Newcastle fans – Friday 6pm is not the end of the world!

Hi Newcastle fans,

Before I go on let me preface this by saying I’m one of you. I love the Knights. I make a point to get to as many games as possible. One of the main reasons why I moved to Newcastle was to see more of the side in action. I sat through all of the 62-0 loss to Cronulla back in 2016 because I support the team.

I am on your side, so please hear me out.

As I’m sure you know the first round of the 2019 NRL Draw was ‘leaked’ (strategically released) in the News Limited press on Sunday. Based on the online reaction you have made it abundantly clear that the scheduling of Friday 6pm home games is less than desirable.

I get it.

For 9-to-5 workers and families the logistics involved in getting to the ground on time can be a tightrope. In an ideal world every home game would be on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Yes we receive more Friday 6pm games than other clubs, but do you know why? The Knights can draw a crowd in the fixture.

We are the exception to the Friday 6pm rule. Rugby League is a business in which broadcasters want content to sell subscriptions and advertising, while the business has to be willing to compromise in the name of getting the best possible deal. If the people making decisions can justify scheduling the Knights at Friday 6pm, I highly doubt the negative sentiments of a few supporters will dissuade from the money to be made.

The NRL aren’t ‘disrespecting you’ or ‘taking advantage of the fans’. There are 15 other sets of supporters who have to worry about picking up kids, leaving work early or any other number of issues that come with being an adult. If not being able to get to a rugby league game at 6pm on a Friday is the biggest worry in your life – you are doing fine.

I can recall a similar confected outrage a few months back during Members Appreciation Round. Some supporters took issue at not being ‘looked after’ by the club while others (supposedly less deserving) received special treatment. Lets get something straight – the club and the NRL do not owe you special treatment. You are not entitled to a draw that caters to your every need.

In a perfect world we wouldn’t be scheduled in the graveyard shift as often as we have over the past two years. The full draw is supposedly released on Thursday. Perhaps we will receive fewer Friday 6pm games. Maybe we will get more. In either case the world will keep happening and if it means you are unable to attend as many matches as you would hope to – that’s ok.

I would watch the Knights whenever they played – but I’m realistic enough to know that isn’t always possible. I know how much this team means to a lot of people – so instead of bemoaning the ‘unfairness’ of a draw that you have five months to plan around, accept what it is and support the side in your own way.

Regards,
Rob

(All hate mail can be directed to @robert_crosby95 on Twitter.)

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“Venom” movie review

Among the host of superhero films to have exploded over the past decade, Venom is nowhere near the best nor worst the genre has to offer; rather it exists in a space that lacks the maturity to be taken seriously while resisting the urge to fully indulge in the level of absurdity needed to transcend into ‘so bad it’s good’ territory.

Existing in an IP void where Spider-Man is absent despite being produced ‘in association with Marvel Studios’, director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) delivers an alternate take from Topher Grace’s previous cinematic portrayal in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, while retaining elements of the comic book source material.

Opening on a sequence eerily reminiscent to the Dwayne Johnson star vehicle Rampage, a space exploration voyage commissioned by Elon Musk-esque business magnate Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed, Nightcrawler) crash lands in East Malaysia after one of four alien symbiotes collected for further examination reeks havoc upon the on-board crew. Able to extract the remaining three symbiotes back to the US, Drake’s bioengineering work as head of the not-at-all suspicious sounding Life Foundation draws the ire of local San Francisco investigative reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy, Mad Max: Fury Road) who suspects something more sinister lurking behind the veneer of affability.

Assigned a puff piece on Drake by his editor (Ron Caphas Jones, This Is Us), Eddie’s suspicions are confirmed after classified documents found on the laptop of his lawyer fiancé Anne (Michelle Williams, Brokeback Mountain) reveal evidence of wrongdoing. Intent on exposing the benevolent façade, the gotcha ploy backfires with Anne breaking off the engagement following the pair’s respective firings.

Left to wallow in a drunken malaise months later, an encounter with one of Drake’s head scientists Dr. Dora Skirth (Jenny Slate, Obvious Child) leads Eddie to uncover symbiote experimentation on humans taking place at the Life Foundation, but before he has the chance to blow the whistle, a symbiote infects him resulting in the titular Venom taking over his body.

