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2021 NRL Round 21 Preview, Knights Vs Broncos

Julian Vella previews this Thursday night clash between the Newcastle Knights and Brisbane Broncos. This is what we have to look forward to.

TEAM NEWS

Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane Date: 5/8, Time: 7:50pm AEST

Knights Team

1. Kalyn Ponga
2. Enari Tuala
3. Kurt Mann
4. Bradman Best
5. Hymel Hunt
6. Jake Clifford
7. Mitchell Pearce
8. Jacob Saifiti
9. Chris Randall
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. Phoenix Crossland
19. Lachlan Fitzgibbon
20. Starford To’a
21. Jack Johns

Team Changes

IN: Mitchell Pearce, Chris Randall, Lachlan Fitzgibbon, Starford To’a, Jack Johns

OUT: Tex Hoy, Jaiden Brailey

Broncos Team

1. Tesi Niu
2. Corey Oates
3. Jesse Arthars
4. Herbie Farnworth
5. Jamayne Isaako
6. Tyson Gamble
7. Brodie Croft
8. Keenan Palasia
9. Danny Levi
10. Payne Haas
11. Alex Glenn
12. Jordan Riki
13. Kobe Hetherington
14. Xavier Willison
15. Rhys Kennedy
16. Ethan Bullemor
17. TC Robati
18. David Mead
19. Albert Kelly
20. Anthony Milford
21. Xavier Coates

Team Changes

IN: Jesse Arthars, David Mead, Albert Kelly, Anthony Milford, Xavier Coates

OUT: Katoni Staggs, Jake Turpin

Referee: Grant Atkins

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Knights

It seems odd to say the Newcastle Knights are the ‘home team’ when playing in Queensland against the Brisbane Broncos, but with the competition now based in the sunshine state, the odd has become the norm in 2021. While this game was scheduled to be played on the Sunshine Coast, the NRL announced the game will be moved to Suncorp Stadium as the Queensland government and the NRL continue to work their way through the latest Covid-19 outbreak.

For Newcastle, the move to has been a rough one. Losing their first two games against the Storm and Roosters, they produced a much more committed and focused effort last week as they toppled the Canberra Raiders 34-24. For the Knights, they really needed to put an end to their losing streak and with time quickly running out for them to make a run for the finals, they couldn’t afford a lose.

Playing without their marquee play-maker Mitchell Pearce for the third consecutive game made the win all the more impressive for the Knights, who’ve missed the veteran’s guidance and polish around the park. Pearce has been named in his usual No.7 jersey this week and has said he is a certain starter. Pearce replaces Phoenix Crossland in the halves, while co-captain Jayden Brailey has be given a rest this week after suffering a head knock on the weekend (and with the Knights facing an unprecedented four-day turnaround), Adam O’Brien has decided to draft Chris Randall in to replace him.

Broncos

The Broncos have certainly been on the improve in recent weeks and while the obvious growth the team has shown hasn’t always resulted in a win, Kevin Walters’ side caused a small upset last Friday night beating the North Queensland Cowboys in the Queensland Derby. The Broncos looked switched on from the opening kick-off. While the sides went ‘try for try’ in the opening half, the Broncos were clearly the better side and kicked away for their fifth win of the season.

The Broncos have now won two of their last four games which could be seen as a purple patch for them considering the past two seasons. The two losses during this period also didn’t quite tell the whole tale as they were the better team for large portions of the match, in the losses against the Wests Tigers and Penrith Panthers. Walters will be hoping his side can continue on this upturn in form, against a side who is very much beatable for the Broncos if things go their way.

What hasn’t gone their way in 2021 has been their run with injuries. Much like their opponents the Knights, the Broncos have been having to deal with a growing injury toll for much of this year. Luckily for the Knights they are now close to full strength, but unfortunately for Brisbane they’ll be missing two star players from their victory last week. Hooker Jake Turpin is now out for an extended period, while Kotoni Staggs has damaged his MCL and will miss the remainder of the season. This is a killer blow for Staggs who already missed more than half of the season recovering from an Achilles injury.

PREVIEW

In the late 90’s and early 2000’s this would have been billed as a must watch classic encounter between two competition heavy weights. But the days of Joey Johns versus Alfie Langer are long gone and we now have two sides who have fallen to the depths of the NRL cellar. And while Newcastle are certainly on an upwards trajectory, it’s unknown whether the Broncos have bottomed out, or if in fact they are still falling from their once seemingly untouchable perch at the top of the NRL tree.

The Broncos have shown promise in recent weeks that things are turning around, but as the Knights could tell them, there are plenty of false dawns in a rebuilding mission, and their return to the top will not come overnight. One of the reasons the Broncos have started to find some groove and consistency in their play has been down to the consistency in their team selection, especially in the spine positions. Walters has now picked the same fullback, five-eighth, halfback and hooker for a month straight. While Turpin is unfortunately now injured, the combination Tesi Niu is forming with both Tyson Gamble and Brodie Croft is serving the Broncos well and turning into results.

Another factor in the Broncos turn in form could be down to the absence and now departure of controversial forward Tavita Pangai-Junior. Pangai was told months ago he was free to leave by the club if he could find another side willing to take up his inflated contract, but up until a month ago Pangai had been a regular in the Broncos’ lineup. His last match for the Broncos came against Souths, where are Pangai produced yet another listless performance resulting in a lengthy suspension, since then the Broncos have looked a better and more committed outfit without him.

Newcastle will be wary of the Broncos new found solidarity and improved performances, and although on paper this looks to be a game the Knights shouldn’t have too many issues with, their coach will be drilling into them that they simply can’t afford to be complacent, and they can’t afford to drop this game. Newcastle do have their finals future in their own hands, but with a couple of tricky game ahead, a loss here might throw their September plans into disarray.

The return of Pearce will no doubt give the side a boost, and his reunion with Kalyn Ponga will unlock many attacking avenues for the Knights. Pearce and Ponga being the Knights’ highest earning players, have only taken the field together on one occasion in 2021, resulting in a 38-0 win over the Cowboys. The combination the two stars have opens doors and space for the players around them. Five-eighth Jake Clifford played his best game for the club in the win over the Cowboys, while boom centre Bradman Best will enjoy the open spaces he’ll find himself in on the end of a Pearce – Ponga sweeping play. Best had his ‘best’ game of the season last week and will be looking forward to building on that performance this week.

The return of Pearce is not the only thing that will excite Ponga this week. With the absence of Brailey, Ponga will co-captain the side alongside Daniel Saifiti for the first time. Ponga was named in the leadership group earlier this year by O’Brien, but injury denied him from being able to lead the side out in Round 1. Ponga is seen as a long term leader at the club, and there is no better chance for him to start his leadership journey than with a big win over the club who ‘passed on him’ when he was a youngster.

KEY STAT

Newcastle are enjoying a good run of results against their former nemesis the Broncos. The Knights are looking for a record fourth straight win over the Broncos for the first time in their history. This is the third time they’ve won three in a row against the side they entered the competition with in 1988. Newcastle will also be looking for their first win over Brisbane in Queensland since 2013 and their fifth overall in the sunshine state.

PREDICTION

Although the Broncos have shown a turn in form and overall improvement in their play (and the fact the Knights face a not seen before in recent times four-day turnaround), the Knights should still have enough to win this match and win well. Newcastle are almost at full strength with just Edrick Lee and Jayden Brailey missing from their best 17, and with a finals berth beckoning, they simply have more to play for than the Broncos. Knights 13+ 

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