NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS v PENRITH PANTHERS
Round 1, 2014 NYC Premiership
Saturday March 8
Sportingbet Stadium, Penrith
Last Time They Met:
Round 19 last season. Penrith won 30-4. In fact, the Panthers claimed both clashes in 2013, also winning 30-14 in round 6.
Mamo, Donovan, Mata'utia, Peni, Birch, Gagai, Feeney, Pakau, Levi, Togiatasi, Fitzgibbon, Yates, Boyce. Bench: De Saxe, Russell, King, Koopu
Naden, Jay, Dodd, Haika, Silipa, Boss, Brackenhofer, Saunders, Tangitau, Pelesasa, Smith, Attwood, Katoa. Bench: Harawira, Taueli, Stratton, Albert, Leota.
Jake Mamo vs Brent Naden
This will be a fascinating battle between two of the most promising young players coming through the ranks.
Let's start with Mamo, a kid who has impressed big time in his maiden pre-season with the Knights' NRL squad this summer.
On the back of a impressing big time on the training paddock and in matches against the First Nations Goannas and Auckland Nines tournament, the Gosford-born flyer will be a key player in the Club's NYC campaign in 2014.
As Mamo showed in the 20s last season when he crossed for 22 tries, he certainly knows how to find the white stripe and that ability will again feature strongly in the Holden Cup this season.
The Knights' emerging star comes up against a Panthers side who have named Brent Naden at fullback.
Naden is a Wellington junior who was signed by Phil Gould as a 16-year-old to play in the SG Ball ranks in 2012.
Brent has plenty of ability and speed and his rivalry with Mamo, a player also blessed with speed, will be great to watch. As closely matched as these two players are though, Mamo's NRL experience gives him a significant edge.
Jaelen Feeney vs Jarrod Brackenhofer
As arguably the Knights' biggest off-season purchase, Feeney has taken that tag and ran with it this summer as one of the Club's best trainers.
The former Canterbury halfback hailing from Nerang in Queensland is a player with enormous potential. He led the Bulldogs to the Holden Cup Preliminary Final last year and Knights' officials are hoping he can do a similar job for the men in red and blue.
Feeney will come up against a Panthers No.7 in Brackenhofer - an Emu Plains junior who as plenty of professionalism and can play a number of positions. Young Jarrod has a heap of skill, but Feeney holds the edge in the experience stakes.
Tuiala Togiatasi vs Atonio Pelesasa
A bustling forward who joins the Club after previous stints with the Bulldogs and Roosters, Togiatasi will play a crucial role up front for the Knights.
The Logan Brothers junior has impressed this summer and is focused on setting a strong platform in the forwards.
Togiatasi lines up opposite Pelesasa, a St Mary's junior is quick on his feet and mobile. This match-up could go a long way to deciding the game.
Where the match will be won:
As just stated, the forwards hold the key to victory. If the Knights' big men start strongly, it will allow the Club's speedy outside backs to star with their speed and silky skills.
Newcastle also has a huge advantage with Mamo and Sione Mata'utia returning to the NYC ranks after impressing in their maiden pre-season with the NRL squad.
Sure the Knights are taking on the defending NYC champions, but a lot has changed since last October when the Panthers charged to the under 20s title.
For starters, only two players from Penrith's premiership-winning team remain with a large number of players stepping up to higher grades over the summer.
Newcastle, meanwhile, has retained a large number of their playing roster from last season. Im fact, 15 of the Club's 18 Holden Cup players have previously played in the Knights' system.
Another positive is 11 of the squad's 18 players are also local Newcastle juniors- a scenario which is sure to warm the hearts of the local Hunter community.
Throw in the fact the Knights also welcome back Mamo and Mata'utia after their first taste of training with the NRL squad and the Club's Holden Cup side has the potential to achieve big things in 2014.