What follows is a perfectly fine, if not completely disposable comic book film comprising of multiple action set pieces culminating in a climactic showdown between two opposing CGI vessels complete with a ticking clock that merely serves as an inevitable end point wherein evil is defeated; unless you have never seen a film akin to this, there are no surprises to be had.

That is not to say Venom lacks a sense of enjoyment. At its most absurd the physical commitment of Tom Hardy is bafflingly amusing, while during the brief period the film plays as an insider conspiracy thriller the exchanges between Hardy and Jenny Slate succeed with genuine intrigue. Likewise the interplay between Eddie and Venom comes across reminiscent to young John Connor and the T-800 from Terminator 2: Judgement Day, albeit with a lighter touch.

Having shown great versatility in a slew of terrific films this decade, Tom Hardy does a fine job in the leading role, but having excelled with rich characters in lesser known titles such as Warrior and Locke, along with being the sole reason to endure the unbearably self-important The Revenant, Venom feels like a film on an uneven playing field with its star. Similarly, as a villainous member of the one per cent, Riz Ahmed comes across miscast; having transformed from a fragile college student to an intimidating prisoner in HBO’s The Night Of, the British-Pakistani actor has previously demonstrated menace on-screen, but in facing off against Hardy he appears like a boy wearing his father’s clothes. While of the three leading performers, Michelle Williams’ underwritten Anne lacks the initial development needed to make her separation from Eddie cut through; the film seeks to tell the audience of the pair’s connection, but a level of intimacy or even closeness is barely sighted.

Filled with enough laughs and fight sequences once the film kicks into gear, the 112-minute end result is enjoyable enough without being memorable for the right or wrong reasons. Setting up a sequel with a mid-credits scene likely to appease fans, criticisms of being hampered by a PG-13 rating (M in Australia) fail to represent the film’s shortcomings. Whereas the extreme violence depicted in Logan enhanced the overall sombre tone, it is hard to imagine Venom being vastly improved by on-screen blood or the vulgar snark of Deadpool.

Overall, Venom is a serviceable addition to an ever-growing genre that doesn’t appear to be slowing down, but for a film boasting such talent audiences are entitled to expect more.

2018 NRL Match Previews, Reports & Features

10 NRL Grand Final bridesmaids

10 unexpected NRL Grand Final winners

NRL PREVIEW – ROUND 25

Knights v Dragons – Full Match Preview

NRL PREVIEW – ROUND 24

Sharks v Knights – Full Match Preview

NRL PREVIEW – ROUND 23

Panthers v Knights – Full Match Preview

NRL PREVIEW – ROUND 22

Warriors v Knights – Full Match Preview

NRL PREVIEW – ROUND 21

Knights v Tigers – Full Match Preview

NRL PREVIEW – ROUND 20

Cowboys v Knights – Full Match Preview

NRL PREVIEW – ROUND 19

Knights v Titans – Full Match Preview

NRL PREVIEW – ROUND 18

Knights v Eels – Full Match Preview

NRL PREVIEW – ROUND 17

NRL PREVIEW – ROUND 16

Knights v Bulldogs – Full Match Preview

“In Brown we Trust” – ten defining moments from Nathan Brown’s Knights career

NRL PREVIEW – ROUND 15

Knights v Storm – Full Match Preview

NRL PREVIEW – ROUND 14

Knights v Roosters – Full Match Preview

NRL PREVIEW – ROUND 13

Eels v Knights – Full Match Preview

NRL PREVIEW – ROUND 12

Knights v Sharks – Full Match Preview

Ben Hunt is the Maroons new man – but not starting hooker (or halfback)

NRL PREVIEW – ROUND 11

Titans v Knights – Full Match Preview

NRL PREVIEW – ROUND 10

Knights v Panthers – Full Match Preview

NRL PREVIEW – ROUND 9

Knights v Rabbitohs – Full Match Preview

10 NRL Grand Final bridesmaids

The expression ‘always a bridesmaid, never a bride’ holds a bittersweet resonance for a number of NRL players. Having been a part of a club that manages the rare feat of winning a premiership, the harsh reality for many squad members is that only 17 players will have their names etched into history.

With the likes of Andrew Johns, Greg Inglis and Steve Menzies having their names immortalised in Grand Final folklore, there are a host of unsung heroes who paved the way for the superstars of the game to create moments that have become part of the rugby league DNA. While previous players may have claimed a premiership earlier in their careers, their efforts during a season have at times been just as valuable as the ones produced on the biggest stage of the year.

