2021 NRL Round Four Preview, Knights Vs Dragons

Julian Vella previews this Easter Sunday clash between two old rivals the Newcastle Knights and St George Illawarra Dragons at McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle, This is what we have to look forward to.

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Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle, Date: Sunday April 4th, Time: 4:00pm AEST

Knights Team

  1. Tex Hoy
  2. Starford To’a
  3. Enari Tuala
  4. Gehamat Shibasaki
  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. Balke Green
  18. Brodie Jones
  19. Dominic Young
  20. Simi Sasagi
  21. Pasami Saulo

Team Changes

IN: Blake Green, Starford To’a, Simi Sasagi, Pasami Saulo

Dragons Team

  1. Matthew Dufty
  2. Cody Ramsey
  3. Brayden Wiliame
  4. Zac Lomax
  5. Mikaele Ravalawa
  6. Corey Norman
  7. Adam Clune
  8. Blake Lawrie
  9. Andrew McCullough
  10. Paul Vaughan
  11. Josh Kerr
  12. Tariq Sims
  13. Tyrell Fuimaono
  14. Poasa Faamausili
  15. Trent Merrin
  16. Daniel Alvaro
  17. Jackson Ford
  18. Kaide Ellis
  19. Jordan Pereira
  20. Max Feagai
  21. Eddie Blacker

Team Changes

IN: Adam Clune, Eddie Blacker, Jackson Ford, Jordan Pereira, Kaide Ellis, Max Feagai

OUT: Ben Hunt, Jack Bird

Referee: Peter Gough



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After starting the season with two wins, the Knights came crashing back down to Earth last Sunday, as they went down to the Wests Tigers in front of a 20,000-strong home crowd. It was a very disappointing performance from the Knights in what was Mitchell Pearce’s 300th career match: his team mates let him down by turning over the ball no less than 18 times.

An injury-depleted Knights were forced into a back-line reshuffle, with Starford To’a and Bradman Best both late withdrawals; this meant Gehamat Shibasaki had to be deployed on the right wing, a position he clearly wasn’t comfortable with as he struggled with the high balls directed his way by the Tigers’ halves. Luckily for Shibasaki, the coach has kept faith in him and picked him in his preferred position of right centre this week.

Veteran five-eighth Blake Green makes his long-awaited return from a ruptured ACL this week, after being named on the bench by Adam O’Brien. It’s unclear exactly how O’Brien is planning on structuring his side once he deploys Green onto the field, with utility Kurt Mann starting at five-eighth and Connor Watson being used as a roaming lock off the bench; it will be interesting to see how they all fit into the team.


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No team entered the 2021 season with more negativity surrounding them than this under pressure Dragons side. With new coach Anthony Griffin an unpopular appointment amongst certain parts of the fan base and media, mixed in with some questionable retention and recruitment moves, and three poor outings in the trials, many pundits had the Dragons as favourites for the wooden spoon.

But a week is a long time in the NRL: with the Dragons enjoying back-to-back wins and sitting inside the top eight, those trial losses and negative headlines seem an eternity ago. After a promising first outing against the Sharks, the Dragons have now beaten both the Cowboys and Sea Eagles, as some of their much-maligned stars in Ben Hunt, Corey Norman and Jack Bird have found form and turned the clock back.

Going into this week the Dragons will be missing both Hunt and Bird who are out with injury and suspension. For Hunt, who seems to be relishing the captaincy and being reunited with his former coach Griffin, this injury has come at the worst time. After his much-publicised struggles with form in 2020, it was great to see him recapture his best form in the opening three rounds of the season: unfortunately he now faces a long stint on the sidelines after breaking his fibula during the win over Manly Warringah.


Although it might not be one of the more popular – or traditional – rivalries in the game, the Knights vs Dragons clash is one that fans from both clubs circle once the draw is released. Over the years there have been many memorable battles between the sides, starting in 1992 in Newcastle’s first finals appearance as they were outlasted by the Red V (pre-merger) in the famous tryless match where a Peter Coyne field goal delivered a 3-2 victory for the Dragons.

There have also been many players cross over between clubs over the years: including Matthew Rodwell, Jamie Ainscough, Darius Boyd, Beau Scott, Tariq Sims, and now most recently Tyson Frizzell. The NSW Origin backrower caused a massive stir when he decided last season that he would depart the Dragons for the Knights in search for a premiership.

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His decision to make the move was a not-so-silent admission that he felt the Dragons’ chances of winning a premiership had totally diminished; his former team mates will be no doubt eager to show him there’s still some fight left in them. For Frizzell, who lets his actions do the talking, he will also be looking for a big performance against his former club: after three strong showings already in his new colours, another big game is on the cards.

The Dragons will head into this match as underdogs, but the absence of pressure will be welcomed by a club and playing group who have been bashed from pillar to post for the last two to three seasons. Griffin has simplified the team structure and most importantly gotten his best players playing to their potential and enjoying their footy, a dangerous combination for any opposing side.

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Newcastle will be wary of the ‘nothing to lose’ attitude the Dragons will bring into this match, after facing a similar opponent last week in the Tigers; whilst the occasion of Pearce’s 300th seemed to have gotten the better of the team, a more relaxed build up should hopefully calm the players who made a flurry of nervous errors. The backline were mostly to blame in this area as they failed to deal with an astute kicking game from the Tigers: they can expect another thorough examination from the Dragons, who will no doubt look to put the pressure on early.

Newcastle will know they have the Dragons’ number in the forwards: with Frizzell joined by fellow Origin players in Daniel Saifiti and David Klemmer, they have a distinct advantage in the middle of the field. The Knights pack will look to lay an early platform for the likes of Pearce and Watson to take advantage of; the former had a brilliant game last week as he looks to finally to put his injury problems behind him. Unless the Dragons’ forwards can contain their opposite numbers, it could be a long day for the Saints.


Since the joint venture of St George and Illawarra the Dragons have enjoyed an incredible run of victories over the Knights in Newcastle. Since 1999 they have travelled up the M1 22 times to face the Knights, winning 17 of those matches! So much for a ‘home field’ advantage for the Knights.

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A few weeks ago this match-up might have looked like a fairly straightforward win for the Knights, but the Dragons have defied their critics and sit on equal points with the Knights. Considering the opposition each side have played is fairly even, this could have been a really close battle, but the absence of both Hunt and Bird will really affect the Dragons, and despite the Knights also missing key players such as Bradman Best and Kalyn Ponga, I expect the home team to claim victory.

Knights 1-12.

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