The Knights are back on the road this Easter weekend with a trip to New Zealand to take on the Warriors at Mt Smart Stadium.
After a blockbuster of a match against the Raiders in Round 3, the mission now is to back up that performance and bring more consistency to the table.
The Warriors are winless from their last 11 games, but they will be desperate to put in a strong showing at home for their passionate fans.
NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS v NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS
Date: Saturday March 28
Gates open: 1.30pm NZST, 11.30am AEST
Kick-off: 4.00pm NZST, 2.00pm AEST
Venue: Mt Smart Stadium
Broadcast: Fox Sports
1. Dane Gagai, 2. Nathan Ross, 3. Sione Mata’utia*, 4. Pat Mata’utia, 5. Cory Denniss, 6. Jarrod Mullen, 7. Trent Hodkinson (c), 8. Sam Mataora, 9. Tyler Randell, 10. Korbin Sims, 11. Jacob Saifiti, 12. Robbie Rochow, 13. Jeremy Smith (c). Interchange: 14. Danny Levi, 15. Mickey Paea, 16. Lachlan Fitzgibbon, 17. Pauli Pauli.
* Note Sione Mata'utia was found guilty at the NRL Judiciary on Wednesday however coach Nathan Brown has not yet announced his replacement.
1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, 2. Tuimoala Lolohea, 3. Blake Ayshford, 4. Solomone Kata, 5. Johnathon Wright, 6. Shaun Johnson, 7. Jeff Robson, 8. Jacob Lillyman, 9. Jazz Tevaga, 10. Ben Matulino, 11. Bodene Thompson, 12. Ryan Hoffman (c), 13. Simon Mannering. Interchange: 14. Charlie Gubb, 15. Sam Lisone, 16. Konrad Hurrell, 17. Albert Vete.
Dane Gagai returns at fullback
Gagai returns at fullback this week after making a late switch to the position in Round 3.
Against the Raiders he set up one try, broke out of four tackles and ran 19 times. He almost scored a try as well, but was denied by the video referee.
While he was dangerous with the ball in his hands, the attacking weapon is hungry to improve himself in the relatively new role.
“When Gags watched his tape, he already identified areas himself he can really work on,” Nathan Brown said on Tuesday.
“He had a lot of good contributions for the team and I’m sure over the next few weeks he can improve.”
Jeremy Smith leading the line
Smith has been outstanding in his first three games as joint-captain, playing an average of 57 minutes per game with his typical high intensity style.
Against the Raiders he led the way for the forwards, making 42 tackles and 17 runs. The mind boggles at those numbers considering he is the oldest player to have appeared in the NRL so far this year at the age of 35.
His input will be crucial against the Warriors, who have the likes of Ben Matulino, Simon Mannering and Jacob Lillyman in their forward line.
Cory Denniss named to back up
Denniss had one of the best debuts in recent memory last Saturday, scoring two tries and saving one as well.
His apparent lack of nerves was impressive, and it is no surprise that the local junior has been named to play again this week.
“He’s a good young player with a lot of talent and I think everyone’s quite aware that in 12 months time he’s going to be a lot bigger, a lot stronger and a lot better,” Brown said in a post-match press conference last weekend.
Knights fans will be eagerly following his development.
Danny Levi making a name for himself
It was only Levi’s ninth NRL game last weekend, but the 20-year-old was one of the Knights’ best.
He worked hard on improving his fitness in the off-season and it showed, the Kiwi hooker playing 82 minutes and making 44 tackles.
He also caught the opposition off-guard several times with his darts from dummy-half, making 60 metres and setting the red and blues up for good attacking sets.
Whether he starts or comes from the bench, Levi will be a handful for the Warriors’ defensive line.
The experience gap
The difference in approaches by the Knights and the Warriors can be seen in the total amount of NRL games played by the two sides.
While the Knights have named a team with a total of 944 NRL games experience (200 of those coming from Jarrod Mullen), the Warriors have 1,797 games under their belt.
In many ways it will be the new kids on the block against the veterans that have seen it all, and is a part of the reason why the Knights are such an intriguing prospect this season.
Last week it started to come together for the red and blues, and it was exciting to see so many young and inexperienced players holding their own against a side that has played far more football.
“On the right edge we had Jacob Saifiti who’s 19, Sione Mata’utia who’s 19, and young Cory (Denniss) is 18,” Brown said after the match.
That edge alone potentially has more than ten years of NRL football ahead of them, and were responsible for two of the Knights’ four tries against the Raiders.
THE FINAL SAY
“Hopefully a lot of guys got what sort of process it takes to build pressure and win games,” Brown said in a press conference on Tuesday.
“If we learn that and get that right on a consistent basis, it will make life easier for ourselves."