NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS v NORTH SYDNEY BEARS
Round 10, 2014 VB NSW Cup
Sunday, May 18 Kick-Off: 3pm
Venue: North Sydney Oval, Sydney
Last Time They Met:
Newcastle charged to a dominant 50-22 victory over North Sydney in Round 2 this season.
Ross, Mantellato, Wilame, P.Mata'utia, Ikinofo, Minto, Dobson, Likiliki, Waddell, Vaivai, Elias, Randall, Hilder (c). Interchange Redman, Horwood, Steele, Hartin.
NORTH SYDNEY BEARS
Merritt, O'Dare, Tuqiri, Uluibau, Johnston, Aldridge, Worboys, Neale, Garlick, T.Burgess, Roberts (c), Grevsmuhl, Hyland. Interchange Lupi, Low, Areaiiti, South.
Newcastle are coming off consecutive defeats in the NSW Cup, but the team will be boosted by the return of three key players for Sunday's Round 10 clash against North Sydney.
Fullback Nathan Ross (hamstring), captain Matt Hilder (concussion) and Pat Vaivai (NRL) have all been named to take on the Bears at North Sydney Oval.
Coach Rick Stone is rapt to have the trio back on deck, especially after last weekend's disappointing 38-16 loss against Penrith.
"They are three big players for us, so it will be great to have them in the team again," Stone says.
"So it does strengthen us a little bit across the park, because they are all full-time players and all capable players as well."
Stone concedes his side let themselves down against the Panthers last weekend, especially after they led 14-4 with just 36 minutes remaining in the match.
"We were terrific in our energy for the first 60 minutes, but we had a couple of things go against us at the backend and got a bit tired," he says.
"We also got a bit confused to be honest in how we were doing things early.
"We just unravelled a bit at the end, which was a bit disappointing considering the effort they did put in.
"The score probably didn’t reflect the game, but they sort of came through the middle at the backend and we were a bit untidy.
"That’s something we’ve got to try and work on."
It's a challenge which starts with a North Sydney loaded with plenty of NRL experience and Stone can't wait for the clash.
"It’s always good to go to North Sydney Oval," he says.
"Even though we’ve always struggled there, it's a good ground to play at and I'm looking forward to it.
"I know the Bears have been struggling a little bit themselves in recent weeks and their team has been a bit down on personnel as well.
"But that doesn't matter, because we are expecting a tough game."
Nathan Ross vs Nathan Merritt
This should be a classic battle between the two Nathan's. The NRL star Merritt and Ross, the bloke who still dreams of playing in the NRL.
Prior to injuring his hamstring two weeks ago, Ross had scored four tries in a fortnight.
Stone hopes the former Kurri Kurri Bulldog can continue that type of form against the Bears.
"Ross will bring a lot of confidence and energy to the team," he says.
"That’s what he brings to a footy team.
"It has been disappointing not having him for a couple of weeks and we’ve really felt it."
Pat Vaivai vs Tom Burgess
Vaivai impressed in his maiden NRL match against Penrith last Sunday.
The New Zealand-born bookend only played nine minutes, but Stone was pleased with his effort under difficult circumstances.
Vaivai returns to the NSW Cup ranks this weekend and the coaching staff are expecting him to perform strongly.
"Patty has been great for us," he beams.
"I know he didn’t play a lot of time in the NRL, but he was pretty efficient when he was on.
"He thoroughly deserved his selection on the back of three really big games for us in the Cup.
"He has been a real forward leader, particularly in our yardage carries and it's great to have him back."
Where it will be won:
Newcastle may have defeated North Sydney the last time they met back in Round 2, but that will count for little come Sunday afternoon.
The Bears have been boosted by the inclusion of NRL players like Nathan Merritt, Lote Tuqiri and Thomas Burgess, so this match won't be a walk in the park for the Knights.
Stone's side will need to aim up in the forwards, while they'll have to be on guard in the backs to contain the likes of Merritt and co.
If this happens, the Knights have the potential across the park to get the competition points.