While they may not have pulled on a jersey on Grand Final day, these ten players made big impacts in contributing to their team’s ultimate success.

Bronson Harrison (Wests Tigers – 2005)
Playing in 19 matches for the joint venture during their maiden premiership season, the interchange forward appeared set to enjoy the spoils of an unexpected premiership, however the recovery of experienced campaigner Todd Payten saw Harrison ultimately miss out. Debuting for New Zealand in the ensuing weeks following the Tigers’ 30-16 triumph, the 19-year-old went on to establish a strong reputation at Canberra and St. George Illawarra in subsequent seasons.

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Darren Albert (Newcastle Knights – 2001)
Afforded legendary status for his last-gasp play in the 1997 decider, the Newcastle speedster was on track to join an elite group of Knights players in featuring in both of the club’s premierships. Struck down with a broken ankle in the qualifying final win over the Roosters, Albert’s time at the club ended on undesired terms. Going on to achieve iconic status as one of St. Helen’s greatest ever players, the lightning-fast winger returned to the NRL with Cronulla in 2006 for a final season before hanging up the boots.

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Jamahl Lolesi (Canterbury Bulldogs – 2004)
While the story of Steve Price’s injury served as a warm up for what Johnathan Thurston would go on to do at the Cowboys, Lolesi’s contributions to the Bulldogs in 2004 remain valuable nonetheless. Scoring 13 tries in 20 matches during the premiership season, coach Steve Folkes opted for Ben Harris and Matt Utai in his backline heading towards the final. Despite missing out on the Grand Final 17, the 23-year-old outside back was rewarded with New Zealand selection following his strong season.

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Joseph Paulo (Cronulla Sharks – 2016)
Deemed surplus to requirements by Parramatta following five years at the Eels, the versatile back-rower featured in 20 matches during the Sharks inaugural premiership victory in 2016. Used largely off the bench, a knee injury sustained in the final game of the regular season saw Paulo on the sidelines when the Harold Hold porch light finally went out for Cronulla.

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Luke Priddis (St. George Illawarra Dragons – 2010)
Having previously claimed titles with Brisbane and Penrith, the veteran hooker looked set to finish up his time in the NRL as a reserve grader. Given an opportunity to step up after New Zealand hooker Nathan Fien broke his leg in the first game of the season, the 33-year-old featured in 20 matches for the Dragons in 2010, bringing up 300 career matches in the process. With Fien recovering in the run towards September, Priddis was left to sail off into the sunset having helped the joint venture achieve a piece of history.

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Tame Tupou (Brisbane Broncos – 2006)
Scoring 13 tries in 18 games for Brisbane in 2006, a defensive shift by coach Wayne Bennett and a masterstroke to use Justin Hodges saw the New Zealand powerhouse relegated to 18th man duties for the premiership upset over Melbourne. Achieving some solace with selection for the Kiwis in the end of season Tri-Nations, a move to Bradford the following year resulted in a run of injuries that restricted Tupou to a legacy as a player with a tonne of potential left unrealised.

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Luke Williamson (Manly Sea Eagles – 2008)
After suffering the heartbreak of losing a Grand Final twelve months earlier, the versatile Manly second rower was unable to force his way into a fully fit side heading towards the play-offs. Featuring in 18 matches in 2008, Williamson and fellow forward Adam Cuthbertson were able to share in the ecstasy of the 40-0 payback against Melbourne, but in spite of the loss, the 30-year-old was left to wonder what might have been.

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Jason Ryles (Melbourne Storm – 2012)
Rated as the best front rower in the world at one point in time, the disappointment of going down against his former club in 2010 left Ryles at a crossroads heading into 2012. Given an opportunity to help continue the Melbourne salary cap rebuild, the 33-year-old suffered a hamstring injury in the lead up to the finals. Playing 22 matches in 2012, mid-season purchase Richie Fa’aoso offered up his premiership ring to Ryles who finished up his time in the NRL the following year.

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Nathan Merritt (South Sydney Rabbitohs – 2014)
While his final year in the NRL was a bittersweet conclusion to a storied career, the emergence of Alex Johnston and an inability to find the try line saw Merritt absent when South Sydney broke their 43-year drought. Holding the Rabbitohs try scoring record with 146 four-pointers, the immediate disappointment of working so hard to help the Bunnies achieve their dream ultimately paled in comparison to what the 31-year-old managed to achieve across 13 seasons in first grade.

