Newcastle Knights v Vodafone Warriors
McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle
3.00pm, Saturday, August 5
Five months on from their first meeting in 2017, few would have predicted that the Newcastle Knights would arrive at this encounter against the Vodafone Warriors with the better recent form behind them.
With the Vodafone Warriors zero from four in the past month, most recently going down to the Cronulla Sharks 12-26 last Friday night, Newcastle on the other hand comes off an upset 21-14 victory over the eighth-placed St George Illawarra Dragons.
Unsurprisingly Newcastle coach Nathan Brown has opted to go with the same 17 who helped his side to its third victory of 2017.
The Vodafone Warriors have just the one forced changed ahead of travelling to McDonald Jones Stadium, with rookie Isaiah Papali'i coming in for Bodene Thompson (pectoral) in the second row.
Why the Knights can win: At home again after scoring a gutsy victory over a current top-eight side last up, Newcastle has plenty of reason to feel confident this week, especially given it faces a Vodafone Warriors side going backwards in a hurry. With the Saifiti brothers chugging away, last week running for a combined 351 metres, and Nathan Ross and Brock Lamb firing in the spine, the Knights are hard to stop if they get a roll on. The Vodafone Warriors are ripe for the taking, and Newcastle looks hungry.
Why the Vodafone Warriors can win: It is no secret that the Knights have some glaring deficiencies in their game this year. Even last week in victory some of them showed up, with Newcastle missing a colossal 64 tackles. Across the year the Knights average over 10 errors per game, while the Vodafone Warriors complete better than any team bar the North Queensland Cowboys this year (at an average rate of just under 80 per cent). If the Kiwi side plays to its strengths it will have too much quality for the Knights to handle.
The History: Played 37; Knights 17; Vodafone Warriors 19; Drawn 1. The Vodafone Warriors have taken the points the last four times they have met the Knights, stretching across three seasons, but most recently it was a close one, with the Kiwi side requiring a late try to win 26-22 in round one. Newcastle has won nine of 16 meetings against the Vodafone Warriors at this week's venue.
What are the odds: Newcastle is an $2.25 in the head-to-head betting on the New Zealand TAB while the Vodafone Warriors are paying $1.60. Go to www.tab.co.nz for all the odds.
Newcastle Knights | Nathan Ross; Ken Sio, Dane Gagai, Peter Mata’utia; Shaun Kenny-Dowall; Brock Lamb, Trent Hodkinson; Daniel Saifiti, Jamie Buhrer, Josh King; Sione Mata’utia, Joe Wardle; Mitchell Barnett. Interchange: Danny Levi, Luke Yates, Lachlan Fitzgibbon, Jacob Saifiti, Jack Cogger, Sam Stone, Brendan Elliot, Chanel Mata’utia.
Vodafone Warriors: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (c); David Fusitu'a, Blake Ayshford, Solomone Kata, Ken Maumalo; Kieran Foran, Mason Lino; Jacob Lillyman, Issac Luke, Ben Matulino; Isaiah Papali'i, Bunty Afoa; Simon Mannering. Interchange: Mafoa'aeata Hingano, Sam Lisone, Ligi Sao, James Bell, Chris Satae, Nathaniel Roache, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad.
Match officials: Referee: Chris Sutton. Assistant referee: Chris James. Sideline officials: Russell Turner and Nick Morel. Review official: Bryan Norrie. Senior review official: Bernard Sutton.
Televised: SKY Sport - Live coverage from 4.30pm. Fox Sports – Live coverage from 3.00pm.
NRL.com predicts: In theory the Vodafone Warriors still have it all to play for on Saturday while the Knights are doing it solely for pride, and on paper it's hard to tip Newcastle. But they have confidence right now and their opponents this week look a badly broken machine, lacking direction in attack and struggling in defence. Knights by two.