NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS v ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS
Round 5 Alex McKinnon Cup, 2015 NRL Premiership
Date: Saturday, March 4
Kick off: 7.30pm
Venue: Hunter Stadium
Referee: Gavin Badger
Last time they met:
The Knights thrashed the Dragons 40-10 in Round 26 of last season on Old Boys Day at Hunter Stadium.
Many consider the Dragons to be the Knights' bogey team and the records don’t lie – the Knights have only taken 10 wins away from 29 games against the Red V. The Dragons have also won 13 of the 16 games they have played at Hunter Stadium.
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. David Fa’alogo, 11. Beau Scott, 12. Tariq Sims, 13. Jeremy Smith. Interchange: 14. Tyler Randell, 15. Chris Houston, 16. Pat Vaivai, 17. Jack Stockwell, 18. Sione Mata'utia.
1. Josh Dugan, 2. Eto Nabuli, 3. Euan Aitken, 4. Dylan Farrell, 5. Jason Nightingale, 6. Gareth Widdop, 7. Benji Marshall, 8. Leeson Ah Mau, 9. Mitch Rein, 10. Mike Cooper, 11. Tyson Frizell, 12. Joel Thompson, 13. Trent Merrin. Interchange: 14. George Rose, 15. Jack de Belin, 16. Jake Marketo, 17. Heath L’Estrange, 20. Rory O’Brien.
The men in red and blue hardly have the best record against their opposition going into Saturday night but Director of Football Michael Hagan doesn’t think that has to have any bearing on the Knights’ attempts to make it five from five.
“The Saints probably have a different line-up to what they had last year, but if you cast your mind back to the end of the season last year Newcastle were fairly dominant against St George,” Hagan says.
Dominant is an understatement, considering how the Knights breezed home with two tries apiece to Timana Tahu and Sione Mata’utia. But as Hagan said, the Dragons line-up has changed.
“They always seem to play their best footy against Newcastle for whatever reason, so I think that gives you a good focus for our team to keep this streak rolling along,” he added.
The Dragons start to the season has been mixed - losing to the Storm and Tigers and scoring only eight points in the process – but have since gone on to beat the Raiders away and Manly at home.
In both games they showed plenty of character and desire, which have also been the Knights’ trademarks so far this season.
“The Dragons have some solid middle-third players and then they’ve got the likes of Josh Dugan, Jason Nightingale, Gareth Widdop and Benji Marshall that are running their attack,” Hagan explains.
“Josh Dugan on kick reception is the guy that starts their sets, and Trent Merrin offers a lot in the middle with his offloads and footwork, so they’re the two we really need to control.”
Merrin’s opposite number on Saturday night will be New Zealand hard-man Jeremy Smith, who has been playing like he’s 24, not 34 going on 35.
“Jeremy is a good guy to have in our middle third, he’s playing really aggressively and I think he and Beau Scott will have a say in how Trent Merrin plays and how much time he has to run the footy,” Hagan says.
Another man that will have a hand in that is Tariq Sims, who is itching to get out on the field after missing out on the first four weeks through suspension.
Hagan would also like to see the team minimise errors and penalties.
“The team’s had to make more tackles than any other team in the first four weeks, so holding onto the ball is really critical for managing our fatigue levels,” he says.
“The discipline has been talked about and even in the last game there were a couple of avoidable penalties.
“I know the coaching staff have been working extra hard on that and it just takes the pressure off your defence if you don’t give away penalties when a team’s coming out of trouble.
“The fact that we’re near the 50 per cent possession margin is okay, it’s when you shift to maybe 40 per cent that you’re really under pressure.”
It is set to be a special game with the teams playing for the inaugural Alex McKinnon Cup this Saturday at Hunter Stadium.
Where it will be won:
In the halves.
“The halves will be critical, Widdop and Marshall are quality players but Tyrone Roberts and Jarrod Mullen have been close to our best consistently in how they’ve managed our games,” Hagan says.
“If our kicking game is good – and it was good last week – then I think that will influence who comes out on top.”
“We have been doing a lot of work on defence and I think that’s what’s winning us the game,” Kade Snowden said at a press conference on Wednesday.