NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS v NEWTOWN JETS
Round 14, 2014 VB NSW CUP Premiership
Saturday, June 14 Kick-Off: 3pm
Venue: Henson Park, Sydney
Last Time They Met:
Newcastle recorded a dominant 38-10 victory over Newtown in Round 23 last season, while the Jets proved too good in Round 18 with a 26-14 triumph.
Ross, Wiliame, P.Mata'utia, Tahu, C.Mata'utia, Minto, Dobson, Horwood, Waddell, Vaivai, Elias, Randell, Hilder (c). Interchange: Redman, Steele, Underwood, Koopu, Hartin.
Reuben, Evans, Moga, Langi, Davis, Kara (c), Taumata, Pearn, L'Estrange, Verlinden, Martin, Harris, Siejka. Interchange: Taukeiaho, Lane, Barrett, Houma, Noble.
The Newcastle Knights' NSW Cup side hasn't tasted victory for six long weeks but coach Rick Stone is remaining positive in his side's ability to turnaround the season.
While the men in red and blue are down on form, Stone can't fault their effort and he hopes that commitment will hold them in good stead for Saturday's clash against the eighth-placed Jets.
"It’s always a big job at Newtown, especially Henson Park," Stone says.
"They have probably started the season a bit slow, which is probably the reverse to us.
"We started OK, but we’ve been struggling a little bit lately.
"We are a little bit down on personnel and confidence at the moment, but I think most reserve grade sides go through that period.
"That’s particularly the case when the NRL side has a few injuries and that’s certainly the case at the moment.
"But the opposition will be similar, so we’ve got to front up and get ready to do our best."
Helping the Knights' chances of victory will be the return of key outside backs Chanel Mata'utia (ribs) and Timana Tahu (knee).
Stone can't wait to have both players back in the side, especially with their potent attacking skills.
"They are both terrific players and both can change a game in their carries, skill and try-scoring ability," he enthuses.
"So they give us a little bit of trust and an ability to put on some points.
"He was looking to do it last week, but he wasn’t quite ready and had a little abductor strain which kept him out.
"So he’ll get his chance to play his first game for the year this week."
Chanel Mata'utia vs Josh Davis
Chanel makes his triumphant return from a three-week layoff due to a rib injury and coach Stone couldn't be happier.
The local South Newcastle junior provides plenty of spark for the Knights' backline, while his raw power always stands out in defence.
Watch for a fit and refreshed Mata'utia to star in his comeback match.
Michael Dobson/Matt Minto vs Arana Taumata/ Kurt Kara
The halves usually cop the brunt of the blame when a team loses and the Knights' NSW Cup side is no different.
Coach Stone is first to admit that his playmakers Dobson and Minto have struggled for fluency in recent weeks, especially playing off the back of a beaten forward pack.
"They do (need to lift) and they need some help from their forwards to create a bit of time and space," Stone concedes.
"They will probably be first to admit they are probably not gelling as a partnership as well as they would like, but they are both talented players and both bring plenty to the footy team.
"We just haven’t seen the best of them yet."
Stone is hoping that best comes on Saturday against the Jets.
Brenton Horwood vs Andrew Pearn
Horwood has been a standout for coach Stone in the NSW Cup ranks this season.
The former premiership-winner at the Maitland Pickers started the year playing off the bench, but gets his chance to impress in the starting front-row against the Jets on Saturday.
"Brenton has been pretty consistent right throughout the year," he beams.
"He has started a couple of games, but mainly started off the bench and his effort has been outstanding week-in and week-out.
"So it’s a good justification and reward for him."
Player to watch:
Formally with the Northern Pride in Queensland's Intrust Super Cup, Underwood impressed on debut in the Cup ranks against the Wests Tigers last weekend.
The hard-running forward, who has also played a few games with Central Newcastle in the local competition, is expected to feature prominatley against Newtown on Saturday.
Where it will be won:
Talk to coach Stone and the answer to that question is simple.
"It’s about winning the middle," he says frankly.
"We haven’t done that regularly in the last couple of weeks, so that’s our main focus against Newtown."
If the Knights can follow coach Stone's simplistic instructions and rediscover their dominance through the middle, then they have enough strike on the edges to get the job done away from home.