Newcastle Knights v Sydney Roosters
McDonald Jones Stadium – Saturday, 5.30pm
After a tumultuous month that included an embarrassing showing at home against Cronulla, the Knights bounced back in a big way last Saturday to post 30 points in a match for only the fourth time during Nathan Brown’s tenure at the club.
Needing to come away from Sydney with two competition points by any means necessary, the developing side recorded a key milestone in disposing of Parramatta. Managing just five wins throughout the entire 2017 season, the club’s sixth win after just 13 rounds was affirming for supporters to see that the long-term plan laid out has the Knights on the pathway to success.
Kicking off the first of five straight matches at McDonald Jones Stadium against the Roosters, the Knights will be hopeful of overcoming a lean record in clashes with the Tri-colours since 2016, having been thrashed by a collective 128-18 margin in the four matches played.
Currently sitting outside the top eight in 11th position with a poor for-and-against record, the need to remain defensively strong against quality opposition will be at the forefront of Nathan Brown’s directive heading into Saturday’s match. Having held any opposition to a single try for the first time since 2015 against Parramatta, the threat posed by the Roosters will be undoubtedly stronger than the tragic predicament the Eels found themselves in seven days earlier.
Boosted by the inclusion of Herman Ese’ese from suspension, the Samoan prop will take the place of Jacob Lillyman in the Newcastle line up as part of a reshuffle that sees the former Queensland prop shift back to the extended Squad.
Dominating the Knights earlier this season at Allianz Stadium, the Roosters will have plenty of confidence heading up to the Hunter having lost just once against Newcastle with Trent Robinson as coach.
Holding off a determined Wests Tigers outfit in an exhilarating finish last Sunday, the possible return of a number of representative players should give the visitors an edge, however with a number of rising talents and returning stars getting the job done against the joint venture, the Eastern Suburbs outfit will be confident irrespective of who is named in the final 17.
Sitting one win outside the top four, the Roosters have proven to be a difficult side to gauge in 2018. Expected to be runaway favourites following the additions of Cooper Cronk and James Tedesco into an already star-studded squad, the Tri-colours have been far from disappointing, but given the rationale that led to Mitchell Pearce joining the Knights, observers have been left wanting for more from the 2013 premiers.
With a challenging fortnight ahead against Penrith and Melbourne, the Roosters are more than capable of making a surge towards September, but while ever fans are left with a sense of uncertainty around their attacking ability, the collapse that saw the Cowboys defeat the side in last season’s preliminary final will loom large.
Naming their best possible squad along with a ten-man bench, the make up of the team won’t be known until an hour before kick-off on Saturday afternoon with the outcome of Wednesday night having a huge impact on the final 17.
- 52 matches have been played between the Knights and Roosters since 1988. The Roosters lead the leger with 31 wins, 19 losses and 2 draws.
- The Roosters have won nine of the past ten clashes since 2012. During that period the only win recorded by Newcastle was Round 20, 2014 – Sione Mata’utia’s debut match in first grade.
- Of the 14 halves of football played between the two sides since 2014, the Roosters have held the Knights scoreless in 8 halves by a margin of 135-0.
Personal Duel – Daniel Saifiti v Jared Waerea-Hargreaves
Over the course of rugby league history the role of the front row enforcer has been a highly sought commodity in every team. For two players – one in the infancy of his career and the other heading towards the end – the responsibility of laying a forward dominant platform should prove pivotal in determining which side finishes ahead on the scoreboard.
Producing his strongest performance of 2018 against the Eels, Newcastle prop Daniel Saifiti will be intent on proving that he is able to lead from the front regardless of the quality of the opposition. Coming under criticism earlier this season for struggling to ‘raise his water levels’, after being the stand out rookie of the Nathan Brown era, the 22-year-old Fijian international has sought to take it upon himself to become the Knights new ‘Chief’ front rower, while learning all he can from the likes of Chris Heighington and Jacob Lillyman. Gaining considerable praise from his coach after last Saturday’s win, Saifiti will be determined to back up his effort against the Eastern Suburbs glamour club.
Spending the majority of the season coming off the bench, Roosters front rower Jared Waerea-Hargreaves has enjoyed the renewed responsibility of starting matches in recent weeks. Set to continue that trend in Newcastle with uncertainty surrounding Queensland representative Dylan Napa’s availability, look for the New Zealand international to make it his personal mission to get the visitors over the line for yet another victory against the Knights. Contracted until the end of 2020, the 29-year-old premiership winner may not be as imposing as he once was, but with a wealth of experience and emerging players in need of on-field leadership, the former Manly rookie remains a valuable, albeit different player for Trent Robinson to draw upon.
With forwards often dominating whenever the Knights and Roosters clash, look for Saifiti and Waerea-Hargreaves to be instrumental in determining which sides leaves McDonald Jones Stadium a step closer towards making the finals.
Breaking through against the luckless Eels last Saturday, the Knights will be full of confidence as they look to make amends in front of their home crowd. Sitting two wins behind the competition leaders despite failing to live up to fan expectations, the Roosters have an opportunity to use the Round 14 fixture as the launching pad for a dominant second half to 2018. With plenty on offer for both sides, look for Newcastle to come away with a last-gasp result in front of their home fans.