It was ultimately execution that let the nib Newcastle Knights down in Round 3, although the team continued to build on its reputation as a side that will fight for every minute of every game.
It doesn’t get any easier for the red and blues in Round 4, as they travel down the M1 to take on a Penrith Panthers side that has been tipped to go far in the competition this year.
PENRITH PANTHERS v NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS
Date: Friday March 24
Gates open: 3.30pm
Venue: Pepper Stadium
1. Brendan Elliot, 2. Ken Sio, 3. Dane Gagai, 4. Peter Mata’utia, 5. Nathan Ross, 6. Brock Lamb, 7. Trent Hodkinson, 8. Daniel Saifiti, 9. Danny Levi, 10. Josh Starling, 11. Sione Mata’utia, 12. Jamie Buhrer, 13. Mitch Barnett. Interchange: 14. Luke Yates, 15. Jack Stockwell, 16. Sam Stone, 17. Jacob Saifiti, 18. Jacob Gagan, 19. Joe Wardle, 20. Josh King, 21. Anthony Tupou.
1. Matt Moylan, 2. Dean Whare, 3. Waqa Blake, 4. Tyrone Peachey, 5. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, 6. Te Maire Martin, 7. Nathan Cleary, 8. James Tamou, 9. Peter Wallace, 10. Reagan Campbell-Gillard, 11. Bryce Cartwright, 12. Issah Yeo, 13 Trent Merrin, 14. Peta Hiku, 15. Leilani Latu, 16. Viliame Kikau, 17. Sitaleki Akauola, 18. Moses Leota, 19. Tim Browne, 20. Dylan Edwards, 21 Corey Harawira-Naera.
The Knights average 24.6 points per game this season, the third best in the NRL.
Nathan Ross already has four tries, Pete Mata’utia three and Jack Stockwell two.
In comparison, the Panthers who have a reputation as a free-flowing team in attack, so far average just 19.3 points per game.
It’s been defence where the Knights have struggled most, having conceded 76 points to the Panthers’ 58.
“We’re ripping in right to the end,” in-form forward Mitch Barnett said during the week.
“Just a few individual mistakes are costing us but the more we improve, the less mistakes we’ll get.”
Both teams primed to excite
Fans could be in for a treat on Friday evening, as both teams have played some entertaining football this season.
The Knights and Panthers rank equal third for line breaks in 2017, averaging a little over four a game each.
The Panthers also sit third for tackles missed this season, while both teams like to chance their arm on the last play of the set and look for an attacking opportunity rather than a tactical kick.
Flamboyant football doesn’t always results in wins on the board though, so it will be an interesting encounter for both sets of fans at Pepper Stadium.
“They’ve got some good outside backs,” Ken Sio said of the Panthers.
“They have some great players and we need to defend strong for the whole 80 minutes.”
Youth across the park
The average age of the Panthers first 17 named this week is a little over 23, while the Knights sit at just 22.
There are plenty of young players in key areas for both sides as well, with the Panthers having Te Maire Martin (22) and Nathan Cleary (19) in the halves, and the Knights fielding Brock Lamb (20) and Danny Levi (21) in their spine.
Martin and Levi have both played for the Kiwis at a junior level, while Cleary and Lamb have done the same for Australia.
Whichever of these duos fires best on Friday could go a long way towards deciding the contest.
In Round 4 the Knights will be running out in their 2017 Marvel jerseys.
Paying homage to Iron Patriot, the special jersey has provided a unique launching pad for Jamie Buhrer's new initiative.
“I’ve got headgear for the Iron Patriot, it matches with our Marvel uniform this weekend and Paladin were able to come up with what is a really cool design,” Buhrer said.
“With such a special occasion, being the Marvel round, we thought we’d take the opportunity to have an auction for charity, with all the proceeds to go to the Mark Hughes Foundation.”
You can find out more about Buhrer's jersey and headgear HERE.