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Leo Dynevor (Newcastle Knights – 1997)
With Andrew Johns only managing 11 games throughout the entire 1997 season, the unsung hero in the Knights maiden premiership was rookie half Dynevor. Playing 19 games that year, including two finals matches, the 23-year-old halfback lead the Knights to a second-placed finish at the end of the regular season. Missing out on the final 17 in favour of Great Britain representative Lee Jackson, Dynevor went on to spend two years with Western Suburbs at end of the millennium.

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10 unexpected NRL Grand Final winners

For every player that is fortunate enough to play in the National Rugby League, there is one thing for which everyone covets: winning a Grand Final.

Training over the pre-season, going through the home-and-away season and for a select few finishing in the finals, the ultimate prize of walking away from ANZ Stadium on the final Sunday in September with a premiership ring is afforded to just 17 players annually.

Some players go their entire careers without experiencing the glory of Grand Final success (as Nathan Hindmarsh’s colleagues are all too happy to remind the Parramatta icon). But for others, winning a premiership comes about in unexpected circumstances.

Whether it is through the misfortune of an injured teammate, a golden run of form late in the year or a second chance at the big league, here are ten unexpected NRL Grand Final winners.

Daniel Abraham (Newcastle Knights – 2001)
Used primarily as a fullback in the early days of his time in Newcastle, the 20-year-old was elevated to the NRL side following a serious ankle injury sustained by Knights legend Darren Albert in the first week of the finals. With little more than ten matches in the top grade, Abraham played his part off the bench in the boilover against the Eels. Going on to play a century of matches with Newcastle and a further season in North Queensland, at age 37 he is still plying his trade with the Macquarie Scorpions in the Newcastle Rugby League.

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Lote Tuqiri (South Sydney Rabbitohs – 2014)
To say that a 36-year-old dual International who won a NRL title with Brisbane at the start of the millennium was an unexpected premiership winner may seem a bit odd. But having suffered a succession of injuries and spending a large chunk of 2014 in reserve grade, Tuqiri made the most of his chance when granted a reprieve by providing strong service in the final 11 games of his career, culminating in a fitting farewell for the well-travelled icon.

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Slade Griffin (Melbourne Storm – 2017)
Managing just one game in first grade in the years following his debut season with the Storm, the hooker/lock managed to force his way into Craig Bellamy’s top squad midway through 2017. Losing just two matches for the reminder of the year, Griffin managed to play his part in the win against the Cowboys before heading off to Newcastle on a multi-year deal to establish himself as a staring player.

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Johnathan Thurston (Canterbury Bulldogs – 2004)
While it may seem sacrilegious to say JT’s feats in Grand Finals were anything other than in keeping with the status of an Immortal in waiting, things weren’t as brilliant in his final season at the Bulldogs. Suffering a broken leg early in the year, the 21-year-old playmaker was selected in jersey 18 as a replacement for injured captain Steve Price against the Roosters. Coming into the game during the second half and producing a vital touch finder during the closing stages, an ecstatic Thurston gave away his premiership ring to the injured Price, feeling his seven game contribution throughout 2004 was undeserving in comparison to the legacy left by Price at Canterbury.

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Sisa Waqa (Melbourne Storm – 2012)
Playing club rugby in Sydney two years earlier, the Fijian speedster managed a single appearance for the Storm throughout much of 2012. However, following a serious injury to Matt Duffie and holding out premiership winner Anthony Quinn with his performances, Waqa crossed for seven tries in ten matches to have his name recorded in the history books as a Grand Final victor.

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Richie Fa’aoso (Melbourne Storm – 2012)
With half this list comprising of Melbourne players, it stands to reason that the systems in place at the Storm produce success better than any other club. Shifting from Newcastle just before the June 30 deadline as a depth signing, the Tongan front rower stood up when called upon as a replacement for Jason Ryles in the run toward the decider. Coming off the bench to play his part in a flawless team performance, Fa’aoso’s time in the Victorian capital was short, but memorable.

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Ryan Tandy (Melbourne Storm – 2009)
Playing eight games in the NRL over six seasons prior to heading to Melbourne, the Irish International made his debut for the Storm just three weeks out from the play-offs. Validating Craig Bellamy’s faith in his ability with solid contributions during a dominant team finals campaign, Tandy came off the bench in the subsequently stripped premiership triumph over Parramatta. In a tragic turn of events, he passed away at age 32 in 2014 after receiving a lifetime ban for his role in a spot fixing scandal at Canterbury.

