We've heard all pre-season how rookie coach Adam O'Brien has already helped transform Newcastle's attitude. Now's the time for the players to prove it.
The Knights, looking to return to the finals for the first time since 2013, begin their campaign at home against a Warriors side seeking redemption after their 13th-place finish in 2019.
The honours were split when these teams faced off last year, with Newcastle scoring a big win in their first meeting before the Warriors ground out a narrow victory later in the season.
Knights: Former Bronco Gehamat Shibasaki and ex-Cowboy Enari Tuala will form a fresh centre pairing for Newcastle, beating out Tautau Moga who missed the last trial because of a hamstring injury. Hooker Jayden Brailey also makes his Knights NRL debut. Veteran utility Kurt Mann is the victor in the race to partner Mitchell Pearce in the halves with up-and-coming playmaker Phoenix Crossland battling a pelvis complaint. Sione Mata’utia (knee) and rising rookie centre Bradman Best (foot, round four) will miss the opening weeks of the premiership. Pasami Saulo and Starford To'a drop off the reserve list on game day, after Mason Lino and Brodie Jones were trimmed 24 hours out from kick-off.
Warriors: King Vuniyayawa replaces Karl Lawton on the interchange, with Hayze Perham also dropping out of the game day squad on Saturday. Kodi Nikorima has to content himself with a spot on the bench after being beaten to the No.6 jumper by talented young playmaker Chanel Harris-Tavita. Captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has overcome a foot injury to start at the back but young back-rower Josh Curran (calf) and prop Agnatius Paasi (ankle) have both been left out of the 21-man squad. Former Panther Wayde Egan gets first crack at the No.9 jumper. Rookie back-rower Eliesa Katoa has been named on the bench to make his NRL debut. Leivaha Pulu and Taane Milne were omitted 24 hours before game time.
Kalyn Ponga v Roger-Tuivasa Sheck. What a treat for fans who turn out for their opening round clash. As defences tire, both men will be seeking to find gaps. Let's hope there are a few one-on-one battles between them.
For the Knights to win
He might not get the plaudits, but Jayden Brailey looms as the glue for Newcastle. Brailey's slick dummy-half service will help playmakers Mitchell Pearce and Kalyn Ponga, while his defensive work-rate will inspire. Prop David Klemmer virtually carried the team at times last year and a strong display will go a long way to a Newcastle win.
For the Warriors to win
The back five are going to have to set the tone for the Warriors as they struggle with a prop shortage. The likes of David Fusitu'a and Ken Maumalo will have to act as extra forwards to help the team in yardage sets.
Brett Kimmorley says
Adam O'Brien's done his coaching apprenticeship and he gets the chance to stamp his style on Newcastle. He should enjoy a winning start. The Knights have a great forward pack, Mitchell Pearce steering the ship and the dangerous Kalyn Ponga at fullback. Meanwhile, the Warriors don't have a genuine No.7 to run the side and lack experience at hooker. Knights by 10.
Warriors winger Ken Maumalo was a handful for defenders in 2019, leading the NRL in post contact metres (1,490). Maumalo was third in runs (448) and fourth in tries (17), while teammate Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was first in runs (488).
And another thing ...
Between them these two sides have just one finals appearance in the past six years. That honour went to the Warriors, who finished eighth in 2018 but were bundled out in week one of the finals by Penrith. The last time the Knights tasted play-off footy was back in 2013 when they made it all the way to the preliminary final. Their best finish since then is 11th in 2018 and 2019.