2021 NRL Round 23 Preview, Bulldogs Vs Knights

Julian Vella previews this Saturday Afternoon clash between the Canterbury Bulldogs and Newcastle Knights. This is what we have to look forward to.

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Venue: Cbus Super Stadium, Gold Coast Date: 21/8, Time: 5:30pm AEST

Bulldogs Team

1. Nick Meaney
2. Corey Allan
3. Will Hopoate
4. Aaron Schoupp
5. Jayden Okunbor
6. Jake Avarillo
7. Kyle Flanagan
8. Luke Thompson
9. Jackson Topine
10. Ryan James
11. Adam Elliott
12. Corey Waddell
13. Josh Jackson
14. Bailey Biondi-Odo
15. Ava Seumanufagai
16. Corey Horsburgh
17. Joe Stimson
19. Falakiko Manu
20. Chris Patolo
21. Lachlan Lewis
22. Matt Doorey

Team Changes

IN: Corey Allan, Jackson Topine, Luke thompson, Corey Waddell, Lachlan Lewis
OUT: Jeremy Marshall-King, Sione Katoa

Knights Team

1. Kalyn Ponga
2. Enari Tuala
3. Kurt Mann
4. Bradman Best
5. Hymel Hunt
6. Jake Clifford
7. Mitchell Pearce
8. David Klemmer
9. Jayden Brailey
10. Jacob Saifiti
11. Brodie Jones
12. Mitch Barnett
13. Connor Watson
14. Sauaso Sue
15. Josh King
16. Jirah Momoisea
17. Chris Randall
18. Jack Johns
19. Pasami Saulo
20. Phoenix Crossland
21. Simi Sasagi

Team Changes

IN: Jirah Momoisea, Chris Randall, Jack Johns, Pasami Saulo, Phoneix Crossland
Daniel Saifiti, Tyson Frizell

Referee: Peter Gough



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Another week, another loss for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs who went down to the New Zealand Warriors 24-10 in another gallant, yet fruitless attempt to break their eight-game losing streak. The Bulldogs are now resigned to the fact they will be the 2021 wooden spooners, with only a mathematical miracle that can save them now they’re six-points behind the Broncos with just three games to play.

Trent Barrett’s side were competitive throughout the match, despite a lengthy injury toll that forced them to loan both Ryan James and Corey Horsburgh off the Canberra Raiders. They were in the game and looked to have closed the gap to just the one try when they pounced on an error from the Warriors to score out wide through rookie winger Falakiko Manu, only for the bunker to rule a penalty to the Warriors due to a shoulder charge by Sione Katoa after the ball had come free. A tough call for the Bulldogs in what has clearly been a very tough season.

Barrett has again swung the axe at selection time this week, Manu, Katoa and Matt Doorey have been dropped from the 17, whilst Jeremy Marshall-King as returned to Sydney to be with his wife as she gives birth to their child. Young five-eighth Bailey Biondi-Odo has been relegated to the bench, as Barrett has recalled Kyle Flanagan for the 4th time this season. Luke Thompson is a welcome returnee for the Bulldogs’ pack.


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Newcastle won their third game in a row with a tight and tense two-point victory over fellow top-eight rivals in the Cronulla Sharks. It wasn’t a pretty win, but it was the first time all season that Adam O’Brien’s side has won three matches on the trot. The win didn’t come without a price though; the Knights losing both of their Origin forwards in Daniel Saifiti to a MCL injury, and Tyson Frizell to a one-game suspension.

The Saifiti injury is a costly one for Newcastle, their co-captain has easily been their best player in 2021, and with the nature of his injury being a ‘high grade strain’, he may have played his last game for the year. With starting edge backrower Lachlan Fitzgibbon already out for the season after being booked in for shoulder surgery, the Knights have again found themselves in an injury crisis.

.But this has been the case for the entire of 2021 for O’Brien, so he will be used to shuffling his cards around. This week he has decided to hand a debut to young forward Jirah Momoisea. It’s a great achievement for Momoisea, who as most fringe players last season, he played very little football, and he also suffered an Achilles injury in the preseason which has again limited his game time in 2021.


Newcastle are back in the top-eight for the first time since Round 3 after suffering through a difficult season effected by injuries and poor form. The Knights have won three on the trot and now have their finals fate resting in their own hands. Sitting on 22 competition points, the Knights can open up a four-point gap over nearest rivals the Titans and Raiders, who both have difficult matches this week against the high flying Storm and Sea Eagles. If the results go as expected, Newcastle will also be a step closer to securing 7th spot on the ladder, which means they’ll avoid a likely first week sudden death match against either the Roosters or Sea Eagles.

While it may seem this game is all about the Knights (who have plenty to play for in this clash), the Bulldogs too have plenty of reasons to fight for a win, despite the fact they’ve almost certainly secured the wooden spoon for 2021. No matter what struggles the Bulldogs have faced in the last few seasons, you can always be sure they’ll put in a spirited performance. With lots of the squad still trying to impress new General Manager Phil Gould, players will have their futures on the line in the last three weeks of the season.

Canterbury have looked like a team with a win just around the corner in their past month of football, and all it will take is a touch of luck to go their way. May it be by the bounce of the ball, or a call from the referee, the Bulldogs are ready and desperate to break their win drought that dates back to the June long weekend. With the return of Thompson and the inclusion of James or Horsburgh from the Raiders, the Bulldogs have arguably their best pack on the field for 2021. With the Knights missing three starting forwards, the battle in the middle could be where the game is won for Canterbury.

Newcastle’s biggest danger this week could very well be their own complacency. After a tough run of three important wins, the Knights might just ‘clock off’ a touch this week with their preparation leading into the game. Along with the players missing through injury, the Knights have had further distractions this week, with the shock announcement that popular utility Connor Watson has decided to leave the Knights to join the Roosters despite the Knights offering more money and an extra year.

O’Brien will know his biggest task this week will be to keep his players’ attention on the game ahead, and not about the media circus that has surrounded Watson’s decision to leave, or the next two matches that would seem tougher on paper. While the Bulldogs have struggled in the past four seasons, they still have a good record over the Knights, winning eight of the last ten meetings between the clubs. O’Brien will know an upset victory to the Bulldogs is possible if his players are not switched on.

The Bulldogs jumped out to an early lead in the previous meeting between the clubs earlier this year in Round 1, but the Knights bounced back to win comfortably on the back of Daniel Saifiti who scored two tries. With Daniel missing for this match, his brother Jacob will need to take up the mantle as the Knights key-man in regards to go forward. He’ll be ably supported by veteran prop David Klemmer who lines up against his old side. Brodie Jones also gets a rare start in the forwards and will be looking for a big performance.


This match is unlikely to be a high scoring affair, as the clash between the Bulldogs and Knights pits the two lowest scoring teams of 2021 against each other. Bulldogs are averaging a poultry 12.76 points per game this year, while Newcastle are just five points better off on average.


It’s easy to say the Knights have lots to play for and they’ll beat the hapless Bulldogs, but this game certainly has upset potential written all over it. The Bulldogs are due and the Knights are under-strength and distracted, this could be the week the Blue and White get their breakthrough win. If Newcastle play close to their potential they should be able to withstand anything the Bulldogs throw at them, and with the class of Mitchell Pearce and Kalyn Ponga at their disposal they should get the job done. Knights 13+

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