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Apisai Koroisau (South Sydney Rabbitohs – 2014)
Having been unable to break into the Rabbitohs line-up since July, the rookie dummy half was given the biggest break of his career following Issac Luke’s preliminary final suspension. In just his 14th game in the NRL and wearing jersey 21, the Fijian representative provided good service for South Sydney as he celebrated in a long-awaited moment of history.

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Shane Perry (Brisbane Broncos – 2006)
Languishing in Queensland Cup for four years with Redcliffe after managing 14 games with Wests and Canterbury at the turn of the millennium, the 29-year-old halfback earned an NRL revival in 2006. Drifting in and out of first grade for most of the year, the sacking of Brett Seymour in the weeks leading into the play-offs saw Perry given the responsibility of partnering Darren Lockyer in the halves. Part of a huge Grand Final upset over the hotly-favoured Storm, Perry played a further two years with Brisbane before finishing up with Catalans in 2009.

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Craig Smith (Melbourne Storm – 1999)
In a strange twist of fate, two namesakes took the field for the Storm and Dragons in the 1999 premiership decider. While the NZ prop was left to ponder what might have been at the end of 80 minutes, the Melbourne winger proved to be an unlikely hero. Playing in just his third match of the year, a defining moment in rugby league history unfolded when opposing winger Jamie Ainscough collected Smith high in the act of scoring a try. Ruled a penalty try by Bill Harrigan, the subsequent conversion under the posts gave Melbourne the win in just their second year in the competition. Retiring at the end of the season with just 20 games to his name, the 26-year-old was able to finish up having been a part of something special.

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NRL PREVIEW – ROUND 25

With 80 minutes standing between half the competition and Mad Monday, the remaining eight sides will be eager to use the final round of the regular season to shape up before the race for the premiership begins in earnest next week.

RABBITOHS V TIGERS – ANZ STADIUM – THURSDAY, 7.50PM
Disappointing in defeat to the Raiders last Saturday, the South Sydney Rabbitohs will be hopeful of making amends for a poor showing against the Tigers six weeks ago in order to secure a top two finish. Boosted by the inclusion of prolific try-scorer Robert Jennings in the backline, former Melbourne forward Dean Britt will play his first match of 2018 in place of Junior Tatola off the bench. Denied the opportunity to fight for a place in the finals following external results last weekend, the Wests Tigers will be hoping to maintain their strong record over South Sydney before kick-starting their end-of-season festivities. Losing co-captain Russell Packer for the final round match-up, Matt Eisenhuth will start at prop with Elijah Taylor returning in jersey 13.

WARRIORS V RAIDERS – MT. SMART STADIUM – FRIDAY, 6.00PM
Securing a return to the play-offs with a dominant performance against Penrith last Friday, the New Zealand Warriors will be out to commemorate Simon Mannering’s 300th game by securing a home ground final for the first time in a decade. In the only change from the team that thumped the Panthers by 20 last week, Gerard Beale replaces Leivaha Pulu on the bench. Finding form at the wrong end of the season after accounting for the Roosters and Rabbitohs in consecutive matches, the Canberra Raiders will be out to finish the year on a high while pondering what could have been in 2018. Retaining the same squad that downed South Sydney 24-12 last Saturday, Aidan Sezer could be a late inclusion after being named as part of the extended bench.

STORM V PANTHERS – AAMI PARK – FRIDAY, 7.55PM
Getting the job done on the Gold Coast in less than impressive fashion last Saturday, the Melbourne Storm will have high hopes of sending Billy Slater out a winner in his final regular season home appearance along with securing a third consecutive minor premiership in the process. Maintaining the same playing group that prevailed 10-8 last Saturday, Ryan Hoffman has been named on an extended bench but would appear to be long odds to play. Producing a dismal showing in Auckland last week, the Penrith Panthers will be out to overcome a horror record against Melbourne having managed just one win from the past 18 clashes dating back to 2006. Losing Dean Whare with a broken arm, the Panthers will be banking on the return of James Maloney to stem their poor form over the past fortnight.

