The nib Newcastle Knights return to McDonald Jones Stadium on Sunday night to take on the St George Illawarra Dragons.
Mason Lino is poised to make his first appearance for the Knights with Kalyn Ponga returning to fullback for the match.
The winner will receive the Alex McKinnon Cup.
NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS v ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS
Date: Sunday, April 7
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium
1. Kalyn Ponga, 2. Edrick Lee, 3. Hymel Hunt, 4. Jesse Ramien, 5. Shaun Kenny-Dowall, 6. Mason Lino, 7. Mitchell Pearce, 8. David Klemmer, 9. Danny Levi, 10. Tim Glasby, 11. Lachlan Fitzgibbon, 12. Sione Mata'utia, 13. Mitch Barnett, 14. Kurt Mann, 15. Aidan Guerra, 16. Daniel Saifiti, 17. Josh King, 18. Herman Ese'ese, 19. Brodie Jones, 20. Jamie Buhrer, 21. Tautau Moga
1. Matt Dufty, 2. Jordan Pereira, 3. Euan Aitken, 4. Tim Lafai, 5. Mikaele Ravalawa, 6. Corey Norman, 7. Ben Hunt, 8. James Graham, 9. Cameron McInnes, 10. Paul Vaughan, 11. Jacob Host, 12. Tariq Sims, 13. Blake Lawrie. Interchange: 14. Jeremy Latimore, 15. Zac Lomax, 16. Korbin Sims, 17. Luciano Leilua, 18. Tyson Frizell, 19. Mitch Allgood, 20. Jai Field, 21. Jonus Pearson
Over the past two decades the Knights have fared well against most NRL clubs with one major exception - the Dragons.
Holding a 30% success rate against the joint venture in all first-grade meetings - their worst against any team except Brisbane - the Knights wretched run extends to winning a paltry four from 20 at McDonald Jones Stadium, while recording consecutive wins just once.
Unlucky to go down in a fierce Old Boy’s Day contest last September, look for Newcastle to turn the tide against the Red V in front of a vocal home crowd.
Despite missing the likes of Widdop, Frizell and de Belin, Newcastle can ill afford to take St George Illawarra lightly on Sunday evening.
Showing considerable improvement from their opening fortnight to clinch a last-gasp win in Brisbane last Thursday, the Dragons will be confident of going back-to-back having won five of six matches against Nathan Brown’s Knights, as well as coming away with an 18-10 trial win in Wollongong back in February.
Scoring his first try for the Knights with a dashing 40 metre solo effort last Friday, Jesse Ramien will be hoping for more quality ball on Sunday night to wreak havoc against the Dragons.
Coming up against the Red V for the first time in his NRL career, the exciting 21-year-old centre has been touted as a future New South Wales player with his deadly speed and crafty footwork causing opponents to be at their best in order to contain the Indigenous All Stars representative.
Opposing experienced Samoan international Tim Lafai in a key personal duel, look for Ramien to receive plenty of early ball as part of an effort to keep the Dragons guessing where the Knights will strike from across the field.
KNIGHTS STAT ATTACK
While concerns over the side’s attack not clicking have been raised after managing just 38 points in three rounds, the Knights record of conceding 41 points over the opening three weeks is their best defensive start to a season since 1998.
DRAGONS STAT ATTACK
Since joining from Melbourne in 2014 Gareth Widdop has only missed eight matches through injury. Holding a 50% success rate in his absence, the Dragons will need to rely upon Ben Hunt (68%), Tim Lafai (67%) and Corey Norman (38%) as goal kicking options - none of whom have acted as regular kickers at their past clubs.
Knights v Dragons at McDonald Jones Stadium, 3.55pm Sunday.
Knights v Dragons at St John’s Oval, 3.00pm Saturday.