NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS v NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS
Round 8, 2015 NRL Premiership
Date: Saturday April 25
Venue: Hunter Stadium
Referee: Ashley Klein
Last time they met:
The Knights edged the Cowboys 16-14 in Townsville in a fiercely contested Round 2 fixture, Joey Leilua scoring a brace.
The Knights have won 19 of their 33 matches against the men from North Queensland, and from the 17 games played in Newcastle the Knights have won 12.
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. Chris Houston, 12. Tariq Sims, 13. Jeremy Smith. Interchange: 14. Tyler Randell, 15. David Fa’alogo, 16. Joseph Tapine, 17. Jack Stockwell, 18. Sione Mata’utia.
1. Lachlan Coote, 2. Justin O’Neill, 3. Tautau Moga, 4. Kane Linnett, 5. Antonio Winterstein, 6. Michael Morgan, 7. Johnathan Thurston (c), 8. Matt Scott (c), 9. Jake Granville, 10. James Tamou, 11. Gavin Cooper, 12. Ethan Lowe, 13. Jason Taumalolo Interchange: 14. Rory Kostjasyn, 15. John Asiata, 16. Scott Bolton, 17. Ben Hannant, 19. Ray Thompson.
This ANZAC Day match-up has captured the interest of many pundits, considering how narrow the margin was when the Knights beat the Cowboys in Round 2.
The men from North Queensland will be desperate to turn the tables on Saturday afternoon, but that is something that the Knights are ready for.
“I think it’s something that we’ve got to be prepared for because they’re in a much better frame of mind and form than when we met them in Round 2,” Director of Football Michael Hagan says.
“I’m sure we’re going to have to stand up to a bit of aggression from their forward pack and maybe they’ve got a point to prove from our last game.”
Rather than placing emphasis on a game from Round 2 though, Hagan would prefer to focus on the special occasion that will be ANZAC Day.
This will be only the third time that the Newcastle Knights have played on ANZAC Day, and it will be a game of singular importance to all of the players involved.
“It’s going to be a special occasion for our fans and our team, so hopefully it’s a very good atmosphere at Hunter Stadium,” Hagan says.
“We have new jumpers for the occasion and a ceremony that I think will add to a pretty competitive game of footy.”
If the Knights want to win the game they will have to make big improvements on their loss to the Eels. The Novocastrians made 13 errors in that game, nine of them coming in the second half.
“The number of errors was the most noticeable area of weakness against the Eels,” Hagan explains.
“If we controlled the ball a bit better we arguably would have been in front at the end of the 80 minutes.”
Hagan is quick to make clear that there were plenty of good signs from that game, though.
“The effort was good and some of our attack looked sharper than it has been in the past couple of weeks,” he added.
“We got across the line a couple of times and I think we did show a bit of fluency, but again we let ourselves down by taking the pressure off with some errors on early tackles.”
Things have been made more difficult by the absence of forwards Beau Scott and Robbie Rochow, both of whom made big contributions in the team’s four early wins.
Cowboys recruit Tariq Sims has slotted in for Rochow, but he was suspended for the first four rounds of the competition and is still finding his feet in his new team.
“We’re still adapting to the loss of Scott and Rochow… Tariq was always going to take a few weeks to settle into that role on the left side for Robbie, and he’s had a bit of an injury to manage as well,” Hagan says.
“I’m sure that his relationship with Tyrone Roberts and Joey Leilua will improve this week and also the role between Chris Houston and Joe Tapine on the right side will be important as well.”
The veteran and rookie combination of Houston and Tapine will be facing a big challenge as they line up opposite Matt Cooper and the premier halfback in the competition that is Johnathan Thurston.
Houston has been outstanding in defence with 274 tackles from seven games while Tapine has been impressive considering how few first grade games he has under his belt.
There are plenty of dangerous players for the Cowboys in other areas as well, their spine being of particular importance.
“I’ve had a bit to do with Michael Morgan in the Emerging Maroons camps in Queensland,” Hagan explains.
“I know he played fullback last year but he spent most of his junior footy in the halves and he’s an explosive, talented player.
“He, Thurston and Lachlan Coote have got a pretty good combination and (Jake) Granville at hooker has also been a part of that.”
Where it will be won:
At times the Knights have made mistakes with their end of set plays in 2015, but Hagan believes that halves Tyrone Roberts and Jarrod Mullen have what it takes to beat the Cowboys.
“We’ve talked about the halves most weeks, but this is an opportunity for them to run our team and get some field position,” Hagan says.
“A good kicking game and some patience in our attack will be the key depending on what the conditions are on Saturday.”
“They have key players around the park, we can’t just single out one player. If JT (Thurston) is off his game, someone else is going to be on… that’s what Jake Granville showed the other weekend,” Korbin Sims said at a press conference on Wednesday.