KNIGHTS V DRAGONS – MCDONALD JONES STADIUM – SATURDAY, 3.00PM
Going down by a margin that failed to represent the closeness of last Sunday’s loss to Cronulla, the Newcastle Knights will be looking to defy a poor record against the Dragons while paying homage to club legends on Old Boy’s Day. Pending NRL clearance rookie hooker Tom Starling is set to make his first grade debut off the bench, while Chris Heighington and Jacob Lillyman will be hoping for a final victory before hanging up the boots. Producing a season worst performance in front of their home fans last Sunday, the St. George Illawarra Dragons will be desperate to atone for their 38-0 humiliation against Canterbury to ensure their strong start to 2018 amounts to more than the very realistic possibility of finishing in eighth position. Losing Jason Nightingale and Euan Aitken through injury, Zac Lomax and Jai Field will make their second appearances in first grade this season.

TITANS V COWBOYS – CBUS SUPER STADIUM – SATURDAY, 5.30PM
Following a season of mixed results in Garth Brennan’s first year at the helm, the Gold Coast Titans will be out to play party poopers on Saturday evening with the largest crowd expected at CBUS Super Stadium since Jarryd Hayne’s return to the NRL two years ago. Despite falling short on the scoreboard last week, coach Garth Brennan has retained the same squad. In the final match of his NRL career, Johnathan Thurston will be looking to go out with a win as the North Queensland Cowboys endeavour to extend their record over the Titans to seven consecutive matches. Preferring Te Maire Martin ahead of Jake Clifford at five-eighth, Shaun Fensom has been named on the bench for a potential final appearance at the club with his future unknown for 2019.

EELS V ROOSTERS – ANZ STADIUM – SATURDAY, 7.35PM
Needing a miracle to avoid the wooden spoon following a lacklustre showing in Townsville last Friday, the Parramatta Eels will be hopeful of overcoming a poor record against the Roosters that has yielded just four wins over the past decade. Making mass changes following last week’s dismal showing, Bevan French has been recalled in a backline reshuffle that sees Jarryd Hayne move to fullback and Corey Norman into the halves. Squandering a prime opportunity to draw level with Melbourne on 34 competition points last Saturday, the Sydney Roosters will be desperate to secure a home final in their first appearance at ANZ Stadium opposing Parramatta since the opening round of the new millennium. Offsetting the suspension of Dylan Napa, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves has been named to return in an otherwise unchanged team.

BULLDOGS V SHARKS – ANZ STADIUM – SUNDAY, 2.00PM
Posting their largest win since 2014 by obliterating the Dragons at Kogarah last Sunday, the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs will be hoping to spoil the Sharks’ top four aspirations in the farewell appearance for a number of loyal club servants. Despite failing to complete the match last week, Rhyse Martin has been named in an unchanged 17. Capable of finishing as high as second depending on other results, the Cronulla Sharks will be looking to secure a top four finish by extending their record over Canterbury to five straight matches. Reinstating Matt Moylan ahead of Kyle Flanagan in the halves, Newcastle-bound centre Jesse Ramien could be a late inclusion after being named on the extended bench.

BRONCOS V SEA EAGLES – SUNCORP STADIUM – SUNDAY, 4.10PM
In a rare Sunday afternoon appearance at home, the Brisbane Broncos will be looking to give Sam Thaiday a fitting regular season farewell by securing a final appearance at Suncorp Stadium in the first week of the play-offs should result fall in their favour. Opting to rest Andrew McCullough with Jake Turpin named as his replacement, Jack Bird could make his first appearance in four moths after being selected as part of the extended bench. Unlikely to claim the wooden spoon barring the mathematical possibility of Parramatta overcoming a 52-point differential, the Manly Sea Eagles will be eager to relegate 2018 to the annals of history with their second win over the Broncos at Suncorp this season. In the only change from the team defeated at Campbelltown last Thursday, Matthew Wright has been selected on the wing in place of Jorge Taufua.

Newcastle Knights v St. George Illawarra Dragons – Full Match Preview

Newcastle Knights v St. George Illawarra Dragons
McDonald Jones Stadium – Saturday, 3.00pm

 

Knights look to play Dragon slayers on Old Boy’s Day

There are many ways to look back on 2018 for the Newcastle Knights as both a ringing endorsement of the long-term strategy implemented by Nathan Brown and a year of what could have been under better circumstances.

