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2021 NRL Finals Week One Preview, Eels Vs Knights

Nathan Smith previews the knock-out finals match between the Parramatta Eels and Newcastle Knights. This is what we have to look forward to.

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TEAM NEWS

Venue: Browne Park, Rockhampton, Date: Sunday, 12th of September, Time: 4:05pm

Parramatta Eels Team

1. Clinton Gutherson
2. Haze Dunster
3. Will Penisini
4. Waqa Blake
5. Blake Ferguson
6. Dylan Brown
7. Mitchell Moses
8. Reagan Campbell-Gillard
9. Ray Stone
10. Junior Paulo
11. Shaun Lane
12. Marata Niukore
13. Nathan Brown
14. Will Smith
15. Bryce Cartwright
16. Isaiah Papali’i
17. Makahesi Makatoa
18. Ryan Matterson
19. Oregon Kaufusi
20. Top Opacic
21. Jake Arthur

Team Changes

IN: Clinton Gutherson, Dylan Brown, Isaiah Papali’i, Junior Paulo, Marata Niukore, Mitchell Moses, Nathan Brown, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Ryan Matterson, Waqa Blake
OUT: Hayze Perham, Joey Lussick, Keegan Hipgrave, Ky Rodwell, Michael Oldfield, Samuel Loizou, Sean Russell

Newcastle 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. 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. Phoenix Crossland
19. Jirah Momoisea
20. Simi Sasagi
21. Jack Johns

Team Changes

IN: Daniel Saifiti, Hymel Hunt, Jacob Saifiti, Jayden Brailey, Mitchell Barnett, Sauaso Sue, Tyson Frizell
OUT: Chris Randall, Pasami Saulo, Starford To’a, Tex Hoy

Referee: Ashley Klein

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Parramatta Eels

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Parramatta finished the regular season with a resounding loss to the Penrith Panthers (40-6). It was an unsurprising result given Brad Arthur had opted to rest a host of stars in anticipation for the finals series. The question mark over that decision will be as to whether resting his players has interrupted any momentum they would have gained from toppling the Melbourne Storm two weeks ago.

Parramatta welcomes back a host of stars, including the captain Clinton Gutherson, Dylan Brown, Isaiah Papali’i, Juniour Paulo, Marata Niukore, Nathan Brown, Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Waqa Blake. Given they were rested last week, one would think they are freshened and ready to go. Ryan Matterson has served his suspension, however, has been named in the reserves. Surprisingly, Brad Arthur has chosen Ray Stone at hooker (after an impressive performance last week), with Will Smith named on the bench, and Joey Lussick dropping out.

Newcastle Knights

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Newcastle lost their final regular game of the season to the Broncos (35-22). Similarly to the Eels, they rested a few of their players, and offered limited minutes to a few of their stars that did play (such as Mitchell Pearce and Kalyn Ponga). With little to gain or lose on last week’s result, Newcastle would have thought little about the match after the full-time siren.

Newcastle welcome back a range of their own stars, with the likes of Daniel and Jacob Saifiti, Jayden Brailey, Hymel Hunt and Tyson Frizell all back in the fold. David Klemmer will play off of the bench despite picking up a rib cartilage injury and Sauasu Sue will return after missing last week with a hamstring complaint.

PREVIEW

The Parramatta Eels are up against the Newcastle Knights in a finals match where most punters see the Eels as an odds-on chance of winning. Sound familiar?

Unfortunately for Eels fans, it was the narrative that led into one of their last finals’ encounters twenty years ago. It was 2001, and the Knights had won their second ever premiership against all odds, while the Eels were forced to continue their long running premiership drought. All those years later, the two sides meet in another finals clash.

Parramatta have been a consistent part of the top four throughout the season, however a late season collapse that saw them lose five of their final seven games has shaken most thoughts anyone has had of them being much of a force. In the second last round of the year, they were able to take down the Melbourne Storm, demonstrating that on their day, they are a capable football team. The question most Eels fans have is simple: why isn’t “their day” something that happens more often?

Before last week’s loss, Newcastle had chalked up five straight wins to end the season. Many of their wins were scrappy at best, however, they demonstrated that this was a Knights team that had both resilience and fight, which are attributes one shouldn’t underestimate when it comes to winning matches. They come into this match with a full strength side (a rarity for them in 2021) and a pretty good overall record against the Eels.

Brad Arthur has thrown a curveball in naming Ray Stone at hooker. A stand out in last week’s game, he has made a name for himself as being a no-nonsense defender who will tackle until his last breath. However, with little game time playing in the dummy half role, one has to wonder how efficient his service to his halves will be. A more likely scenario is that he sees out the opening battle between both forward packs before making room for the agile Will Smith.

Mitchell Moses will be under the spotlight. Under his watch, the Eels have won only one of their past six finals appearances. When he walked into the side, it was one that was rarely featuring in the finals and merely thankful to be there. Four years later, that is no longer the case, as there is an expectation to play deep into the finals. As halfback, he will burden much of the responsibility of guiding them towards a win. With a reputation for struggling to own the big moments, he needs to build a case for himself as a big game player, and if it isn’t this week, when will it ever be?

There’s two key players in the Newcastle team that outshine their opposing numbers. The first is their hooker, Jayden Brailey, who is one of the best young middles in the game, and has a lot more experience than his opposite. At his best, his work in the middle, both in defence and attack, can quite easily outshine his opposite and put the Knights on the front foot.

The second? If you hadn’t guessed, it’s Kalyn Ponga. He’s a superstar, a game-breaker, and the type of player Parramatta simply do not have. He can throw winding passes out wide to unmarked wingers and side-step defence so drastically their ankles are broken in three places. If Ponga performs to what he can, Parramatta will find it very difficult to shut him down.

All in all, there are an array of fascinating match ups that will go a long way towards deciding this result. The one thing that is certain is there is no clear winner; this could be anyone’s to win.

KEY STAT

Overall, Newcastle has won 30 of their 55 encounters. In their one encounter during the regular season, Parramatta were convincing winners (40-4), and further to this, have beaten the Knights in three straight encounters. Newcastle will need to overcome this small losing streak if they’re to walk out victors this Sunday.

PREDICTION

 This match will be a great battle. Both sides are close to full strength, with exciting players right across the park. Expect it to be a well contested affair, with Parramatta just picking up the win.

Parramatta by 8

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