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2021 NRL Round Three Preview, Knights Vs Tigers

Julian Vella previews this Sunday afternoon clash between two sides at opposite ends of the table: the two-from-two Newcastle Knights and the winless Wests Tigers.

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TEAM NEWS

Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle Date: Sunday, 28th of March Time: 4:05pm AEDT

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. Gehamat Shibasaki
  19. Pasami Saulo
  20. Dominic Young
  21. Simi Sasagi

Team Changes

IN: Kurt Mann, Gehamat Shibasaki, Pasami Saulo, Dominic Young, Simi Sasagi
OUT: Phoenix Crossland

Tigers Team

  1. Daine Laurie
  2. David Nofoaluma
  3. Tommy Talau
  4. James Roberts
  5. Asu Kepaoa
  6. Adam Doueihi
  7. Luke Brooks
  8. Zane Musgrove
  9. Jacob Liddle
  10. James Tamou
  11. Luke Garner
  12. Luciano Leilua
  13. Alex Twal
  14. Joe Ofahengaue
  15. Thomas Mikaele
  16. Stefano Utoikamanu
  17. Moses Mbye
  18. Michael Chee-Kam
  19. BJ Leilua
  20. Russell Packer
  21. Alex Seyfarth

Team Changes

IN: James Roberts, Alex Seyfarth, Russell Packer, Zane Musgrove
OUT:

Referee: Gerard Sutton

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Knights

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Newcastle have had the perfect start to season 2021 by winning both of their opening fixtures over the Bulldogs and Warriors. Whilst their round one win over the Dogs was a comfortable 32-10 victory, they were made to work much harder against a formidable Warriors outfit. Despite leading for the majority of the match, the under-strength Knights found themselves behind with 10 minutes to go, but thanks to a late try from Hymel Hunt (after a break and superb offload from Bradman Best), the Knights got home 20-16. Young five-eighth Phoenix Crossland has been suspended for two matches and will drop out of the side; he will be replaced by Kurt Mann who has recovered from a knee injury suffered in the opening round.

Tigers

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Whilst the Knights have enjoyed a perfect start to the season, the same can’t be said for the hapless Tigers who have given up big scores in both of their opening fixtures. They have faced much stiffer competition, coming up against the 2019 grand finalists the Roosters and Raiders, but coach Michael Maguire would have hoped for better performances overall. ‘Madge’ has be known to wield the axe at the selection table after a poor performance, and while it looked like he might take a chop to the entire left side of his defense that gave up five tries on the weekend, he held his nerve and made just the one change: centre BJ Leilua paying for a lacklustre performance and being replaced by James Roberts, who missed last week through injury.

PREVIEW

On paper this looks like a straightforward match which the Knights should win comfortably; not only have they started the season with two wins, but they will have an extra reason for victory in front of their home crowd as former captain Mitchell Pearce celebrates his 300th NRL appearance in the clash against the Tigers, with his father Wayne remembered as a Balmain Tigers legend.

During a career that is into it’s 15th year, it’s no surprise that Mitchell Pearce has ridden the ups and downs that the NRL spotlight will throw at you, but you can’t argue that the former NSW representative has faced more adversity than the average 300-game career will see. But credit to the man as he has always responded with his actions on the field: he’s repeated that this season after an off-season to forget. He’s started the season in great form, leading his Knights to a perfect start to the year.

Whilst the Knights have a real positive vibe around the club, the Tigers head up the M1 with their backs most certainly up against the wall; despite a promising off-season which had everyone around the club buzzing heading into round one, two losses to start the year has dampened that mood. New forwards James Tamou and Joe Ofahengaue have been ineffective, whilst halfback Luke Brooks has also had an indifferent start to the year; the one bright spark for the Tigers has been new fullback Dane Laurie: he has shown glimpses of brilliance (despite not getting much quality ball) which will give hope to the Tigers faithful.

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Although it looks and feels as though each club’s fortunes are going in different directions, rugby league is a funny game which always throws up shock results, and Newcastle have a recent history of losing games they should win. Last year the Knights lost four games to bottom eight teams, which ultimately cost them a home semi final. Despite beating the Tigers twice last season, Newcastle have struggled in recent years against the joint venture club.

With the expectation of winning and the pressure to celebrate Pearce’s milestone with a victory, the Knights will have to remember to keep their minds on the job, whilst the Tigers come into this match without the burden of expectation and will be able to play the underdog role: a dangerous combination with an all too familiar tale resulting in an upset. This should have the Knights worried and the Tigers primed for a big performance.

KEY STAT

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Pearce will become the 42nd player to play 300 top level rugby league matches in Australia when he runs onto the field on Sunday afternoon. Whilst it is becoming more common for players to reach the magical 300-matches mark, it’s no less of an achievement, especially at the age of 31. Pearce will have Cameron Smith’s record of 430 games in sight.

PREDICTION

Newcastle will be coming into this game red-hot favourites and claim to have learnt from last season’s fade-outs against lesser opposition: this is their first test to see if they have. The talk coming out of the Tigers pre-season was that this was their year to finally break their finals drought; they need to start winning after their poor start, and this week would be a good time to start. Although the Knights recorded two big wins over the Tigers last year, I expect this match to be much closer, with the Knights to prevail in the end.

Newcastle by 1-12.

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