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After the best start to a season in 10 years, assistant coach Craig Sandercock and Rick Stone had plenty of positives to speak about in this week’s game analysis.

Following on from a strong round one win at home against the New Zealand Warriors and two down-to-the wire victories in Queensland, Newcastle are steadfast on continuing the same intensity when they face the Penrith Panthers on Saturday.

Rick Stone has made one forced change to the line-up after prop Korbin Sims was ruled out due to suspension, with Samoan International Dave Fa’alogo moving from the bench into the number 10 jersey.

“Pat Vaivai has been named on the bench after Korbin has taken an early plea to a two-week ban for two separate incidents,” Stone said.

“Pat has been our best player in the last couple of weeks in NSW Cup and has earned his chance and is looking forward to the challenge.”

Beyond the change up front, the Knights will power into round four off the back of three wins with a relatively unchanged line-up. 

“Sione (Mata’utia) has been coming off the bench and Kurt (Gidley) has been playing a bit of hooker. That’s likely to be the same kind of scenario I would suggest,” Stone said.

While Sandercock added, “Outside backs have been going well and in the first round Aku (Uate) got Players’ Player and against the Titans, (James) McManus made a great break and virtually won every play the ball.

Stone agreed and said, “(Dane) Gagai has been going great and James ran for 170 meters on the weekend which was pleasing.

“Joey has definitely been doing a good job there and we’ve had a little bit of combination with Kurt and Sione in fullback.

“We’ve got a good balance and I think that Kurt adds a little bit of energy to our middle when he goes to hooker through some line speed and he lifts our talk and our intensity.

“It’s something that’s a bonus and we have a bit of flexibility with our team at the moment, so that’s also a good thing.”

Moving to the forwards, Jack Stockwell has made a good impression since joining the Club.

“With Korbin being ruled out through suspension, we have a choice I suppose Stoney about who starts alongside Kade, and I know you were impressed with young Stockwell and we thought he did well,” Sandercock said to the head coach.

“But our entire bench is making good impact.”

Stone replied, “I think we have a few candidates. Dave Fa’alogo started a lot for us last year.

“Houston is playing plenty of minutes and Jack did a great job playing off the bench for us.

“It’s just about getting the balance right, that’s important but that’d probably be something we sort out a bit later in the week.

“So far all those boys will be making a big impact for us.”

Despite dishing up gutsy determination in all three of the side’s wins, Stone expects the Knights to make dramatic improvements as the season progresses.

“The boys haven’t played their best, but they’ve really fought hard and have believed in the process and have gone right down to the wire each time and have got the points,” Stone said. 

“Particular those away wins are always particularly valuable."

Preparation is in full swing for Newcastle’s next opposition, the Panthers who will arguably present their biggest challenge so far this season.

“Last year they were very good and this year will be no different,” Sandercock said.

“I thought they really played well on Monday night against the Roosters.

“What do you think we need to do there to be competitive and get over the top of them this weekend?” he asked Stone.

Stone replied, “They were really consistent side last year and I think they crept up on a lot of people but I think they did a lot of little things right. 

“They have risen in confidence and the quality of execution seems to have improved a fair bit.

“I think they are in the top echelon of teams and think they had a good quality game against the Roosters. 

“We need to improve our performance significantly to get the points this week.

“We are happy to be at home after a couple of weeks on the road, that’s a good think and we are happy to play a day time sort of footy slot so hopefully we can play some good footy.”

The Knights return home this Saturday after two games on the road.

“Hopefully everyone gets out there to support us. The boys love playing in front of a big crowd and it brings the best out of them,” Sandercock said.

Saturday March 28 – All 3 grades at Hunter Stadium

Newcastle Knights v Penrith Panthers
Gates open: 10.30am
NYC: 10.40am
NSW Cup: 12.40pm
NRL: 3pm
Venue: Hunter Stadium
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