papali’i, and halfback Chanel Harris-Tavita also returns to the side.
1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (c) 2. Adam Pompey 3. Hayze Perham 4. Peta Hiku 5. George Jennings 6. Kodi Nikorima 7. Chanel Harris-Tavita 8. Jamayne Taunoa-Brown 9. Karl Lawton 10. Lachlan Burr 11. Eliesa Katoa 12. Tohu Harris 13. Jazz Tevaga 14. Wayde Egan 15. Adam Blair 16. Daniel Alvaro 17. Jack Murchie 18. Isaiah Papali’i 20. Gerard Beale 21. Josh Curran 22. Paul Turner.
Another week, another long-term injury to a member of the Newcastle spine for season 2020; the club has confirmed that Blake Green has suffered an ACL injury and is now set for a six to nine month recovery. Unfortunately for Green, this robs him of a chance to play against his former side, who he only left three weeks ago. Another former Warriors playmaker, Mason Lino, comes in to replace Green at five-eighth; he will become the 10th player the Knights have used in their spine this season.
1. Kalyn Ponga 2. Starford To’a 3. Enari Tuala 4. Gehamat Shibasaki 5. Hymel Hunt 6. Mason Lino 7. Mitchell Pearce (c) 8. David Klemmer 9. Kurt Mann 10. Jacob Saifiti 11. Lachlan Fitzgibbon 12. Aidan Guerra 13. Mitchell Barnett 14. Phoenix Crossland 15. Herman Ese’ese 16. Josh King 17. Pasami Saulo 18. Brodie Jones 19. Chris Randall 20. Tex Hoy 21. Jirah Momoisea.
History shows there isn’t much between these two sides: if Newcastle win this match by eight points this will leave the sides deadlocked in their overall history. At this point the Warriors have won 21 games to Newcastle’s 20 (with one game drawn): the Warriors have scored 953 points, whilst Newcastle are of course eight behind on 945.
BATTLE TO WATCH
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck vs Kalyn Ponga
No prizes for identifying the key battle in this match, when you have two of the best fullbacks in game facing off in RTS and KP. Both players hold the key for victory for their respective sides, and despite both possessing their trade mark sidesteps, they go about contributing to winning matches for their sides in different ways.
So far in season 2020 RTS hasn’t quite put up the attacking stats we might usually expect from him; despite all his attacking talents the New Zealand No.1 has accounted for just three tries, one try assist, three line breaks, and 63 tackle breaks. These may seem humble numbers, but RTS has added to the side in other areas: he currently leads the competition for total run metres with 3075, whilst he is second only behind James Tedesco for average run metres with 219 per match.
KP has a different game and doesn’t rely on the large quantity of running metres that RTS produces; instead he makes his difference with his ball-playing skills and elusiveness. KP has 11 try assists, six try assists, nine line breaks, and 87 tackle breaks so far in season 2020; his run metres are still quite impressive at 2753 total run metres at an average of 196 per game, but as the numbers show, he’s not doing the same amount of ‘dirty work’ as his opponent this weekend.
What these numbers show are that these two fullbacks are both champion players and ‘fantasy football’ gods, but they go about their work differently and add to their sides in contrasting areas. Ignoring the numbers, these are two of the best players to watch in the game and they’ll certainly hold the key to victory for their respective sides.
This match sees sixth v 12th on the NRL ladder, but despite this we should see a tight game. Both sides have won more than they’ve lost in recent times and will be looking to continue their upward trajectory. Newcastle have more to play for, with a first finals berth since 2013 almost confirmed, but the Warriors have taken the approach of making the most of their season despite all the COVID-19 issues which have plagued them. I can’t see there being much between the sides, but Newcastle have made a habit of winning ugly this year, so we might see another gritty two-point win again.
Knights by two.
Date: Saturday, August 29th.
Venue: Scully Park, Tamworth.
Kick-off: 3:00pm AEST.