The nib Newcastle Knights host the Warriors in the opening round of the 2020 NRL season on Saturday afternoon.
Naming an impressive squad featuring club debutants Jayden Brailey, Gehamat Shibasaki and Enari Tuala, coach Adam O’Brien will be looking to begin his time in Newcastle with a win.
NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS v WARRIORS
Date: Saturday, March 14
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium
Glasby: Round one excitement, advice to recruits
1. Kalyn Ponga, 2. Edrick Lee, 3. Enari Tuala, 4. Gehamat Shibasaki, 5. Hymel Hunt, 6. Kurt Mann, 7. Mitchell Pearce, 8. David Klemmer, 9. Jayden Brailey, 10. Daniel Saifiti, 11. Lachlan Fitzgibbon, 12. Mitch Barnett, 13. Herman Ese'ese. Interchange: 14. Connor Watson, 15. Jacob Saifiti, 16. Tim Glasby, 17. Aidan Guerra, 18. Pasami Saulo, 19. Starford To'a
Update: Mason Lino, Pasami Saulo, Starford To'a and Brodie Jones omitted
1 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (c), 2 Patrick Herbert, 3 David Fusitu’a, 4 Peta Hiku, 5 Ken Maumalo, 6 Chanel Harris-Tavita, 7 Blake Green, 8 Leeson Ah Mau, 9 Wayde Egan, 10 Lachlan Burr, 11 Adam Blair, 12 Tohu Harris, 13 Isaiah Papali’I. Interchange: 14 Kodi Nikorima, 15 Jamayne Taunoa-Brown, 16 Eliesa Katoa, 18 King Vuniyayawa
Update: Prop Jamayne Taunoa-Brown and young second rower Eliesa Katoa are poised to make their NRL debuts for the Warriors. Leivaha Pulu, Hayze Perham, Karl Lawton and Taane Milne have been omitted from the bench.
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Six months after their last appearance at home, the Knights will be looking to establish McDonald Jones Stadium as the most feared road trip in the NRL.
Historically winning seven of their past eight opening round matches played in Newcastle, the Knights hold a slender lead over the Warriors at home with 10 wins from 18 clashes at the Turton Road venue.
Naming three club debutants for the Saturday afternoon showdown, Jayden Brailey, Gehamat Shibasaki and Enari Tuala will experience the euphoric sound of the Novocastrian faithful for the first time.
Adam O’Brien will become only the 12th coach in the Club’s history.
Ponga: Goal-kicking, 50th and setting goals
Bringing up 50 appearances in the NRL on Saturday afternoon, fullback Kalyn Ponga will be determined to make an early statement to the rest of the competition.
Entering his third season with the Knights, the 21-year-old Maroons and Maori representative enjoyed a terrific year in 2019 recording 105 tackle breaks, 15 line breaks and 11 tries to finish as the Club’s leading try-scorer.
Striking the ball at 80% last season to rank among the most accurate regular goal-kickers in the league, expect the fan favourite to remain calm under pressure each time he lines up the tee.
Set to play a major role in taking the red and blue back to the finals for the first time in seven years, look for Ponga to relish his personal battle opposite former Dally M winner, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
OPENING ROUND RECORD
Holding a strong record in round one fixtures with six wins over the past decade, coach O’Brien will have plenty of confidence in his players as they look to get 2020 off to a winning start.
Beginning a season against the Warriors for the fourth time in history, the Knights hold a narrow advantage having fought back from early deficits to prevail 24-14 in 2015 - thanks to a brace of four-pointers from Dane Gagai - and 36-26 in 2003 - following some inspired play from Andrew Johns.
Pearce: Captain's challenge and Warriors threat
The Warriors snatched a late 26-22 victory in 2017 despite the best efforts of Nathan Ross with a double.
The Warriors will be chasing four consecutive round one wins for the first time in history.
KNIGHTS STAT ATTACK
Edrick Lee will make his first NRL appearance since breaking his arm against Brisbane last year.
The Knights are chasing three consecutive round one wins for the first time since 2006-08.
WARRIORS STAT ATTACK
David Fusitua has scored more tries against the Knights than any other team - 11 tries in 7 appearances.
The Warriors have only managed two opening round wins in Australia.
The Knights will offer a blow by blow option for those unable to tune into the match which can be found on newcastleknights.com.au.
Knights v Warriors at McDonald Jones Stadium, 12.40pm Saturday.
Knights v Roosters at Cessnock Sports Ground, 3.30pm Saturday.
12.30pm at McDonald Jones Stadium
The game will be broadcast live on Fox Sports 502, Kayo, Triple M, ABC and NRL Nation.