NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS v CANTERBURY-BANKSTOWN BULLDOGS
Round 8, 2014 NRL Premiership
Saturday, April 26 Kick-Off: 7.30pm
Venue: ANZ Stadium, Sydney
Referees: Henry Perenara, Alan Shortall
Last Time They Met:
Who could forget Newcastle's dominant 22-6 victory over Canterbury in the first week of the finals last season?
The Bulldogs were favourites to win, but the Knights proved too strong on the back of a clinical display in attack and defence.
Newcastle has won six of their past eight matches against the Bulldogs, including all three games last year in Round 10, Round 17 and the opening week of the finals.
In the overall head-to-head record, the Knights narrowly lead the way with 20 wins and a draw to the Dogs 19 wins.
Boyd, McManus, Gagai, Leilua, Mamo, Mullen, Roberts, Snowden, Gidley (c), Tetevano, Scott, Houston, Smith. Bench: Clydsdale, Sims, Cuthbertson, Rochow.
Perrett, Thompson, Morris, Lafai, Brown, Reynolds, Hodkinson, Tolman, Ennis (c), Graham, Jackson, Williams, Finucane. Bench: Eastwood, Klemmer, Browne, Kasiano, Mbye.
Newcastle face a huge test this Saturday night against the table-topping Bulldogs, a side who has made a habit out of winning the tight games with one-point victories in their past three matches.
While the Dogs are firing, the Knights are struggling to rediscover the form which saw them go deep into the finals last season.
Assistant coach Rick Stone concedes the side are lacking some killer instinct, but insists the team isn't far away from recapturing their best.
In order to get the win, Stone says the men in red and blue must match the Dogs' enthusiasm and forward power.
"Going to Homebush against the Dogs is always a big challenge," Stone says.
"You know what’s coming and you know it’s going to be there for 80 minutes and the intensity of the game is usually there for that period as well.
"The Bulldogs are good for really staying in the grind.
"They probably haven’t scored a lot of points and they’ve grafted out a lot of tight wins.
"I think each game they are building with some confidence there and understanding what it takes to win.
"We need to match that sort of intensity in the game and stay in the contest.
"We probably did it for 60 minutes on the weekend against the Broncos, but some concentration lapses really hurt us in the last 20 minutes of the game and that will have to improve."
Kade Snowden/Zane Tetevano vs Aiden Tolman/ James Graham
Led by starting props Tolman and Graham and backed up by the likes of Sam Kasiano and Greg Eastwood, Canterbury possess one of the most potent packs in the NRL competition.
While Stone knows it will be difficult to contain the Dogs, he has complete confidence that Snowden and Tetevano will aim up.
For this happen, he believes the Knights must have an aggressive mindset from the onset.
"The Bulldogs also have some depth, so it’s really important to match their muscle early on," Stone says.
"So Snowey and Zane have got a big job there for sure with going forward and wearing them down.
"We had some good success against the Dogs last year and that’s because we got into a grind with them and we matched them set-for-set.
"Their forward pack has got some skill, toughness and good pre-line passing as well.
"It comes out of Graham and Eastwood has got a good offload and a few of the other boys there are skilful as well.
"So it’s important we shut them down with their short passing and managing their forwards.
"If you can do that, then it will give you a good chance."
Darius Boyd vs Sam Perrett
Perrett made his name at the Roosters as a winger, but it's fullback where he is stamping his authority at the Bulldogs.
The New Zealand-born flyer has been brilliant for the Dogs to start the season and will again feature prominently at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night.
Stone has been highly impressed with Perrett's form and has warned the Knights they must be wary of his freakish speed and ball playing ability.
"Sammy has been a winger for most of his life, but he is a great ball runner and a genuine tackle breaker," he says.
"That’s what he has got in his advantage and he is starting to get better at the fullback game and finding a few passes out the back.
"His running threat is probably the first thing that you’ve got to take care of.
"So he is going to be dangerous with his passing game as well."
Perrett might be firing, but Stone says Boyd is more than capable of holding his own and leading Newcastle to victory.
"Darbs is a really influential part of our team," he maintains.
"He has copped a bit of unfair criticism in recent weeks, but along with the likes of Mullen, Gidley and Roberts, the result usually rests on those boys and it will be no different on the weekend."
Tyrone Roberts/Jarrod Mullen vs Trent Hodkinson/Josh Reynolds
Talk to Stone about this match-up and his eyes light up with excitement.
Hodkinson and Reynolds have been at the forefront of the Dogs' success in the opening rounds, while Roberts and Mullen are slowly coming together after an inconsistent start to the season.
Throw in the fact Mullen missed the opening five rounds due to a hamstring injury and in many ways Newcastle's halves pairing are playing catch-up.
Put all that aside though, Stone says Roberts and Mullen have the ability to get on top in this match.
"It should be a great battle," he enthuses.
"Every one of those halves brings something different to the table.
"It will be interesting to see what set of forwards get on top firstly and then what set of halves can take advantage.
"Our pair, well Mullo is coming back from a hamstring injury.
"But I think at certain times Tyrone does need to take some pressure off Mullo and stand up and get the ball when he needs it.
"If he can do that, then I have no doubt that will go a long way to helping us get the win."
Player to watch:
Weighing in at 120kg and standing well over six-foot, Williams is one of the biggest players in the NRL competition.
The former Sea Eagle can be quiet in matches, but watch out when he decides to go hard.
Stone is well aware of this and has called on the Knights to step up.
"When T-Rex gets going he is very hard to stop, especially when he gets a few good early touches," he says.
"So Beau (Scott) and Mullo will have to do a good job on that side to contain him."
Where it will be won:
As discussed, the Bulldogs have one of the competition's biggest packs and the Knights must be at their best to contain them.
It won't be an easy task with Willie Mason suspended, but the likes of Kade Snowden, Zane Tetevano and Korbin Sims are more than capable of stepping up.
If the Knights can match the Dogs' up front, then they have the ability to get the win led by the speed and skill of their backs.
The Bulldogs are proven performers in close matches this season though, so the men in red and blue will have to match them in the desperation stakes.
It's set up to be a classic match, especially if the Knights can dig deep and pull out a complete 80-minute performance.