NRL preview: Round 16
NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS v ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS
Date: Saturday June 25
Gates open: 10.30am
Venue: Hunter Stadium
Broadcast: Fox Sports
1. Dane Gagai, 2. Nathan Ross, 3. Sione Mata’utia, 4. Peter Mata’utia, 5. Brendan Elliot, 6. Jack Cogger, 7. Trent Hodkinson, 8. Sam Mataora, 9. Danny Levi, 10. Korbin Sims, 11. Jacob Saifiti, 12. Mitch Barnett, 13. Jeremy Smith. Interchange: 14. Tyler Randell, 15. Robbie Rochow, 16. Daniel Saifiti, 17. Mickey Paea, 18. Josh King, 19. Chanel Mata’utia, 24. Pauli Pauli.
1. Jason Nightingale, 2. Kalifa Faifai Loa, 3. Euan Aitken, 4. Tim Lafai, 5. Kurt Mann, 6. Gareth Widdop, 7. Benji Marshall, 8. Leeson Ah Mau, 9. Mitch Rein, 10. Russell Packer, 11. Jacob Host, 12. Joel Thompson, 13. Mike Cooper. Interchange: 14. Jack de Belin, 15. Will Matthew, 16. Dunamis Lui, 17. Jake Marketo.
Big injury returns
The Knights could have up to four players return from injury this Saturday.
With plenty of youth already in the team, Robbie Rochow’s 71 games of NRL experience will be handy coming off the bench. And while Nathan Ross only has 17 first grade games to his name, his sheer attacking nous and ability to create something out of nothing will be invaluable in the backline.
Peter Mata'utia and brother Chanel are also named in the extended 20-man squad to take on the Dragons.
Peter Mata’utia faces old club
Mata’utia only got to play 26 minutes in the red and blue before he was forced from the field with a knee injury in Round 8.
Now he is set to make his comeback against his old club, and will be teaming up with younger brother Sione in the centres.
In the time that Pete was on the field in Round 8 he showed real attacking ability and teamed up well with Ross, who he will again be playing alongside this week.
Alex McKinnon Cup
For just the second time, the Knights and the Dragons will be battling it out for the Alex McKinnon Cup.
The Knights will be looking to claim it for the first time after the Dragons came away victors in torrential conditions at Hunter Stadium last year.
McKinnon will be watching the game with his family, and has spoken about what it means to him.
"It's very special for my mum, dad, and my nan to come down to the game,” he told Knights TV.
“I'm very lucky that both teams have agreed to do this, and it's just an opportunity for us to come to the game, enjoy, sit back and hopefully the Knights get the win."
There will also be a bucket collection at the game for Damien Jobson, a rugby league player who recently suffered a spinal injury playing for Windale.
Gagai makes history
Fresh from scoring a hat-trick in the State of Origin series winning match at Suncorp Stadium on Wednesday night, Gagai is sure to return to Club land on a high.
The utility back is named to resume at fullback in the red and blue, but will need to pass a medical when he returns for Friday's captain's run.
The Knights don’t have the best record against the Dragons, with the red and blues only having a 32 percent winning record.
An influx of players returning from injury as well as some refreshed bodies from the bye may just prove the perfect tonic for the Knights though.
“They don’t let many points in, but they don’t score many either,” Jeremy Smith said in a press conference on Monday.
“If we can get our game right then that will go a long way towards beating them.”
THE FINAL SAY
“I was disappointed with my personal performance, but I thought the team showed some real fight in the first half there,” new signing Mitch Barnett said of the Knights’ Round 14 match against the Warriors.
“In the second half we didn’t get the rub of the green, and we just need to work on those second half starts.”