Having finished in 16th position over the previous three campaigns, the turnaround in form can be considered undeniable given the nine wins amassed surpass the total number recorded in 2016-17 combined. Yet in spite of the strides made, the heightened expectations that saw the side sit 6th following a 5-3 start should have amounted to more, if not for a number of costly injuries and inconsistency throughout matches.

Rounding out the year with the traditional Old Boy’s Day fixture honouring the individuals who paved the way for the Red and Blue over the previous three decades, the impact of the result is set to have little bearing on the competition ladder with a win maintaining their current standing in 11th position, while the worst case losing scenario could see the side slip as low as 13th should the Titans and Bulldogs pull off last round upsets.

Managing just four wins at McDonald Jones Stadium in 2018, the chance to reward supporters for their unwavering loyalty should serve as sufficient motivation for the home side, along with acting as an opportunity to ensure the Dragons’ season is extended by a week at best following the Red V’s staggering decline culminating in last Sunday’s embarrassing display at Kogarah.

Burdened by injuries to several key figures including Connor Watson and Kalyn Ponga, departing playmaker Jack Cogger will be hoping to record his first win in front of the Newcastle faithful, while Chris Heighington and Jacob Lillyman will be out to savour the final 80 minutes of their careers before hanging up the boots. In a surprise selection, young hooker Tom Starling is in line to make his first grade debut pending NRL clearance with Lachlan Fitzgibbon rested after failing to make it through last week’s loss to Cronulla due to concussion.

Stunning the NRL with a breathtaking opening to 2018 that saw them lead the competition after 16 rounds, the St. George Illawarra Dragons have struck extreme turbulence a week out from the play-offs with an away elimination final looming as a very real prospect.

Enduring their worst loss at UOW Jubilee Oval after conceding 38 unanswered points against Canterbury last Sunday, the joint venture will be banking on maintaining a dominant record over the Knights that has seen them claim victory in 10 of the past 12 meetings.

Still capable of finishing the regular season inside the top four should results fall their way, the impact of for-and-against will play a major role in determining whether the Dragons receive a guaranteed second chance, host an elimination final or face the unenviable task of fighting for their lives in the hostile environments of Brisbane or Auckland.

Unable to draw upon injured prop Paul Vaughan and unlikely to risk influential playmaker Gareth Widdop given the risk of further damage, the added burden of losing retiring winger Jason Nightingale and exciting centre Euan Aitken has forced coach Paul McGregor to call upon Zac Lomax for just his second match in first grade, while fleet-footed playmaker Jai Field has been named for his utility value on the bench.

Key Stats 

  • The Dragons have won 15 of 19 clashes played in Newcastle since 1999.
  • The Knights haven’t won on Old Boy’s Day since 2014 when they defeated the Dragons 40-10. Overall, the Knights have won 19 of 30 Old Boy’s Day matches.
  • Saturday afternoon will be the final opportunity for Jamie Buhrer, Jacob Lillyman, Josh King, Danny Levi and Tom Starling to get over the try line or face the prospect of finishing 2018 on the nudie run.

Players with a Point – Daniel Saifiti v Tariq Sims
Establishing himself as the pick of the rookies to debut during Nathan Brown’s Newcastle tenure, Daniel Saifti will be eager to assert his credentials against a Dragons’ forward pack previously regarded as the best in the league. Surpassing the 50 game barrier earlier in the year, the 22-year-old Fijian international has continued to impress in his third full season in the NRL by taking on board the knowledge of retiring forwards Chris Heighington and Jacob Lillyman, while garnering praise from the likes of Andrew Johns and Brad Fittler for his on-field efforts. Destined for higher honours according to the 8th Immortal and current NSW coach, the young front rower will be out to make a statement in front of the Knights’ Old Boys to prove that he has what it takes to be the new ‘Chief’ front rower for the club.

After years of injury disruption and unfulfilled early promise, Tariq Sims has enjoyed his best season in the NRL after re-establishing his place as a ferocious edge back rower. Making the most of the starting position vacated by Joel Thompson’s departure to Manly over the off-season, the 28-year-old has frequently terrorised opponents throughout the year, earning a long-awaited NSW debut while posting a personal season record of seven tries in the process. Starring against the Knights back at Easter, the rampaging forward will be looking for a similar effort on Saturday in order to give the Dragons any chance of finishing 2018 inside the top four.

The Verdict
With nothing to lose and the opportunity to add to the Dragons humiliation, look for the Knights to rise to the occasion and finish the year with a sense of optimism for betting things to come in 2019.