Julian Vella previews the Women In League clash between the Newcastle Knights and St George-Illawarra Dragons. This is what we have to look forward to.
Newcastle’s season continues to run ‘hot and cold’ as they were thrashed on the weekend by the defending premiers Sydney Roosters.
This was the Knights’ second heavy loss in the past three weeks after being humiliated by the Warriors a fortnight ago.
In between those two average performances, the Knights handed out a beating of their own as they put a score on the Sharks in Round 17.
St George-Illawarra Dragons
2020 will certainly go down a season the famous Red V would like to forget.
After a mini revival following the departure of head coach Paul McGregor, the Dragons have now fallen to three consecutive losses. Two of those losses came against teams below them on the ladder in the Titans and Cowboys, which will infuriate their already disgruntled fan base.
After being pounded by the Roosters last week there were always going to be changes for the Knights this week.
The big loss accompanied by the return of Kalyn Ponga, Mitchell Barnett and Hymel Hunt who were rested last week has seen Adam O’Brien name a vastly different side. Ponga returns at fullback, while Hunt is named in the centres for the first time this season.
Tex Hoy has been named at five-eighth in place of Mason Lino, who along with Gehamat Shibasaki are the unlucky players dropped.
Kurt Mann is also out suspended, Phoenix Crossland returns to replace him.
1. Kalyn Ponga 2. Edrick Lee 3. Enari Tuala 4. Hymel Hunt 5. Starford To’a 6. Tex Hoy 7. Mitchell Pearce 8. David Klemmer 9. Chris Randall 10. Daniel Saifiti 11. Lachlan Fitzgibbon 12. Aidan Guerra 13. Mitchell Barnett 14. Phoenix Crossland 15. Jacob Saifiti 16. Herman Ese’ese 17. Sione Mata’utia 18. Josh King 19. Pasami Saulo 20. Mason Lino 21. Tautau Moga
St George-Illawarra Dragons
Despite suffering their own humiliating defeat last week, interim coach Dean Young has resisted the urge to make wholesale changes to his squad.
Young has named the same starting thirteen from the defeat to Canberra, making just the two changes to the interchange bench.
Representative forward Tariq Sims returns from another injury lay-off, while the young gun Max Feagai has been named to make his NRL debut this week. The young New Zealand born centre has impressed since joining the Dragons.
1. Matthew Dufty 2. Jordan Pereira 3. Euan Aitken 4. Zac Lomax 5. Cody Ramsey 6. Corey Norman 7. Adam Clune 8. Kaide Ellis 9. Ben Hunt 10. Paul Vaughan 11. Tyson Frizell 12. Jackson Ford 13. Cameron McInnes 14. Tariq Sims 15. Josh Kerr 16. Blake Lawrie 17. Max Feagai 18. Eddie Blacker 19. Tyrell Fuimaono 20. Brayden Wiliame 21. Jayden Sullivan
This will be the sixth encounter between the sides for the annual Alex McKinnon Cup. The Cup is played for on the first occasion the two sides meet in a season. At this point The Dragons have won the Cup on every occasion.
So considering McKinnon works for the Knights coupled with with this match hosting their annual Old Boys day, the Knights will be desperate to finally break this streak.
BATTLE TO WATCH
Kalyn Ponga v Matt Dufty
It’s hard to look past the two excitement machine fullbacks as the Battle to Watch in this game.
Both players are lighting on their feet, and possess a deadly passing game. Although both players are dangerous ball runners it has been their passing games that have defined their seasons in 2020, both players have 11 try assists each and lead their respective sides in this area.
Both players like to get the ball off the second man play on the edges of the ruck. This is where they can either use their dummy and run skills, or if the defence closes in on them they can produce their bullet like cut-out passes.
While they can both be dangerous lurking around the middle of the ruck, it’s an area both players need to work on supporting their forwards through the middle.
Ponga will be well rested after sitting out last week’s game against the Roosters, clearly a tactic from O’Brien to have his most important weapon fit and fresh for their finals run.
It’s no secret teams target Ponga, so O’Brien felt it would be wise to freshen him up, while protecting him from a likely Roosters barrage on him. But no doubt the Dragons will also target the Queensland No.1 this week with their big forward pack, including Tyson Frizell, who of course will be a Knights’ player in 2021.
For Dufty and the Dragons there will be no finals run, and with the sides below them too far away to put them in harm of a wooden spoon finish it’s hard to see what they have to play for.
But with new coach Anthony Griffin certainly watching closely all players including Dufty will be looking to impress.
Despite his array of skills and highlights, Dufty has found himself in and out of the side since his debut in 2017, for some reason unknown to most, he was on the outer at Saints for a while.
One team has a finals run and a home semi to play for, while the other has nothing. One team is playing in front of their home crowd on Old Boys Day, the other is away from home with no fans at the game. One team has everything to play for, the other only has pride.
This match has more at stake for the Knights which means it will either spur them on, or heap too much pressure on them.
For Saints the fact they have nothing to play for could mean they don’t ‘turn up’ or it could break the shackles and make them more dangerous.
Games like this are often funny games and hard to pick, but I expect Newcastle to find that little bit extra to get the result.
Date: Sunday, September 20th
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle
Kick-off: 4:05pm AEST