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2021 NRL Round 18 Preview, Storm Vs Knights

Julian Vella previews this Saturday night clash between the Melbourne Storm and Newcastle Knights This is what we have to look forward to.

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TEAM NEWS

Venue: CBUS Stadium, Date: 17/7, Time: 7:35pm AEST

Storm Team

1. Nicho Hynes
2. George Jennings
3. Reimis Smith
4. Justin Olam
5. Josh Addo-Carr
6. Cameron Munster
7. Jahrome Hughes
8. Jesse Bromwich
9. Brandon Smith
10. Christian Welch
11. Felise Kaufusi
12. Kenneath Bromwich
13. Dale Finucane
14. Aaron Booth
15. Tui Kamikamica
16. Chris Lewis
17. Aaron Pene
18. Isaac Lumelume
19. Dean Ieremia
20. Cooper Johns
21. Trent Loiero
22. Jordan Grant
23. Tepai Moeroa

Team Changes

IN: Cooper Johns, Dean Ieremia, Isaac Lumelume, Jordan Grant, Tepai Moeroa
OUT:

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. Mitch Barnett
12. Lachlan Fitzgibbon
13. Sauaso Sue
14. Connor Watson
15. David Klemmer
16. Josh King
17. Brodie Jones
18. Jack Johns
19. Phoenix Crossland
20. Simi Sasagi
21. Jorah Momoisea

Team Changes

IN: Jirah Momoisea, Simi Sasagi, Tex Hoy, Tyson Frizell

OUT: Sauaso Sue

Referee: Chris Sutton

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Storm

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What can you say about the Storm? They’ve now won 13 games straight having not lost since round 3 to the Panthers, in a match where they could have won it on the final play had Justin Olam passed to Josh Addo-Carr. During this amazing run of wins, the Storm have maintained a winning margin of almost 30 points, their ‘slimmest’ victory coming against the Titans, a six-point win despite missing their Origin stars.

Coming off a weeks rest after beating the Roosters 46-0 in Round 16, the Storm will be fresh and raring to go, superstars Harry Grant and Ryan Papenhuyzen are still missing, but all the rest of their rep players have been named to play. It looks as though all five of the Storm’s Origin players who took part in Wednesday nights’ game will be fit and right to play, Josh Addo-Carr took a big shot to the lower back, but continued on after treatment.

As part of the drastic measures the NRL has been forced to take by relocating all twelve NSW based sides to Queensland due to the pandemic, the Knights will now call the Sunshine Coast home for the next month at least. Ironically the Storm have just left the Sunny Coast, back to their home of Melbourne, only for them to have to again relocate back to the Sunny Coast due to a snap-lockdown in Victoria.

Knights

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As mentioned the Knights have been relocated to the Sunshine Coast for the next month as the NRL continues to deal with the ever changing situation regarding the pandemic. Senior Knights’ players such as Mitchell Pearce and David Klemmer have spoken about the difficulty of leaving their families behind, but that the squad is committed to their quest of finishing the year strong and earning a finals spot.

In positive news for the Knights they welcome back Tyson Frizell back from an ankle injury, this is his first match since he picked up the knock against Manly in Round 12. Daniel Saifiti was another surprise name on the team sheet after being ruled out of Origin III with a rib cartilage injury, it’s yet to be known if he will actually take his place on the field.

Kalyn Ponga was the only Knights’ representative on Wednesday and looks likely to take the field, Tex Hoy has been named as cover in case the mercurial fullback is a late withdrawal. With only Bradman Best, Edrick Lee and Suasoe Sue now unavailable from the Knights’ best 17, this is the strongest team coach Adam O’Brien has been able to name all season.

PREVIEW

Newcastle head into this game on the back of two straight wins and their finals destiny most certainly in their own hands. After a rough start to the year where injuries and blow-out losses have cast a shadow over their season, the Knights have had a ‘season re-set’ at the halfway mark of the year. With a log jam of sides fighting it out for the last two spots in the Top 8, the Knights’ poor first half of the season hasn’t set them back as far as most critics who had written them off had thought.

Adam O’Brien has spoken about this season re-set and that the second half of the year was a fresh start for the team, now after those two wins against the Warriors and Cowboys, they face their final eight games needing to win five to six of those matches. With the majority of those games against sides either below or equal on points with the Knights, this game could be seen as a ‘free hit’ for O’Brien’s side.

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A win for Newcastle would be a bonus and a surprise, but for the team and their coach a solid display against the inform team of the competition will put them in good stead for the remainder of the season. In contrast if the Storm have their way with the Newcastle, like they’ve done with all that have come before them in the past thirteen matches, it could be back to square one for the Knights.

The attacking juggernaut that is the Melbourne Storm shows no signs of letting up, they’ve scored a record 584 points this season, well on track to break the NRL record and amazingly they’ve scored 115 more points than the Penrith Panthers who are second on the list for points scored in 2021. Fast starts are the recipe for the Storm’s success this season, they’re first to score on most occasions with their opposition finding themselves out of the game by halftime, if not earlier.

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For the Knights fast starts to games are almost non-existent as they’ve been perennial slow starters all season. Their last win over the Cowboys was the first time they were the first team to score in nine matches, dating back to their Round 6 win over the Sharks. Knowing these stats it’s clear O’Brien will be drumming it into his side that starting the match well is imperative to them having any chance of causing a boil over, it might sound obvious but the longer the Knights are in the contest, the better chance they have of winning.

For the Storm: no side identifies and targets weaknesses better than the Storm, and they’ll know the Knights’ right side defence has been problematic all season. Despite the change in personal there for the Knights, expect the Storm to run lots of plays down that there to test their resolve. Fullback Nico Hynes who’s been in NSW Origin camp for 10 days will return full of confidence after getting his first introduction to rep football, he’s been on fire ever since he stepped in for Ryan Papenhuyzen, and he’ll be looking for another big game coming up against Knights’ star Kalyn Ponga.

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KEY STAT

The Storm have had the wood over the Knights in general for a while winning the last nine meetings between the clubs. In fact no Knights player has ever beaten the Storm in a Knights’ jumper.

PREDICTION

It’s hard to see anything else but a Storm victory in this match, as mentioned above they just don’t lose in 2021 and have only come relatively close to losing in their six point win over the Titans, minus their Origin Stars. If Newcastle can compete for the 80 minutes they’ll walk away from this game happy, but it’s almost certainly the Storm who will walk away with the points. Storm 13+

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