Julian Vella previews this crucial clash between two sides desperately trying to secure their finals place. This is what we have to look forward to.
After a run of three straight wins, you could have be forgiven for thinking Newcastle were beginning to get on a roll, but a closer look at their performances showed last week’s blow out loss to the Warriors was inevitable. The Knights had barely scraped past the struggling Sea Eagles and Cowboys prior to last week, as their mounting injury toll looks to be finally catching up with them.
Cronulla continued their up-and-down season, as they bounced back from their thumping loss to ladder leaders Penrith with a resounding win against the hapless Cowboys. This continues the Sharks’ trend of struggling to compete with the good sides in the competition, whilst blowing away the poor ones.
Although Newcastle got through last week without picking up any more major injuries, they again lost rookie prop Pasami Saulo to suspension. Saulo – who was only two games back from a suspension – now finds himself again sitting on the sidelines. Despite an indifferent return to the side last week, five-eighth Mason Lino will keep the number six jersey this week, with Tex Hoy still on the reserves, whilst the only other change is Phoenix Crossland replacing Chris Randall on the bench.
1. Kalyn Ponga 2. Starford To’a 3. Enari Tuala 4. Gehamat Shibasaki 5. Hymel Hunt 6. Mason Lino 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. Herman Ese’ese 16. Josh King 17. Brodie Jones 18. Tex Hoy 19. Jirah Momoisea 20. Tautau Moga 21. Chris Randall.
The Sharks welcome back premiership-winning halfback Chad Townsend after a long lay off with injury; he starts in place of Connor Tracey, who reverts to the bench. With Shaun Johnson still out, injured rookie playmaker Braydon Trindall keeps his spot in the side. Andrew Fifita is again named in jersey number 21 but is expected to move into the final 17, whilst coach John Morris is fooling no one by naming Toby Rudolf at lock: he will again revert to the bench as he has done every week in the past two months.
1. Will Kennedy 2. Sione Katoa 3. Josh Dugan 4. Jesse Ramien 5. Ronaldo Mulitalo 6. Braydon Trindall 7. Chad Townsend 8. Braden Hamlin-Uele 9. Blayke Brailey 10. Aaron Woods 11. Briton Nikora 12. Wade Graham 13. Toby Rudolf 14. Connor Tracey 15. Scott Sorensen 16. Siosifa Talakai 17. Royce Hunt 18. Jack Williams 19. Bryson Goodwin 20. Teig Wilton 21. Andrew Fifita.
You don’t have to look hard to find the key stat for this match, one competition point separates these two sides on the ladder as they fight for seventh place. The difference between finishing seventh or eighth might not seem too significant, but finishing in the eighth seed will most likely mean a sudden-death clash against either one of last years grand finalists the Sydney Roosters or the Canberra Raiders.
BATTLE TO WATCH
Sharks’ attack vs Knights’ defence
This match sees a classic encounter of ‘fire vs water’ as the stingy Knights defence will look to douse the the red hot Sharks attack, which has been racking up the points in 2020. Cronulla has scored over 400 points so far this year at an average of over 25 per match; now you would think scoring that many points would have you up the sharp end of the ladder when you consider the Panthers average 26 points per game. The Sharks generally let plenty in as well, leaking over 22 points per game.
In contrast, Newcastle have won most of their games through tight, gritty defence, whilst their attack has come under massive scrutiny this year, as they have struggled to put points on the board despite boasting the likes of Kalyn Ponga and Mitchell Pearce. The Knights have conceded just over 16 points per game, which is a huge improvement on last season, where they shipped nearly 22 points per game.
When looking at these numbers, it’s clear to see the battle of the Sharks’ attack against the Knights‘ defence is where the game will be won; if Newcastle can keep the Sharks down near the 16 point mark, they should have enough firepower to finish ahead. Whilst if the Sharks can continue their free-scoring ways and meet their average score of 25 points, Newcastle will likely struggle to match them.
Another key battle and interesting subplot to the game is the return to McDonald Jones Stadium for Jesse Ramien: he landed in Newcastle last season after a breakout year for the Sharks in 2018. Things never quite clicked for Ramien and the Knights as he walked out on the club after just 17 matches. Now back at the club where he belongs, Ramien will be looking to bring further pain on the Knights and their fans, who will likely give him a cold reception.
Newcastle have done a good job of bouncing back to win games after suffering disappointing losses so far in 2020; according to Knights’ captain Pearce, the side has done a good job conducting thorough and honest video review sessions which has helped them rectify poor performances. It’s hard to pick Cronulla as they’ve failed to beat any top side this season; in fact they haven’t beaten a side in the top eight at all. In saying that, the Knights are battered and bruised, and they looked like they might be running out of steam. Cronulla, on the other hand, have players coming back and look like they could be ready to claim their first big scalp of the year.
Date: Friday, September 4th.
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle.
Kick-off: 6:00pm AEST.