NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS v CANBERRA RAIDERS
Round 2, 2014 NYC Premiership
Sunday, March 16
Hunter Stadium, Newcastle
Last Time They Met:
Newcastle won their most recent clash against Canberra, a close trial win in late February.
In official NYC matches last season though, the Green Machine snared both victories.
The first was a 30-26 victory in Round 4 and the second a comprehensive 40-26 triumph in Round 9.
The Knights will head into this Sunday's game with plenty of confidence after their recent trial win, but they also remain wary of a strong Canberra side who welcome back star forwards Luke Bateman and Tevita Pangai for this big round two match.
Mamo, Donovan, Mata'utia, Peni, Birch, Gagai, Feeney, Pakau, Levi, Togiatasi, Fitzgibbon, Yates, Boyce. Bench: De Saxe, Russell, King, Koopu.
Garard, Wheeler, Lee, Creith, Hurst, Frawley, Heffernan, Shaw, McGrath, Solomon, Mago (c), Pangai Junior, Bateman. Bench: Howe, Webley, Baker, Fidow-Kele, Nichouki, Clark, Pangai, Doyle.
On the back of a memorable comeback victory over last year's premiers Penrith, the Knights now turn their attention to the other grand finalists the Canberra Raiders.
Winger Bryce Donovan has been selected at fullback, with Jake Mamo named on an extended NRL bench.
Stone says Donovan is more than capable of taking on the No.1 jumper if Mamo plays in the top grade.
"He is a good utility player Bryce and he has played a few positions for us in the junior reps," Stone explains.
"He can handle six, one and even centre and wing, so he is a capable replacement if Jake doesn’t play.
"Jake had an outstanding game last week and was a real match-winner with three tries and saving a couple as well."
Stone was highly impressed with the Knights' performance against Penrith, nominating the likes of Jaelen Feeney, Jacob Gagai, Danny Levi and Lachlan Fitzgibbon as standouts.
He was particularly pleased with Fitzgibbon's effort, a kid who has grown significantly this pre-season on the back of walking the Kokoda Track as part of a Club's Kokoda Spirit Award.
"Lachlan is a good local product and he has got a good frame to play his position," he says.
"He has been a work in progress for a while, but being 20 years of age this year we’d like to see him be one of our senior players.
"Obviously his trip to Kokoda has played a significant role in his preparation for this season.
"So hopefully we see a bit of toughness and leadership out of Lachlan this year."
With all three grades at Hunter Stadium this Sunday, Stone believes it's an ideal chance to arrive early and lap up all the action.
"I throw back to the old days when we had three grades of footy," he grins.
"People in Newcastle love their footy and they love getting there early, so they get a chance to do that this weekend.
"So they can get in early, get their rug down and enjoy three quality games."
Jaelen Feeney vs Andrew Heffernan
Feeney impressed his debut match for the Club last weekend, with the former Bulldog taking charge from halfback in the big win over last year's premiers Penrith.
From his ability to run to the line through to his strong passing game, the Nerang Roosters junior will be a key player for the NYC side in 2014.
This Sunday Feeney lines up opposite Canberra halfback Andrew Heffernan, a former Australian touch football representative who has plenty of speed and skill.
You can expect Feeney's battle with Heffernan to be highly entertaining and extremely crucial to the outcome of the match.
Sione Mata'utia vs Brenko Lee
Strap yourself in, because this match-up between two of the most gifted young players in the game will light up Hunter Stadium.
On the Knights' side we have Sione Mata'utia, the youngest of the four Mata'utia brothers who has impressed big time in his maiden pre-season with the Club's NRL squad.
Mata'utia may only be 17, but this guy has all the skills and more importantly the work ethic and attitude to enjoy a long and successful career in the game.
The South Newcastle junior will take on Canberra's Brenko Lee, a relative of NRL star Edrick Lee and a player who will provide the men in red and blue with plenty of challenges on Sunday.
Lachlan Fitzgibbon vs Patrick Mago
On the back of a strong off-season, including an inspirational visit to the Kokoda Track as part of a Club award, Lachlan Fitzgibbon has grown significantly as a footballer and person.
Fitzgibbon was impressive in the opening round win against defending premiers Penrith and now faces another stern test in Canberra big man Patrick Mago. Mago is a Junior Kangaroos representative and proven big game player, so Fitzgibbon will have to be on his game to contain him on Sunday.
Where the match will be won:
Canberra has a stronger overall record, but Newcastle will head into this one full of confidence after their impressive round one win over defending premiers Penrith.
In saying that, the Green Machine welcome back a few key forwards in Bateman and Pangai and the Knights will have to be on their game to win this one.
If Newcastle can replicate the type of effort they showcased their round one win against Penrith though, they are every chance of causing an upset.