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2021 NRL Round 19 Preview, Roosters Vs Knights

Julian Vella previews the early kick-off game on Friday night between the fifth-placed Sydney Roosters and the 10th-placed Newcastle Knights. This is what we have to look forward to.

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TEAM NEWS

Venue: Sunshine Coast Stadium, Date: Friday July 23rd, Time: 6:00pm AEST

Roosters Team

1. James Tedesco
2. Daniel Tupou
3. Billy Smith
4. Joseph Manu
5. Matt Ikuvalu
6. Drew Hutchison
7. Sam Walker
8. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves
9. Sam Verrills
10. Isaac Liu
11. Angus Crichton
12. Sitili Tupouniua
13. Victor Radley
14. Lachlan Lam
15. Nat Butcher
16. Egan Butcher
17. Siosiua Taukeiaho
18. Adam Keighran
19. Fletcher Baker
20. Josh Morris
21. Ben Thomas

Team Changes

IN: James Tedesco, Siosiua Taukeiaho, Ben Thomas
OUT: nil

Knights Team

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

Team Changes

IN: Daniel Saifiti, Sausoe Sue, Simi Sasagi
OUT:
nil

Referee: Gerard Sutton

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Roosters

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The battered and bruised Roosters continue to hold their position just outside the top four, despite an injury list that continues to rise. It’s no secret that Trent Robinson has built a strong culture at the Bondi-based club, with the ‘next man up’ mantra being upheld by the squad all season. But it seems the cracks might be slowly starting to appear, with the Roosters experiencing a tough run of fixtures and results in their last five matches since their bye.

They had a tough win over the Titans, where it looked as though they were going to blow a 26-point lead, before a couple of big plays by Joey Manu and a field goal from Sam Walker got them home. Big losses against Penrith and Melbourne followed, before the Tricolours got things back on track, albeit with less than convincing wins against lowly ranked opposition in the Bulldogs and Cowboys.

The wounded Roosters do welcome back a couple of big names in captain James Tedesco and Siosiua Taukeiaho to their 17-man squad, which will no doubt boost their chances of winning and boost team morale. Robinson has made a big selection call: this time form, not injury, has forced another change with veteran centre Josh Morris dropped from the side after a poor run of form. This could spell the end of an illustrious career for Morris, who could now join his brother Brett in retirement.

Knights

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After finally getting some troops back on the field and putting together two good performances that led to wins, it was back to square one for the Knights as they were well and truly played off the park by Melbourne last Saturday on the Gold Coast. It felt like Groundhog Day for Newcastle as they were again crueled by injury before the game with co-captain Daniel Saifiti failing to recover from a rib injury, whilst former captain Mitchell Pearce strained his hamstring in the Captain’s Run.

Newcastle then lost both David Klemmer and Kalyn Ponga to concussion in the first half, and with the Knights finding themselves down 30-0 at halftime, it really was a stinker of a night for the Red and Blue. After talking about a ‘season reset’ the Knights put together two very good defensive displays, conceding just the six points across their wins over the Warriors and Cowboys; but after leaking 48 against the rampant Storm, it shows they still have a way to go before they can match it with the best.

Klemmer and Ponga should be right to take the field this week, whilst Saifiti is a certain starter, however Pearce hasn’t recovered in time to even make the 21-man squad as the club takes a conservative approach with him. Lachlan Fitzgibbon has been made the scapegoat for the poor display last week, as he drops out of the first 17. Mitch Barnett has been named to take his spot on the edge, whilst Connor Watson is named to start at lock.

PREVIEW

When these two teams take the field on Friday night, there will be an eight-point gap between them on the ladder, and with only seven games to go this season this might sound like an insurmountable gap to close for the Knights. But a look ahead at the run home for both clubs shows the Roosters have a much tougher run, facing top four sides in the Panthers, Souths, and Parramatta, whilst the Knights don’t face any top four sides, with their toughest assignments being against the Raiders and Sharks – who are both on equal points with Newcastle.

A win for the Roosters should ensure they seal a home final in the first week of the playoffs, but a loss here could open the door for a fast-finishing Knights. If the Knights don’t pick up the win, their chances of finishing in the top six are gone, whilst their task of finishing top eight becomes tricky, and most likely leaves them needing to win at least five of their final six games of the season.

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Whilst the Knights do have a soft run home, they will be under no illusions that they face a very tough opponent this week; they only have to look back at their last three meetings with the Roosters to know how tough it will be. In their three previous meetings the Roosters have won with an aggregate score of 128-26, this includes a 38-4 drubbing in front of a packed house at McDonald Jones Stadium in round eight. On that night Walker ran riot against a hapless Knights’ defence as he set up no less than four tries, whilst scoring one himself.

Newcastle will know they can’t let the 18-year-old halfback have it all his own way again, they will also know that although Walker can be a match-winner, he has also shown in his rookie season that he can produce indifferent performances in both attack and defence. In big losses to the Storm and Broncos Walker had poor games which led to these big defeats; against the Broncos it was a barrage of runs from Tevita Pangai that made the night difficult for Walker, whilst against the Storm it was a team effort to limit his time on the ball that led to him making a string of poor attacking plays.

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Newcastle will know that if they give Walker time and space he will hurt them, and they will also now know that if they can make the night difficult for him, it will have a ripple effect on the rest of the side. Mitch Barnett has been named on the left edge for Newcastle and will undoubtedly be given instructions from Adam O’Brien to make it an uncomfortable night for the rookie halfback.

This clash also brings together two of the most exciting players in the competition and the fullbacks from Origin Game III: Tedesco will be looking for revenge as he was out-shown by Ponga in the final match of the series, although Tedesco had the last laugh, lifting the shield for the first time as captain.

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KEY STAT

The Roosters well and truly have the wood over the Knights in recent times, winning nine of the last 10 matches they’ve played; it gets worse when you look back at the last 15 fixtures, with the Roosters winning all but two.

PREDICTION

When Newcastle looked at their ‘season reset’ they probably thought the Storm game was unlikely to end with two points for them, but with the Roosters vulnerable they would have identified this as a winnable game. If Pearce and Bradman Best were fit to play I think it would be even money, but the Knights simply don’t have the depth outside of their best 17, whilst for the Roosters, who have a much longer list of injuries, they have shown their squad to be much deeper in quality which is a testament to the coaching team.

Roosters 1-12.

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