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2021 NRL Round Two Preview, Warriors Vs Knights

Julian Vella previews this clash between two round one winners, the New Zealand Warriors and Newcastle Knights, at Central Coast Stadium in Gosford.

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TEAM NEWS

Venue: Central Coast Stadium, Central Coast, Date: Friday, March 19th 2021, Time: 6:00pm AEDT

Warriors Team

  1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
  2. David Fusitu’a
  3. Adam Pompey
  4. Peta Hiku
  5. Ken Maumalo
  6. Kodi Nikorima
  7. Chanel Harris-Tavita
  8. Addin Fonua-Blake
  9. Wayde Egan
  10. Jamayne Taunoa-Brown
  11. Eliesa Katoa
  12. Bayley Sironen
  13. Tohu Harris
  14. Jazz Tevaga
  15. Ben Murdoch-Masila
  16. Leeson Ah Mau
  17. Bunty Afoa
  18. Marcelo Montoya
  19. Sean O’Sullivan
  20. Tom Ale
  21. Jack Murchie

Team Changes

IN: Adam Pompey
OUT: Euan Aitken

Knights Team

  1. Tex Hoy
  2. Starford To’a
  3. Enari Tuala
  4. Bradman Best
  5. Hymel Hunt
  6. Kurt Mann
  7. Mitchell Pearce
  8. David Klemmer
  9. Jayden Brailey
  10. Daniel Saifiti
  11. Tyson Frizell
  12. Mitchell Barnett
  13. Connor Watson
  14. Sauaso Sue
  15. Jacob Saifiti
  16. Josh King
  17. Brodie Jones
  18. Phoenix Crossland
  19. Pasami Saulo
  20. Dominic Young
  21. Gehamat Shibasaki

Team Changes

IN: nil
OUT:
nil

Referee: Grant Atkins

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Warriors

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The Nathan Brown era at the Warriors kicked off in style with the former Knights’ mentor making a successful return to the coaches box. The New Zealand side (which has once again relocated to the NSW Central Coast for the foreseeable future due to COVID-19 travel restrictions), continued where they left off last season with a focused and determined effort throughout the 80 minutes against the Gold Coast Titans.

The Warriors were a highlight of season 2020 as they put aside a host of issues to make a late run for the finals; although they ultimately fell short, the groundwork and foundations they laid throughout the back-end of the season has left them in good shape to take the next step in season 2021.

Although they have a new coach in charge, the Warriors’ game plan looked very much the same as it was under Todd Payten: their tough, uncompromising pack of forwards, now boosted by recruits Addin Fonua-Blake, Bayley Sironen and Ben Murdoch-Masila, powered through the Titans and laid the platform for the likes of Kodi Nikorima and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to weave their magic.

The only sour note after the win was the news that another new recruit, former Dragons centre Euan Aitken, has suffered a syndesmosis injury and will miss between 8-10 weeks. Young centre Adam Pompey will come into the side: he impressed last season playing on the left edge and will look make the most of his opportunity.

Knights

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After an off-season the Knights would have been eager to put behind them, Adam O’Brien’s side was ‘chomping at the bit’ to get their season underway. Another Mitchell Pearce scandal led to him stepping down as captain, whilst O’Brien himself hit the headlines for the wrong reasons: all this, coupled with an injury crisis that left Newcastle missing no less than five starting players before a ball was even kicked, had plenty of pundits predicting the Knights could slide in 2021.

But with a home crowd of nearly 20,000 packed into McDonald Jones Stadium and Daniel Saifiti leading the team out in his 100th game (his first as captain), it was a recipe for success as the Knights players were hell-bent on making a statement in round one against a much-hyped Bulldogs team. Despite a slow start, the Knights responded in style scoring three first half tries to take an eight-point lead into halftime; a strong start to the second half blew away the Dogs, as the forwards – led by Saifiti, David Klemmer and new recruit Tyson Frizzell – dominated their opposition pack.

Another player who stood out was co-captain Jayden Brailey who was returning from an ACL reconstruction; some players take a while to regain their confidence after such an injury, but the former Sharks’ hooker was a standout and his presence was felt by Pearce, who played his best game in a long time. The former captain struggled in the second half of 2020 with the lack of cohesion in the Knights’ spine clearly affecting his game, but with two try assists and as many line-break assists the early signs are good for Pearce and the Knights.

PREVIEW

With both teams getting off to a winning start for the season, confidence will be high going into Friday night’s clash in Gosford, where a decent crowd is expected with the Knights’ faithful supporters just an hour and a bit up the M1. The only thing that could dampen the crowd numbers is the weather forecast, with the bureau predicting lots of rain on Friday.

Newcastle will be well-equipped to handle such conditions after their round one clash started just as a heavy shower hit the ground; whilst they struggled early with ball handling, they were able to readjust their game plan and a more forwards-focused strategy resulted in an easy win.

But the Knights come up against a more formidable pack of forwards this week, as the Warriors big men showed last week against the Titans: historically known for their flamboyant style of play, the new-look Warriors seem to have gone to a no-frills no-nonsense approach.

With both sides boasting a number of big-name forwards, the clash of the big men will undoubtedly be the highlight of the match, and the two biggest names and leaders of their respective packs, Fonua-Blake and Klemmer, will be the main event.

Fonua-Blake and Klemmer do have history as they’ve had some heated clashes before whilst the Warriors’ prop was at Manly; the Knights’ fans also have ‘beef’ with the Tongan international after a heated clash in 2019 and his infamous ‘cry-baby’ gesture. This all bodes well for another fiery clash between two of the NRL’s premier props.

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Newcastle will have plenty of extra incentive to claim the two competition points off the Warriors: not only will their heavy loss in the last meeting between the two sides be fresh in their minds, but it’s also the first time they’ll come up against their former coach since his messy exit from the club.

Despite both Brown and the club claiming it was an acrimonious split, the manner in which it happened and the way the team ended the season suggested all was not well and both Brown and his former players will take extra pleasure from winning this clash.

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KEY STAT

After Newcastle dominated the early years of this clash, it has been the Warriors who have fared best when these two clubs face off in recent time. The Warriors have won seven of the past 10 encounters although the past six matches have seen alternating winners.

PREDICTION

This clash on paper looks too close to call with any real confidence: both of last year’s clashes ended in lopsided scorelines, with Newcastle winning in round one and the Warriors winning in round 16. Both sides look to be improved outfits with strong packs and lots of X-factor in the backs. This is too close to call, which means we could see our first draw of the season.

Draw. 

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