NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS v NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS
Round 2, 2015 NRL Premiership
Date: Saturday March 14
Kick off: 8pm local time
Venue: 1300SMILES Stadium
Referee: Gavin Badger
Last time they met:
The Knights 36-28 win over the North Queensland Cowboys at Hunter Stadium in Round 15 last year snapped a seven-game losing streak for the red and blues.
The Knights have won 17 of their last 30 meetings with the Cowboys, but of the 15 games played north of the border the Knights have only won 6.
1. Kurt Gidley (c), 2. James McManus, 3. Dane Gagai, 4. Joey Leilua, 5. Akuila Uate, 6. Jarrod Mullen, 7. Tyrone Roberts, 8. Kade Snowden, 9. Adam Clydsdale, 10. Korbin Sims, 11. Beau Scott, 12. Robbie Rochow, 13. Jeremy Smith. Interchange: 14. Tyler Randell, 15. Chris Houston, 16. David Fa’alogo, 17. Jack Stockwell, 18. Sione Mata’utia.
1. Michael Morgan, 2. Justin O’Neill, 3. Matthew Wright, 4. Kane Linnett, 5. Antonio Winterstein, 6. Robert Lui, 7. Johnathan Thurston (c), 8 Matt Scott (c), 9. Rory Kostjasyn, 10. Ben Hannant, 11. Gavin Cooper, 12. Ethan Lowe, 13. Jason Taumalolo. Interchange: 14. Jake Granville, 15. Kelepi Tanginoa, 16. Scott Bolton, 17. James Tamou, 18. Lachlan Coote.
The heat is always a major obstacle for teams travelling to Townsville, with the mercury predicted to be pushing 36 degrees on game day and still idling at 31 when the game kicks off at 8pm (local time).
“It probably makes the ball a bit harder to control and energy levels are a bit harder to maintain,” Director of Football Michael Hagan says.
“So the preparation this week has been a little bit around recovery given that the boys worked really hard in the game against the Warriors last Saturday.”
With maintaining energy levels in the heat integral to the team’s success, performance at the end of sets will be key.
The Knights’ kicking game came under some scrutiny in Round 1, and that will be something that Jarrod Mullen and Tyrone Roberts look to improve upon.
“The kicking game is an ongoing part of the team getting better,” Hagan acknowledges.
“I think Rick (Stone) and the coaches have worked pretty hard with the halves in pre-season about the kinds of kicks we need to come up with at the right times.
“It’s going to take a few weeks to get that bedded down and even in the second half against the Warriors there was a bit of an improvement.”
With the likes of Michael Morgan and Antonio Winterstein in the Cowboys’ backline, the Knights will need to continue improving in that department if they are to come away with the points.
“You know against a quality team like the Cowboys with Morgan at the back that the selection of kick and the pressure on the end of your set needs to be a lot better,” Hagan acknowledges.
And of course preparations for a match against the Cowboys wouldn’t be complete without a certain halfback being mentioned.
“The Roosters had a bit of a blueprint about how to cut down Thurston’s time and space last week,” Hagan explains.
“But it all really stems from the way they roll forward with Matt Scott, James Tamou and Jason Taumalolo in the middle there."
That is a front row packed with international experience, and the Knights will look to stifle it as part of their game plan.
“Our front rowers and Jeremy Smith need to try and dominate the play the ball as much as they can to try and limit Thurston’s impact,” Hagan says.
“But on top of that I think our scramble defence might be put to the test with not just Thurston’s kicking game but Morgan’s as well.”
Where it will be won:
“It’s all about the game plan against the Cowboys who will be very annoyed that they didn’t get their season off to a winning start against the Roosters,” Hagan says.
That means that despite the heat, the hostile crowd and the hungry opposition, the Knights will need to keep their composure.
“We need to improve on our kicking game and a bit of composure and good ball when we get down their end,” Rick Stone said on Tuesday when filling in Danny Buderus in the Assistants’ Analysis segment on Knights TV.