NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS v PENRITH PANTHERS
Round 1, 2014 NRL Premiership
Saturday March 8
NRL Kick-Off 4.30pm, NSW Cup Kick-Off 2.10pm, NYC Kick-Off 12.15pm
Venue: Sportingbet Stadium, Penrith
Referees: Matt Cecchin, Alan Shortall
Last Time They Met:
Round 19, 2013.
Newcastle charged to a comprehensive 32-14 victory over the Panthers.
Head to Head:
Played 38; Newcastle 22, Penrith 13, drawn 3
Boyd, McManus, Gagai, Leilua, Uate, Dobson, Roberts, Snowden, Gidey (c), Mason, Scott, Rochow, Smith. Bench: Waddell, Houston, McKinnon, Cuthbertson, Fa’alogo.
Moylan, Mansour, Whare, Idris, Simmons, Soward, Wallace, Kite, Kingston (c), Grant, Brown, Taylor, Docker. Bench: Segeyaro, Plum, Peachey, McKendry, Latimore.
Michael Dobson vs Jamie Soward
This should be an intriguing battle between two players looking to prove they still have what it takes after time in England. Dobson showed he is more than capable of steering a side around at Hull KR and has impressed the Club's coaching staff with his effort this pre-season. Of course the NRL is a different ball game completely to the Super League, but assistant coach Rick Stone believes Dobson is an adequate replacement for injured five-eighth Jarrod Mullen. In fact, Stone says the Club's new recruit has significantly matured defensively and is ready to handle the NRL's step up in workload. Dobson's opposite Soward is an excitement machine with his sheer speed, but how will he go with new halves partner Peter Wallace? Both Soward and Wallace like to be the conductors, so it will be interesting to see how this partnership comes together. The pair is yet to play together due to Soward suffering an ankle injury over the summer and the pressure will be on the duo from the beginning to deliver the goods. Dobson's halves combination with Tyrone Roberts is also in its infancy, but in Roberts the Knights have a halfback who is ready to steer the side around park and take the pressure off Dobson in the process. Obviously a lot will depend on the respective forward packs as to which set of halves get the required space to put the points on.
Kurt Gidley vs Kevin Kingston
Gidley's return is a huge boost for the Knights. From his enthusiasm through to his energizer-bunny up-tempo style of play, the Club's skipper is crucial to Newcastle's chances of success. These qualities are expected to come to the fore even more this season following Gidley's move to hooker. As part of the NRL's new rule changes, the third man in tackles (also known as the cannonball tackle) has been banned. This will improve player safety, but it will also ramp up the speed of matches around the ruck. This is where Gidley comes in. On the back of a quick play-the-ball, the former Blues captain has the ability to cause opposition teams plenty of headaches with his sheer speed. As a player who has previously played in the halves, Gidley also has the ability to kick. This could be a tactic the Knights use against the Panthers and throughout 2014, a play similar to Cameron Smith at the Storm and Robbie Farah at the Tigers. In comparison, Kingston is an old-style hooker who relies heavily on his workload and smarts out of dummy half. While he may not be as quick as Gidley, he is equally quick between the ears and has a great ability to exploit lazy markers. Both Gidley and Kingston will be at the heart of their team’s chances on Saturday, but they'll need support from their forwards to get the job done.
Joey Leilua vs Jamal Idris
Wow, this match-up should be a cracker. Leilua was a standout for the Knights last season. He formed a strong combination in the centres with Dane Gagai and regularly carved up opposition defences with his speed and skill. After playing with Samoa at the World Cup, Joey has returned focused on taking his game to even greater heights in 2014. And what a way to kick-start the season with a clash against big Jamal Idris - a player with an enormous frame and potential to match. There's no doubting Leilua will have his hands full trying to contain Idris in defence, but conversely Idris will find it tough limiting Leilua's speed. So who comes out on top? Well strap yourself in, because we've got a feeling this one will be keenly fought and one mistake could decide who leads their team to victory.
Robbie Rochow/Beau Scott vs Lewis Brown/Elijah Taylor
The Panthers possess some of the most athletic and creative young forwards in the NRL and it will be Rochow and Scott's job to contain them. Scott is a proven defender, especially in big games and no doubt will be up for the challenge. Rochow came of age as a footballer last season and has his sights set on greater improvement in 2014. The Panthers' pack has the ability to offload, especially on the back of second-phase play and the Knights will have to be on their game in defence. History has proved defence wins premierships and Newcastle coach Wayne Bennett has lived by this theory his entire career. It will be interesting to see who comes out on top. The Knights' ruthless defence set up by their experienced forwards or a Panthers pack with plenty of size, whilst also having the ability to offload. Also watch for Scott to play an important role in shutting down Soward. Scott was Soward’s protector when the pair where at the Dragons, but he’ll be looking to shut-him down at Penrith on Saturday.
Where will it be won:
It all starts and ends with the forwards. The Knights have a strong pack of forwards led by veterans Willie Mason, Beau Scott and Jeremy Smith. Throw in the likes of Robbie Rochow, Kade Snowden and Alex McKinnon and the Club has a potent mix of youth and experience. It will be vital for the Knights to set a platform up front to give their creative halves and outside backs space to attack. The Panthers have a few big boppers led by Tim Grant and former Sea Eagle Brent Kite. Add that with the likes of Lewis Brown, former Warrior Elijah Taylor and hitman Adam Docker and the men from Sydney's west look fearsome on paper. Both sets of forwards are evenly matched and it will be interesting to see how they confront each other in the opening exchanges. The bench will also play a crucial role in who wins this match. The Knights have a strong bench with the likes of Alex McKinnon, Chris Houston and back-up hooker Travis Waddell. Penrith also posses an impressive bench with James Segeyaro, Nigel Plum, Tyrone Peachey and Sam McKendry all more than capable. The key battle will be between replacement hookers Waddell and Segeyaro. They'll both get their chances to come on and the player with the best impact could go a long way to deciding which team wins.
The Knights have a strong record against Penrith, having won their last five matches against the Mountain Men.
In fact, the Panthers have won just 13 of 38 matches against the Knights.
Penrith’s last win against Newcastle was back in round 13, 2010 (28-10)
Newcastle has a strong overall record against the Panthers, but in many ways it counts for little given the new-look Panthers side boasting six new recruits.
The Knights have plenty of experience in key positions and will rely on their strong defence and confidence in their plays to get the job done against Penrith.
In many ways, it's an unknown what the Panthers will throw up with so many new players. This could go two ways. They could fire on debut or take time to gel. This is a positive for Newcastle with a mostly stable side, minus Jarrod Mullen due to a hamstring injury. Dobson will play five-eighth in Mullen's absence and the Club is more than confident in his ability.
So in summation, this round one clash is set up to be a blockbuster. Both teams are evenly matched across the park, but the Knights' experience in key positions could be the difference.