NRL preview: Round 23
NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS v PENRITH PANTHERS
Date: Sunday August 14
Gates open: 11.30am
Venue: Hunter Stadium
Broadcast: Fox Sports
1. Jake Mamo, 2. Nathan Ross, 3. Dane Gagai, 4. Peter Mata’utia, 5. Brendan Elliot, 6. Jarrod Mullen, 7. Trent Hodkinson (c), 8. Sam Mataora, 9. Tyler Randell, 10. Daniel Saifiti, 11. Korbin Sims, 12. Mitch Barnett, 13. Jacob Saifiti Interchange: 14. Chris Adams, 15. Josh King, 16. Pauli Pauli, 17. Mickey Paea, 19. Pat Mata’utia.
1. Matt Moylan, 2. Josh Mansour, 3. Waqa Blake, 4. Tyrone Peachey, 5. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, 6. Bryce Cartwright, 7. Nathan Cleary, 8. Leilani Latu, 9. Peter Wallace, 10. Moses Leota, 11. Isaah Yeo, 12. James Fisher-Harris, 13. Trent Merrin. Interchange: 14. Sitaleki Akauola, 15. Jeremy Latimore, 16. Chris Grevsmuhl, 17. Zac Hardaker.
Despite the end result, it was a strong showing against the Bulldogs at Hunter Stadium last weekend.
The challenge is just as big in Round 23, with a dangerous Panthers side determined to stay in the top eight coming to Newcastle.
If the red and blues can continue to build on their good performances, it will be a tight contest.
“In the last month or so we have had some ups and downs, but there have been a lot more positives than negatives,” fullback Jake Mamo said earlier in the week.
“I’m definitely taking the positives out of it and am feeling confident going into each game.”
Fierce competitors return
The team will certainly take plenty of heart from the return of Mitch Barnett (suspension) and Tyler Randell (injury), who are both fiercely competitive players.
Barnett has been a revelation for the Knights since his arrival in June, consistently racking up big metres in attack and showing aggression in defence.
“He brings plenty to the table,” head coach Nathan Brown said of Barnett in a press conference.
“Since he’s come here he has impressed a lot of people.”
Meanwhile, Randell has been sidelined since Round 17 with a rib injury and is itching to get back out on the field.
“I’m feeling good and can’t wait to get out there and play this weekend,” he said.
“We just have to defend as a unit and start the game well and that will give us a good point to win the game.”
Panthers aiming for finals return
While the Panthers have a reputation as an attacking team this season, the reality is that they rank tenth out of 16 teams for tries scored.
Where the Knights do need to be careful is in the execution of tackles, as the Panthers rank first for offloads, averaging almost 14 a game.
They also come sixth in breaking out of tackles in 2016, although they rank second worst for missed tackles as well.
“They have a lot of young skilful players and they like to throw the ball around," Randell said of this weekend’s opposition.
Brown agreed, saying, “Penrith are a talented side and have some good acquisitions coming next year.”
"If they can make the playoffs this year, it will only enhance their performance for next year."
Farewell fit for the flying Scotsman
There will be emotional scenes at Hunter Stadium on Sunday as Club legend James McManus does a final lap of honour following his retirement.
For nine years McManus was as safe as a house for the Knights on the wing, playing 166 games and scoring 72 tries.
Get to the game to receive a limited edition McManus giveaway as a special memento and hear the bagpipes played for the much-loved Club stalwart one last time.
McManus will also be in the Fan Zone between 1pm and 1.20pm to meet and take pictures with fans.
THE FINAL SAY
“We did a job to bring the game back, but we want to put ourselves in a position where from when the first whistle is blown, we take the game," Dane Gagai said of last weekend’s game.
“The Panthers are going to come out firing as they’ll want to cement that position in the top eight.”