NRL match preview: Round 5
After a tough outing against the Penrith Panthers away from home last weekend, the nib Newcastle Knights will be looking to make amends in Round 5 as they take to the road again.
It’s another big challenge, as the red and blues come up against reigning premiers the Cronulla Sharks.
CRONULLA SHARKS v NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS
Date: Saturday April 1
Gates open: 10.30am
Venue: Southern Cross Group 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. Jaelen Feeney, 19. Joe Wardle, 20. Jacob Gagan, 21. Anthony Tupou.
1. Valentine Holmes, 2. Sosaia Feki, 3. Jack Bird, 4. Ricky Leutele, 5. Gerard Beale, 6. James Maloney, 7. Chad Townsend, 8. Andrew Fifita, 9. Jayden Brailey, 10. Matt Prior, 11. Luke Lewis, 12. Wade Graham, 13. Paul Gallen. Interchange: 14. Jayson Bukuya, 15. Chris Heighington, 16. Jeremy Latimore, 17. James Segeyaro, 18. Joseph Paulo, 19. Kurt Capewell, 20. Edrick Lee, 21. Sam Tagataese.
Apart from last weekend, the Knights haven’t found it too difficult to score points in 2017.
In numbers, the Novocastrians are very similar to the Sharks, having scored 13 tries to the premiers’ 15.
The Knights have completed at 74 per cent to the Sharks’ 73 per cent, and both sides have scored the vast majority of their points from close range.
The reason why the Sharks sit in 7th place and the Knights in 15th is defence, as the red and blues have conceded almost twice as many tries.
“I don’t think our attitude and commitment is doubted but certainly our goal line defence needs to improve,” coach Nathan Brown said on Monday.
“Our goal line defence and kick defence are two areas that aren’t at the level that we need.”
At just 20 years of age, the youngest Mata’utia brother will be playing his 50th NRL game this weekend.
It seems like a long time ago that Sione made his debut at fullback in the closing stages of the 2014 season.
Since then he’s played on the wing and in the centres, and has now found his home in the back row.
This weekend it looks as though he’ll be lining up against NSW representative Wade Graham, who at 26 years of age has played 183 NRL matches.
Mata’utia didn’t even know he was set to play his 50th match until he spoke to the media on Wednesday.
“I got the opportunity to debut at such a young age so the milestone has come pretty early and I am pretty happy with that,” he said.
“It’s going to be awesome, I can’t wait.”
Barnstorming back row
If there’s one area that the Knights have excelled in 2017, it’s the back row.
While Mata’utia has been providing his customary impact, mainstays Mitch Barnett and Jamie Buhrer have kicked off the new season in style.
Buhrer ranks 13th in the whole competition for tackles made (149), while Barnett sits just behind in 15th (147).
Buhrer hasn’t missed a single minute so far this season either, while Barnett has averaged an impressive 55 minutes per game in the energy-sapping role of lock.
Along with Mata’utia, they will be coming up against one of the most potent back rows in the competition in Paul Gallen, Luke Lewis and Graham.
“There’s some old heads there that know how to win and play a full 80, so we definitely have a big challenge,” Mata’utia said.
THE FINAL SAY
“We showed in the first three rounds a lot of our players are physically fair more capable than last year, it’s just a matter of being able to do it week in, week out,” coach Brown said of the need for consistency.
“Any time you’re playing those sides, if you physically don’t win the advantage line, the football players get too much time to play and it causes you a lot of trouble.”