Head to head: Spine battle and 1 percenters

There’s no doubt the nib Newcastle Knights will be the underdogs in this week’s clash with heavyweights, the Sydney Roosters.

Going into the weekend heavy-hearted after a poor loss to the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, the Knights will look to rise up to their Round 11 victory at McDonald Jones Stadium.

Although being placed fourth on the ladder, the Roosters boast the same form in their last five matches as the Knights, 2-3.

Deemed a must-win for the Knights, the boys will need to come out the gates flying if they are to knock off the Roosters and get back on track.

 

Ponga v Tedesco

James Tedesco's brilliance shined in the 2019 State of Origin series, scoring two tries in the Origin decider, one being the match-winner. The battle of the No.1’s will be a difficult challenge for Ponga, and one guaranteed to keep fans on the edge of their seats.

Tedesco is leading the competition in both tackle-breaks and line-breaks (89 and 13), whilst Ponga has recorded 58 and 10. Needless to say that the impact of Ponga starting the season in the five-eighth position impacted his style of play, and the amount of open field seen drastically reduced during that period.

The Roosters fullback’s running game is second-to-none, recording 2402 metres and 484 post-contact in 13 games, whereas Ponga has clocked up 1540 metres and 200 post-contact.

When it comes to tries scored the pair are evenly matched, with Tedesco recording 8 and Ponga, 7. However the Knights’ electrifying fullback comes into his own close to the line, drawing in the defence and sending over a teammate 7 times this season, compared to Tedesco’s 5.

One of the factors in Ponga’s start-of-season shift to the No.6 was his eagerness to put his body on the line. Whilst only small in frame, Ponga’s huge defensive presence has helped him maintain a 73% tackle efficiency, whereas Tedesco’s rate is slightly lower at 66%.

Pearce v Cronk

When Mitchell Pearce fires, so to do the red and blue. Before voting went behind closed doors in Round 12, the Knights skipper was leading the Dally M’s, with a total of 15 votes. Although backing up from a pivotal role in Origin 3 seemed a difficult task for Mitchell Pearce against the Bulldogs, expect the Knights No.7 to be back to his best against the Roosters on Saturday.

 

The respective halfback’s play a unique role in their teams attacking structures, with Cooper Cronk the orchestrator to the Roosters’ symphony, and Pearce the two-pronged threat to the opposition’s line. Not only does Pearce have the talent to run through the motions and direct play, his also poses an incredible threat running the ball himself.

Pearce is currently ranked second league-wide in engaging the line, and leading the competition in line break assists (14). Cronk is ranked 14th in line engagement, and had totalled 4 line break assists this season.

Last time they faced Pearce scored an iconic try, barrelling towards the line with astonishing speed to score under the posts. The try celebration that followed will forever be engrained in Knights history. A packed stadium, deafening roar, and Pearce kissing the Knights logo. His mark on the Knights No.7 jersey had been made.

Klemmer v Taukeiaho 

Touted as the signing of the season for the Newcastle Knights, David Klemmer’s relentless effort each week had earned him the title of top dog in the Knights forward pack.

Klemmer’s presence on the field is felt by teammate and fan alike, and the troops rally when the gigantic prop puts boot to grass. When Klemmer winds up, the defence better be ready for war.

Currently ranked second league-wide in post contact metres, the Knights’ enforcer has clocked up 2296 metres, 855 of those post contact. Combined with his 14 tackle breaks, he is a handful for the opposing forwards.

Taukeiaho ability to bust the line, as well as being a handy back-up kicker makes him an invaluable asset for the Roosters. Whilst the opposing props are evenly keeled in terms of attacking (Taukeiaho recording 2278 metres, 745 post contact), the Rooster’s No.10 has missed 17 tackles in the middle, compared to Klemmer who has only missed 7 in 2019.

A final note:

Often when players talk about the 1%ers, they are talking about this. How a team finishes defensively sets the tone for the upcoming attacking set, and maintaining kick pressure is vital to starting your team on the right foot.

If the numbers are anything to go by, the Knights won’t be letting Cronk have any easy metres with the boot. Klemmer is ranked second in the league for charge downs, with a total of five Knights (Josh King, Connor Watson, Mitchell Pearce and Tim Glasby) getting to the opposing half before a kick is made.

Only two Roosters, Luke Keary and Latrell Micthell, have recorded charge downs in 2019.