NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS v MELBOURNE STORM
Round 3, 2014 NYC Premiership
Monday, March 24
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
Last Time They Met:
Melbourne recorded a close 30-22 victory over the Knights at Hunter Stadium in round 23 last season.
The Storm also claimed the spoils in round 14 at AAMI Park, winning 36-8.
Mamo, Donovan, Mata’utia, Peni, Birch, Gagai, Feeney, Pakau, Levi (c), Yates, Fitzgibbon, Pondekas, Boyce. Bench: De Saxe, Smith, Togiatasi, Koopu.
Jenson, Tumusa, Cullen-Minhinnick, Kirisome, Vunivalu, Munster, Turpin, Welch (c), Brittan, Lodge, Mohi, Asofa-Solomona, Kennedy. Bench: Kitt, Vole, Tualau, Rennie, Stimson, Nicoll-Klokstad.
On the back of impressive victories over last year's grand finalists to open the season, Newcastle's NYC team is riding high on confidence.
Talk to the players and coach Mick Crawley and they'll tell you a lot of this belief has come from their ability to fight under adversity.
It's a predicament the side has faced in both their matches this season and according to the Club's Assistant coach Rick Stone it's a huge positive moving forward to this Monday's match against the Storm in Melbourne.
"They'll grow in confidence from that," Stone says.
"Down 18-0 at Penrith and got home and at 28-all against the Raiders and a Jake Mamo try right on the bell got them out of jail on the weekend.
"It's always a big road trip for the NYC team to go to Melbourne, so they face a big challenge this weekend."
Newcastle has only made one change to their line-up that defeated Canberra last weekend, with new recruit Harry Pondekas named to start in the back-row after playing off the bench in his debut match for the Club against the Raiders.
Pondekas, a former Brisbane Bronco, has impressed coaching staff with his attitude and Stone believes he is a player to watch out for against Melbourne.
"Harry has only been at the Club for a couple of weeks, but he has been very good," he says.
"He came off the bench and performed quite well for us and enough for coach Mick Crawley to pick him in the starting side this week.
"He is a real strike player on the edge and also gives us the opportunity to promote the footy.
"So watch out for him and he is probably one the fans can look out for in the future as well."
One of the highlights of the Knights' play to start 2014 has been the performance of halves Jaelen Feeney and Jacob Gagai.
The pair have been extremely strong in the opening two rounds on the back of Feeney's direction and Gagai's potent running game.
Stone has no doubts this combination will only get better with time.
"Yeah so far so good for those two boys," he says.
"I don't think Mick was exactly sold on where he was going to go with the halves.
"Obviously he had Jaelen, but young Jacob has done really well. Jaelen is a really experienced halfback for the NYC and Jacob is going to be a good foil for him.
"He is a runner and he can play off the back of what Jaelen is doing for sure."
Another star performer for Newcastle has been hard working lock forward Luke Yates.
Built like Club legend Billy Peden, Yates is a stocky little bloke with a big heart who refuses to give up.
Stone has been highly impressed with the local Wests Newcastle junior.
"Luke played a few games for us off the bench last year and has now won a place in the starting side," he explains.
"He has a tremendous work rate and he is a tremendous competitor and he'll only get better.
"Obviously this is only his first year of NYC and being only 19, he still has got another year.
"So we'll see some improvement in him as the year goes on."
Melbourne may have won both their matches against the Knights last season, but Stone believes the 2014 side are mentally ready to beat the Storm.
"I think there are always areas in the game to improve, especially early on with the NYC team," he says.
"Things like consistency, defence, which is usually the first port of call for most coaches.
"We are probably no different there.
"But they've shown some real character and some fortitude in their last couple of games coming back from big deficits.
"That will bring a bit of belief into their footy side if they keep doing that.
"If you play right up to the 80th minute, then you are going to give yourself every chance."
Jaelen Feeney vs Jake Turpin
Feeney has one of the Knights' standout performers to start the season and will once again play a crucial role against the Storm.
The former Bulldogs half is the type of player who can change a match with his composure and direction, qualities he'll be looking to display to get his Club across the line.
Feeney's match-up against fellow Queenslander, Luke Turpin will be crucial to the outcome of this match based on both their attacking abilities.
Luke Yates vs Rhys Kennedy
As mentioned earlier, Yates is a hard working back-rower with an enormous work ethic.
It's a quality that will help him enormously against a Storm outfit featuring their own tackling machine in Rhys Kennedy.
Kennedy, a former Raider, is known for his fitness and never-say-die attitude and his battle with Yates will go a long way to deciding this one.
Where the match will be won:
The Storm hold the aces given the match is in Melbourne, a ground where they are traditionally very hard to beat, but Newcastle are full of confidence following two consecutive wins to start the season.
But if the Knights can maintain their effort over the entire 80 minutes, then they are every chance of winning this one away from home.