Having spent three of the opening five rounds on the road in 2017, the nib Newcastle Knights make a welcome return to McDonald Jones Stadium in Round 6.
Coming off a desperately tight 19-18 loss to the reigning premiers last weekend, the team will be aiming to get one over a Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs side bristling with experience.
NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS v CANTERBURY-BANKSTOWN BULLDOGS
Date: Friday April 7
Gates open: 3.30pm
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium
1. Brendan Elliot, 2. Ken Sio, 3. Dane Gagai, 4. Peter Mata’utia, 5. Nathan Ross, 6. Brock Lamb, 7. Trent Hodkinson, 8. Jack Stockwell, 9. Danny Levi, 10. Josh Starling, 11. Sione Mata’utia, 12. Jamie Buhrer, 13. Mitch Barnett. Interchange: 14. Sam Stone, 15. Anthony Tupou, 16. Joe Wardle, 17. Daniel Saifiti, 18. Jaelen Feeney, 19. Luke Yates, 20. Jacob Gagan, 21. Jacob Saifiti.
1. Brad Abbey, 2. Brett Morris, 3. Josh Morris, 4. Brenko Lee, 5. Marcelo Montoya, 6. Josh Reynolds, 7. Moses Mbye, 8. Aiden Tolman, 9. Michael Lichaa, 10. James Graham, 11. Josh Jackson, 12. Greg Eastwood, 13. David Klemmer. Interchange: 14. Sam Kasiano, 15. Danny Fualalo, 16. Adam Elliot, 17. Raymond Faitala-Mariner, 19. Craig Garvey, 20. Matt Frawley, 21. Francis Tualau, 23. Reimis Smith.
Forward pack reshuffle
There’s been a number of changes amongst the bigger men in the team, with Jack Stockwell getting his first start of the season at the forefront.
Daniel Saifiti switches places with him on the bench, while it looks as though Anthony Tupou is set to play from the bench again after a confident display last weekend against his old club.
Recently re-signed Danny Levi has also been named to start, after Jamie Buhrer took the hooking role in Round 5.
The Bulldogs are renowned for having a formidable forward pack, and coach Nathan Brown will be depending on his starters to set the tone for the match through the middle.
“Dave Klemmer and (Sam) Kasiano, they’re big guys and then you’ve got (Aiden) Tolman and (James) Graham, who are not as big as those guys but quite clever,” coach Nathan Brown said on Monday.
“They have got a really balanced side.”
Knights love to tackle
Apart from a hiccup in Round 4, the Knights have shown plenty of resilience in defence.
In 2017 the Club ranks fourth for tackles made, but an impressive 12th for tackles missed.
Unfortunately, making so many tackles saps energy that the team would prefer to use with the ball in hand.
Pete Mata’utia says being more secure in possession will see that tackle count drop, so the challenge against the Bulldogs will be to cut down on the errors and penalties.
“Two weeks in a row we’ve only had 30 per cent of the ball and against any team you’re not going to give yourself a chance of winning a game,” Mata’utia told Knights TV.
“Hopefully we can just keep defending like we did last week and even out possession of the ball, which will give us a better chance of winning.”
The Bulldogs love an offload, ranked fourth in the competition with 58 so far this season.
The red and blues will have to wrap the ball down when making tackles, or they could concede big metres.
Centre Brenko Lee has made the most offloads so far for the Bulldogs with 15, while forwards Sam Kasiano and Greg Eastwood aren’t too far behind.
“They are so different and hard to train for because they have a lot of great ball players, a lot of great skill and a lot of big men off the bench,” prop Josh Starling said.
“We’ve got to cover all those things in the upcoming days.”
THE FINAL SAY
“Every combination could be better but we’re still working on things and learning as the year goes on,” five-eighth Brock Lamb said on Tuesday.
“We want to win every game but we’ve just got to fix a couple of little things and once we do that, I think we should be right.”