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NRL match preview: Round 1

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The football season is finally back and the nib Newcastle Knights face a tough challenge in Round 1 as they prepare to take on the New Zealand Warriors in Auckland.

It’s been a big pre-season, there’s some new recruits on board and the Club performed strongly in a trial match against the Canberra Raiders a fortnight ago.

NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS v NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS

Date: Sunday March 5
Gates open: 11.30am (NZ time), 9.30am (AEST)
Kick-off: 4pm (NZ time), 2pm (AEST)
Venue: Mt Smart Stadium

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Played: 34
Knights: 15
Warriors: 18
Drawn: 1

SQUADS

Newcastle

1. Dylan Phythian, 2. Ken Sio, 3. Dane Gagai, 4. Peter Mata’utia, 5. Nathan Ross, 6. Brock Lamb, 7. Trent Hodkinson, 8. Daniel Saifiti, 9. Danny Levi, 10. Josh Starling, 11. Sione Mata’utia, 12. Jamie Buhrer, 13. Mitch Barnett. Interchange: 14. Luke Yates, 15. Jack Stockwell, 16. Sam Stone, 17. Jacob Saifiti, 18. Brendan Elliot, 19. Tyler Randell, 20. Josh King, 21. Anthony Tupou.

New Zealand

1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, 2. Tuimoala Lolohea, 3. David Fusitua, 4. Solomone Kata, 5. Ken Maumalo, 6. Ata Hingano, 7. Shaun Johnson, 8. Albert Vete, 9. Isaac Luke, 10. Charlie Gubb, 11. Bunty Afoa, 12. Ryan Hoffman, 13. Simon Mannering. Interchange: 14. Erin Clark, 15. Jacob Lillyman, 16. Sam Lisone, 17. Isaiah Papalii, 18. Bodene Thompson, 19. Mason Lino, 20. James Gavet, 21. Blake Ayshford.

TALKING POINTS

The debutants

Five players will be making their Club debuts for the Knights this weekend in Jamie Buhrer (Player #279), Ken Sio (Player #280), Josh Starling (Player #281), Sam Stone (Player #282) and Luke Yates (Player #283).

Buhrer has already earned himself a spot in the Club’s leadership group and will provide plenty of experience out wide.

Starling will bring similar aggression and know-how in the middle, while Ken Sio’s try-scoring record on the wing ensures the Knights have a strong option on the touchline.

The two players that will be making their first grade debuts are Luke Yates and Sam Stone, who have had big pre-seasons.

“He’s made some really good improvements and he’s such a determined type of kid,” coach Nathan Brown said of 21-year-old Yates.

Of Stone, Brown said, “He’s been around the game his whole life and ever since he’s been born his old man has probably been coaching him.”

Pre-season form

The Warriors had two pre-season hit-outs, beating the Gold Coast Titans 26-6 and falling to the Melbourne Storm 30-18.

In their most recent trial against the Titans, the Warriors fielded a near full strength side with the likes of Tuimoala Lolohea, David Fusitu’a and Simon Mannering all getting on the score sheet.

The Knights had just the one pre-season trial match, beating the Raiders 44-0.

The starting 13 from that game is unchanged heading into Round 1, and those players will no doubt be keen to replicate the impressive defensive efforts shown in Queanbeyan.

New roles

Several young players will be starting in new positions this season, with Dylan Phythian at fullback the most notable.

While Phythian has played plenty of fullback in his junior years, he made his two NRL appearances at hooker late last year.

To the casual observer he’s still relatively unknown as a fullback, but put in strong performances against the Tweed Heads Seagulls and Raiders in the pre-season to get the coach’s nod for Round 1.

“We’re confident that he can hold the fullback position for the season,” Brown said of Phythian before the Raiders trial.

“It’s a big ask, but he’s a great trainer and a tough player, so I’m confident that he’ll do well.”

THE FINAL SAY

“Obviously Shaun Johnson is a very dangerous player,” Trent Hodkinson said of his opposite number on Thursday.

“But they’ve also got a lot of big, mobile guys as well.

“Right across the paddock they’re dangerous, so we can’t take them too lightly that’s for sure.”