NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS v PENRITH PANTHERS
Round 9, 2014 Holden Cup Premiership
Sunday, May 11 Kick-Off: 11.45pm
Venue: Hunter Stadium, Newcastle
Last Time They Met:
Newcastle surged to an impressive 34-22 victory over Penrith in the opening match of the season.
The Knights trailed 18-0 after 10 minutes, but rallied to kick-start their 2014 campaign in style with a strong away win against last year's NYC premiers.
Gagai, Donovan, Mata'utia, Peni, Birch, Keenan, Feeney, Togiatasi, Levi (c),Yates, Tapine, Pondekas, Petterson-Robati. Interchange: De Saxe, Smith, Boyce, Fitzgibbon, King.
Geyer, Jay, Naden, Blake, Aiono, Harawira, Scarlett, Saunders, Tangitau, Pelesasa, Katoa, Attwood, Cowhan. Interchange: Grant, Lupi, Hall, Freeman, Silipa.
Newcastle has been the standout team in the NYC this season and Club assistant coach Rick Stone is confident they can continue this form against Penrith on Sunday.
Stone knows a 26-round Holden Cup season can be draining for younger players and stresses the importance of a bye weekend for the Under-20s team to rest and refocus.
"Hopefully the team enjoyed the break and have come back feeling fresh," Stone says.
"Because as 20-year-olds the break is important to get a good balance because it's a long season.
"This is probably the first time for a lot of them that they've gone a 26 round competition, so taking opportunities like this is vital."
As Stone has discovered throughout his career, the week following a bye can be hard for teams to mentally prepare and return in form.
It's why he says it's crucial the Knights come out firing in the opening period of Sunday's match.
"The first 20 minutes will be really important for them," he says.
"I think they've generally hit the ground running in most of their games, except for the Broncos one, so I'm sure coach Crawley will be looking for them to continue the way they have in the first eight rounds.
"The 20s side has got some really got performers right across the park and I think they are confident in moving forward and being able to do that."
Sione Mata'utia vs Brent Naden
Mata'utia is only 17, but the emerging centre regularly shows maturity well beyond his tender years.
This was well and truly on display when he scored a try and set up two others in an impressive performance for the NSW Under-20s last Saturday night.
Stone has no doubts Mata'utia will again feature prominatley against Penrith on Sunday.
"Sione is important in any grade he plays," he says.
"He continues to show maturity and the little things that he does in a game he has some real NRL written all over him.
"So let's hope he can continue to improve. He is the sort of kid that's got his feet on the ground and he is a good leader by example."
Jacob Gagai vs Logan Geyer
Gagai has done a brilliant job at fullback for the Knights following Jake Mamo's step up to the NRL ranks.
The younger sibling of first grade star Dane is a strong runner of the ball, while he is more than capable under the high ball.
Stone has been highly impressed with Gagai's form.
"Jacob filled in at fullback and he adds a real amount of skill and dynamic to the position," he says.
"He has got a few little things to tidy up, especially on the defensive side, but he has definitely got some class in attack."
Luke Yates vs Atonio Pelesasa
Stone likens Yates to Club legend Billy Peden when it comes to work ethic and sheer effort.
"Luke is a no nonsense type of player that every team needs I suppose," he enthuses about the local Newcastle Wests junior.
"He is very unselfish and uncompromising in the middle and does his job really well. His form has been outstanding this year and he is a great competitor in every facet of the game.
"That's what makes him a valuable player in the team."
Where it will be won:
The Knights have led at halftime in seven of their eight matches so far this year.
If Mick Crawley's men can maintain these quick starts, then they should be too good for the Panthers.
Watch out for forwards Luke Yates and Tuiala Togiatasi to set the platform up front, allowing backs Sione Mata'utia, Bryce Donovan and Jaelen Feeney to pile on the points out wide.