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2021 NRL Round 15 Preview, Knights Vs Warriors

Julian Vella previews this Round 15 clash between the Newcastle Knights and New Zealand Warriors. This is what we have to look forward to.

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TEAM NEWS

Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle, Date: Saturday, 19th June, Time: 3:00pm

Knights Team

1. Kalyn Ponga
2. Dominic Young
3. Kurt Mann
4. Enari Tuala
5. Hymel Hunt
6. Jake Clifford
7. Mitchell Pearce
8. Jacob Saifiti
9. Jayden Brailey
10. Daniel Saifiti
11. Lachlan Fitzgibbon
12. Brodie Jones
13. Mitchell Barnett
14. Connor Watson
15. David Klemmer
16. Sauaso Sue
17. Jack Johns
18. Josh King
19. Matt Croker
20. Brayden Musgrove
21. Tex Hoy

Team Changes

IN: Kalyn Ponga, Hymel Hunt, Mitchell Pearce, David Klemmer, Brayden Musgrove
OUT: Bradman Best, Gehamat Shibasaki

Warriors Team

1. Reece Walsh
2. Marcelo Montoya
3. Rocco Berry
4. Euan Aitken
5. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
6. Kodi Nikorima
7. Sean O’Sullivan
8. Addin Fonua-Blake
9. Jazz Tevaga
10. Ben Murdoch-Masila
11. Bayley Sironen
12. Tohu Harris
13. Josh Curran
14. Eliesa Katoa
15. Leeson Ah Mau
16. Bunty Afoa
17. Kane Evans
18. Edward Kosi
20. Jack Murchie
21. Adam Pompey
22. Taniela Otukolo

Team Changes

IN: Reece Walsh, Sean O’Sullivan, Rocco Berry, Adam Pompey, Eliesa Katoa, Taniela Otukolo
OUT: Chanel Harris-Tavita, Ken Maumolo, Wayde Egan

Referee: Chris Butler

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Knights

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After two straight losses following on from their impressive win over Manly, the Knights will be looking to get things back on track before their season slips away completely. Newcastle have now won just once in their past five outings, and with their season teetering on the edge with just five wins and nine losses, they simply cannot afford to lose this game against the Warriors.

With the Warriors sitting just two points above Newcastle on the ladder, this game could be seen as a ‘four-point’ match. This could be the reason why Knights coach Adam O’Brien has decided to recall Mitchell Pearce for his first game since he tore his pec in round four. The club will say that his return is in-line with the usual recovery time frame, but with a bye next week, it would have made sense to give the veteran No.7 an extra two weeks to further recover.

Pearce is not the only big name player returning on the team sheet this week for the Knights: David Klemmer is back from suspension, Hymel Hunt is named on the wing, whilst Kalyn Ponga has been named to also make his return from a tricky groin injury. Ponga, however, is still no sure thing to play; the club has been extra cautious with his injury and might look to take advantage of the above-mentioned schedule to give him an extra two weeks to fully recover.

They will however have to deal with another lengthy absence from Bradman Best, who picked up his third ankle syndesmosis injury in the past 18 months. Enari Tuala will move from the wing to fill in Best’s left centre role with Hunt taking the wing spot.

Warriors

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The Warriors have also been constantly hampered by injuries so far in 2021, and much like their opponents this week the constant changing of personnel has affected both their form and ladder position. Nathan Brown’s side is facing the third loss in a row, something they have avoided all season so far; in a true reflection of their inconsistent form this season, they have also failed to win consecutive games in 2021.

Again, much like the Knights, the Warriors welcome back some key talent to their side this week, but also lose a few big-name players as well. Whilst the return from suspension of boom rookie (and Origin hopeful) Reece Walsh will come as good news to the side, the loss of halfback Chanel Harris-Tavita to a season-ending pec injury has put a big dampener on their season.

Winger Ken Maumolo will also be missing from last week’s side after he signed off on his Warriors career with a hat-trick against the Storm. Maumolo – who is off to the Tigers – will be replaced by Rocco Berry, whilst hooker Wayde Egan is out with a bad cut above his eye, his spot is taken on the bench by Eliesa Katoa.

Jazz Tevanga will start the game at hooker in place of Egan; this will be Tevanga’s chance to stake a claim for a starting spot he has yearned for quite some time. Although Jazz spends most of his time as a running forward, hooker is his preferred position.

PREVIEW

With the season tipping over the halfway mark, time is starting to run out for both of these sides if they want to make the finals in 2021. Whilst the Warriors are equal on points with the eighth-placed Dragons, and the Knights just a further two points back, both clubs need to start banking points if they want to avoid a long sudden death run into the final third of the season.

The Warriors have jumped between their best and worst form, not only from week to week, but sometimes producing both forms in the same match. Losses against the Cowboys and Manly in high-scoring affairs could have easily been won by the Warriors as they spent large parts of those matches on top and in front. But the same could be said for wins over the Tigers and Raiders, where they were second best for long periods of those matches.

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Finding consistency in their game has always been an issue for the Warriors teams throughout their 27-year history and not much has changed this year as Brown has found out the hard way. If they are to find consistency this season, this week would be a good time to start against a side also struggling for consistency; and with their next two clashes against sides equal on points in the Dragons and Sharks, the next three weeks could be their most crucial this season.

This game is even more important to Newcastle: no doubt injuries have cruelled their season, but with a host of big names back this week, and time running out to turn things around, the excuses need to stop and stop now. O’Brien has been big on carrying the ‘no excuses’ mantra since he arrived at the Knights, but the pressure of losing has clearly been getting to the second year coach who has been constantly mentioning the club’s injury woes in his press conferences.

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The fact O’Brien has been able to name all three of Pearce, Ponga and co-captain Jayden Brailey in the same side for the first time since round two last season will give him hope things are about turn for both he and the club. The return of Pearce and Ponga should help both Brailey and new five-eighth Jake Clifford, who has shown great promise in his first two games for the club. This should also allow Connor Watson to spend more time playing his preferred position of lock: Watson’s speed and footwork around the ruck has been a rare bright note for the club so far this season.

The Warriors have had their issues defending the middle of the ruck throughout the season, so expect Brailey and Watson to try and get out of dummy half as often as possible, to try and catch the big Warriors middles napping. Whilst the Knights will attack the Warriors in the middle third of the field, expect New Zealand to look to spread the ball wide to score their points. While the Knights have been fairly good at defending the ruck, the same can’t be said for their outside backs. With new defensive combinations on both edges the Warriors will fancy their chances of hurting the home side out wide.

If Ponga does take the field, the clash between himself and Walsh will no doubt be the highlight of the match, as both players have great footwork and brilliant passing games. Another thing they have in common is they’re both Queenslanders, and if you listen to reports coming out of the Sunshine State, they could be teammates in a couple of weeks when the Maroons name their side for Game Two.

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KEY STAT

If recent history is anything to go by, put your money on the Warriors to win this clash: the last eight meetings have seen the result change each time; the last time the Warriors won consecutive matches against the Knights was in 2016/17, while for Newcastle you have to go back to 2014/15.

PREDICTION

Like always when these sides clash it’s hard to be sure of who is going to win. Both sides have spent the past few years hovering around the bottom of the eight or just outside, and after 45 clashes between them the Warriors have won just the one more match. In a match that could be decided by one decisive play, I’ll go with the home side to get the job done on the back of a Pearce or Ponga key play.

Knights 1-12.

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