NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS VS BRISBANE BRONCOS
Round 7, 2014 NRL Premiership
Friday, April 18 Kick-Off: 7.40pm
Venue: Hunter Stadium, Newcastle
Referees: Ashley Klein, Adam Gee
Last Time They Met:
Newcastle ended Brisbane's season last year with a 26-18 victory in Round 25 at Suncorp Stadium. The Broncos lead by 14 points at halftime, but couldn't stop a surging Knights side in the second half led by a double to fullback Darius Boyd.
Meanwhile, the two teams recorded a hard fought 18-all draw in Round 21. The match went to double extra-time, but neither side could seal the win despite numerous attempts at field goal.
Since the NRL's inception in 1998, the Knights have won 12 and had one draw in 27 matches against Brisbane.
In Newcastle, the two teams are locked at 7 wins each from 14 matches with the one draw.
Overall, the two clubs have played 43 matches with Brisbane having won 29 matches to Newcastle's 14.
The Broncos have won four of their past six clashes against the Knights dating back to 2011, but the men in red and blue claimed victory in their most recent clash in round 25 last season. (26-18 at Suncorp Stadium)
Boyd, McManus, Gagai, Leilua, Mantellato, Mullen, Roberts, Snowden, Gidley (c), Mason, Scott, Houston, Smith. Bench: Clydsdale, Sims, Rochow, Tetevano.
Barba, Vidot, Reed, Hodges (c), Copley, Hoffman, Hunt, McGuire, McCullough, Parker (c), Glenn, Thaiday, Gillett. Bench: Kennedy, Lowrie, Hannant, Oates, Wallace.
As Willie Mason accurately described during the week, the Newcastle Knights opening to the 2014 season has been like a crazy roller coaster ride.
Strong one week and average the next, the Knights have experienced more ups and downs than any theme park classic.
But don't stress Knights fans, because there is plenty of promise going forward.
For starters, there is the return of star five-eighth Jarrod Mullen. The Singleton-born and Taree raised playmaker was at his best against the Raiders in Canberra last Saturday.
Mullen hadn't played since tearing his hamstring in the Auckland Nines in February, but he had an immediate impact on the Knights' fortunes with his pinpoint kicking game.
He regularly found open space with his kicks, forcing the Raiders to bring the ball out of their own end and giving his team invaluable field possession.
If Mullen can maintain this form against Brisbane, then it will go a long way to helping the Knights record their first back-to-back wins for the 2014 season.
Another positive for Newcastle heading into Friday's crucial clash is the fact they rediscovered their steel in defence with a gutsy display against the Raiders.
The Knights conceded 112 points in the opening five rounds, but they managed to limit a potent Canberra side to just 12 points.
It's defensive precedent the men in red and blue must continue to contain a Brisbane side with speedsters like Ben Barba, Jack Reed and Josh Hoffman.
Newcastle's match-up against Brisbane's forwards will also be an intriguing battle. Veteran forward Mason has been in stellar form to start the season.
He has made over 100 metres in the past three weeks and the Knights will need him to continue that effort against the likes of Corey Parker and Josh McGuire.
The battle of the back-row will also go a long way to deciding this match. In Beau Scott, Jeremy Smith, Chris Houston and Robbie Rochow, the Knights possess one of the most consistent set of enforcers in the NRL.
The foursome will have to be at their best to limit Brisbane's back-row stars Sam Thaiday, Alex Glenn and Matt Gillett.
If the likes of Scott and Smith can stop Thaiday and co in their tracks, then Newcastle will be in the box seat to get the win on home turf.
Darius Boyd vs Ben Barba
Boyd is starting to find his feet after suffering an opening round hamstring injury, while Barba is yet to find his following a slow start at his new club Brisbane.
If that forms continues, then the Knights are certainly in the box seat with Darius' deadly attack and bruising last-ditch defence.
Be wary of the bounce back factor though, because in Barba the Broncos have one of the game's most potent entertainers.
The former Dog and Dally M medal winner has been quiet to start the season, but a strong performance is just around the corner and the Knights need to be on guard.
Jarrod Mullen vs Josh Hoffman
Mullen is back and firing on all cylinders.
The star five-eighth controlled the tempo of the Canberra match last week with his kicking game and the Knights will be looking for him to replicate that effort against Brisbane.
Mullen comes up against Broncos No.6 Josh Hoffman, a bloke who normally excels at fullback but as found a new home in the halves.
Jarrod clearly has an advantage in the experience stakes and that should significantly help the Knights in this blockbuster Friday night match-up.
Joey Leilua vs Justin Hodges
When it comes to potency in attack, Leilua has been at the peak of his powers in the opening rounds of the season.
From plenty of run metres through to his raw strength in sniffing out a try, the Samoan World Cup representative is a crucial player for the Knights.
Leilua lines up against Hodges, an experienced campaigner determined as ever to reclaim his rep jumpers following a off-season Achilles injury.
So who comes out on top? The young bull or the veteran who has been there and done that.
Our tip, the speed of youth is set to shine in this battle.
Where it will be won:
As discussed, the Knights found their spark in defence against the Raiders last weekend and they'll need to maintain that form against Brisbane on Friday night.
The return of five-eighth Jarrod Mullen and his pinpoint kicking game certainly helps.
Mullen's kicking and organisational skills gives the men in red and blue a significant edge as it allows them to control possession and the tempo of the match.
Brisbane has a heap of strike across the park, but the Knights should be too strong on home turf if they can defend well and fire in attack on the back of their chief No.6 calling the shots.