NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS v MELBOURNE STORM
Date: Sunday July 17
Gates open: 9.30am
Venue: Hunter Stadium
Broadcast: Fox Sports
1. Dane Gagai, 2. Nathan Ross, 3. Brendan Elliot, 4. Peter Mata’utia, 5. Jake Mamo, 6. Jarrod Mullen, 7. Trent Hodkinson (c), 8. Robbie Rochow, 9. Danny Levi, 10. Korbin Sims, 11. Sione Mata’utia, 12. Mitch Barnett, 13. Jeremy Smith (c). Interchange: 14. Josh King, 15. Sam Mataora, 16. Daniel Saifiti, 17. Mickey Paea, 18. Pat Mata’utia, 23. Pauli Pauli.
1. Young Tonumaipea, 2. Suliasi Vunivalu, 3. Cheyse Blair, 4. Ryan Morgan, 5. Marika Koroibete, 6. Blake Green, 7. Cooper Cronk, 8. Jesse Bromwich, 9. Cameron Smith (c), 10. Felise Kaufusi, 11. Kevin Proctor, 12. Tohu Harris, 13. Dale Finucane. Interchange: 14. Kenny Bromwich, 15. Christian Welch, 16. Matthew White, 17. Ben Hampton.
Five-eighth Jarrod Mullen is expected to make his return after 11 long weeks on the sidelines, and the team will be looking forward to his ability to control the tempo of a match as well as his influence on attacking plays.
In the eight matches he played earlier in the season, Mullen made four line breaks, 15 tackles breaks, five try assists and three line break assists.
Since his injury the red and blues have seen three different players wear the number six jersey, and have had four different halves combinations.
“He has a lot of experience which helps in amongst a younger side and he also definitely has a very good kicking game,” head coach Nathan Brown said earlier in the week.
“His kicking game and the experience are the two real highlights he can bring to the team.”
Mata’utia finds a new home for himself
There may have been some fans scratching their heads when Sione Mata’utia made the move into the second row in Round 17, but the 20-year-old proved any doubters wrong with a powerful performance.
He’s backing up in that position against the Storm, and will again be looking to contribute with his aggressive running and no-nonsense defence.
While Mata’utia has always seemed a natural fit for the back line with his technical ability and pace, his strength and appetite for hard work make him a dynamic proposition in the forwards.
“It’s a new position and was a shock to the system, but I had a lot of fun and was more involved in more parts of the game,” Mata’utia said during the bye week.
“It’s not that much different to centre, there’s just more attack coming your way and a lot more running.”
The Knights’ backs were impressive against the Canberra Raiders last time out as the team raced to an early 22-point lead.
The line-up from one to five is unchanged this week with plenty of pace on offer from the likes of Dane Gagai and Jake Mamo. Meanwhile the left side partnership of Nathan Ross and Pete Mata’utia provides a truckload of defensive toughness as well as attacking options.
“Canberra’s right edge has the most tackle breaks (in the NRL) and we didn’t let a try in on that edge, so if teams want to keep targeting us then we’ll definitely take it,” Pete Mata’utia said on Monday.
“Melbourne are a great side and have been a top four side for the past ten years.
“We know where we are at the moment and will just take it week by week.”
Storm’s record in the Hunter
While the Storm are a class outfit, they haven’t had the best record at Hunter Stadium with five wins from 15 encounters.
The Knights have also won three of the past five encounters between the two sides at all venues, including that last-gasp win back in 2014 when Kurt Gidley converted from the sideline after the siren.
That was the last time the Storm played in Newcastle, and can serve as inspiration for the current team as they come up against a team that sits in second place on the ladder.
While only five players named this week remain from that 2014 match, there was also an equally impressive victory in Round 24 of last season at AAMI Park when the Knights won 20-6.
Seven players that participated in that game will be running out at Hunter Stadium this weekend, and will be desperate to replicate those heroics in front of a passionate home crowd.
THE FINAL SAY
“They are just a very disciplined side and well coached… I am really excited to go out and play such a high quality side,” Josh King said earlier in the week.
“You just go out there an play your game, and that’s what I hope to do this weekend.”