NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS v PENRITH PANTHERS
Round 9, 2014 VB NSW Cup
Saturday, May 10 Kick-Off: 5pm
Venue: Cessnock Sports Ground
Last Time They Met:
Newcastle recorded an impressive 24-14 victory over Penrith in the opening round of the season.
Winger Chanel Mata'utia scored three tries in the win.
Minto, Mantellato, Wiliame, P.Mata'utia, C.Mata'utia, Randell, Dobson, Steele, Waddell, Vaivai, Elias, Hartin, Horwood. Interchange: Redman, Smith, Koopu, Shearman, Likiliki.
Moss, Nabuli, Yeo, Smith, Naiqama, Capewell, John, Anderson, Moseley, Campbell-Gillard, Murdoch-Masila, Cherrington, Simpkins. Interchange: Smith, Foster, Cartwright, Tia Kilifi, Latu, Ayoub, Eisenhuth.
Newcastle will be without a number of key stars for Saturday's clash against Penrith due to injury and players stepping up to the NRL ranks, but coach Rick Stone remains confident in his squad.
While there's no doubting the Knights will miss the likes of Nathan Ross and David Fa'alogo, Stone believes his side can push on with a number of capable replacements.
"At the moment our playing depth is really stretched with a few issues in the top grade, but that's what you need to be able to handle in the NSW Cup competition," Stone stresses.
"It happens to you often and the strength of your part-timers is really important.
"We will possibly give a few Under-20s an opportunity with Hayden Smith, Tama Koopu and Tom Shearman.
"Toka Likiliki looks like he is going to be back and we've still got a fairly stable backline except for Nathan Ross, who looks like he is going to be out with a little hammy strain for a week.
"That's disappointing, but Matty Minto played there with distinction last week and we are pretty comfortable there."
Stone says defence has been the priority at training this week after his team leaked 50 points against Wentworthville last Sunday.
"We need to improve that facet of the game if we are a chance of winning this week," he says.
"It needs an attitude swing and we are all pretty disappointed with ourselves, particularly our opening 20 minutes wasn't good last week.
"They (Penrith) are looking a much stronger side this time around compared to the first round. They had a fair few players out and they've also got a pretty clean bill of health. So we've got another job in front of us and we understand that.
"But I think we've got a happy knack of knocking over the Sydney teams coming to out of town.
"So let's have a crack at that and make sure we turn up ready to be energised and enthusiastic."
Matt Minto vs Kieran Moss
Minto was a standout the last time the Knights met Penrith in the opening round and he'll be hoping to continue that form on Saturday.
From his attacking flair through to his ability to organise, the Rockhampton-born playmaker is a vital member of the NSW Cup team.
Minto impressed at fullback in just his second game back from a knee injury last weekend and coach Stone says you can expect more of the same in Cessnock this Saturday.
Chanel Mata'utia vs Kevin Naiqama
Mata'uita was at his magical best when the Knights played Penrith in the first round of the season.
The local Newcastle junior scored three tries that day and coach Rick Stone is hoping to see more of the same on Saturday.
Mata'utia will line-up opposite former Knight Kevin Naiqama, a player blessed with similar athletic ability and sheer speed.
It's an exciting match-up that will make Cessnock the place to be on Saturday.
Michael Dobson vs Isaac John
This should be a cracker match-up between two blokes who formally played in the English Super League.
Dobson has found a new home at the Knights after five-and-a-half seasons in England with Catalans, Wigan and Hull KR, while John also impressed during his two-year stint with Wakefield.
So who wins out?
John is the type of playmaker who plays what's in front him, while Dobson likes to take control via his organisation and kicking game.
If Newcastle's forwards can get on top of the Panthers, then this should allow Dobson to dictate terms.
Where it will be won:
Newcastle deserve favouritism with the match to be played at Cessnock, but it's a danger game given they are missing a number of key players.
The Knights are more than capable of handling life without fullback Nathan Ross (hamstring) and Dave Fa'alogo (NRL), but they'll need others to step up against Penrith in their absence.
This challenge will fall on the likes of Matt Minto, Michael Dobson, Travis Waddell and a host of younger players.
If these players can carry the burden, then the Knights should be too strong at home.