NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS V NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS – 21.35PM (NZT)/19.35PM (AEST), SATURDAY, JULY 6 @ McDONALD JONES STADIUM, NEWCASTLE
The Storylines: The Warriors’ campaign is on the verge of going down the tubes, with Sunday’s gut-wrenching golden point loss to Penrith leaving them with just five wins from 14 matches.
A lack of creative spark, an inability to shut down the Panthers’ offloads, a plodding engine-room performance and the lack of genuine leadership underpinned the 19-18 defeat in a game where (for a change) the rub of the green heavily favoured the Warriors.
"I'm disappointed full stop, that's the truth." – Kearney
— Vodafone Warriors (@NZWarriors) June 30, 2019
Despite their unflattering win-loss ratio, the Warriors remain just four points outside the Top 8. And after five straight losses at Mt Smart, they may feel a sense of relief jumping on an Australia-bound plane again, having won their last three across the Tasman.
The travel to take on a Newcastle Knights outfit who have won seven of their last eight but are heavily impacted by next week’s State of Origin decider.
The Knights have four top-liners – Daniel Saifiti, Tim Glasby, and late NSW inclusions David Klemmer and Mtichell Pearce – on rep duty, while Queensland fullback Kalyn Ponga is on the injured list.
Ponga, Pearce and Klemmer torched the Warriors in a 36-18 win in Auckland just two months ago; their absence is a massive boost for the visitors.
Warriors cast-offs Mason Lino and James Gavet will suddenly be required to play prominent roles for the depleted Knights.
“Now I’m fitter, I’m feeling a bit more confidence – it makes it a bit easier."
— Newcastle Knights (@NRLKnights) July 3, 2019
Another away victory may provide a glimmer of finals hope with winnable games against Brisbane, Cronulla and Parramatta next up on the Warriors’ docket. A loss, however, will almost certainly condemn the club to bottom-half purgatory.
Ins and Outs: The Warriors have lost luckless utility Nate Roache for the season, which brings Issac Luke – who had an enormous game at Canterbury Cup level last weekend – back onto the bench.
Lachlan Burr returns from a one-week break to take Leivaha Pulu’s place on the interchange in the only other change to the side that went down to the Panthers.
Bully returns for the trip to Newcastle
— Vodafone Warriors (@NZWarriors) July 2, 2019
The Knights named Danny Levi, Jacob Saifiti and Pasama Saulo to come into their 17 on Tuesday, but they are yet to choose replacements for the Origin-bound Klemmer and Pearce.
Connor Watson and Kurt Mann were named at fullback and centre respectively, but both are a chance to partner Mason Lino in the halves. Winger Edrick Lee has been sidelined by a broken arm.
"He’s such an integral part of the team and he’s been playing some great rugby league. Probably the most consistent and best he’s been playing in the NRL.”
— Newcastle Knights (@NRLKnights) July 3, 2019
The History: Played 40 – Warriors won 20, Knights won 19, draws 1
-The Warriors have won 15 of their last 21 clashes with the Knights.
-The Knights have won two of their last three against the Warriors, and three of their last four as the home team.
-Just one of their last six encounters was decided by less than 16 points.
-Ten of the last 12 meetings between the clubs produced 40 points or more.
-The Knights are a modest 4-3 in Newcastle this year, but have won their last three at home.
-The Warriors have won three straight in Australia and lost their previous two across the Tasman by four or less.
-Shaun Kenny-Dowall has scored 14 tries in 17 games against the Warriors – his best record against any club.
-David Fusitu’a has scored 11 tries in just six games against the Knights.
3 Key Match-ups
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck v Connor Watson: The Warriors captain has been typically tireless and classy regardless of his team’s performance – he ran for a season-high 277 metres in the Panthers loss, while he also produced an assist for David Fusitu’a’s dodgy try. But he is struggling to inject himself into the backline on attack. If Watson does stay in the No.1, his playmaking ability and dynamic running game will be integral to the depleted Knights’ chances.
Kodi Nikorima v Mason Lino: The gloss has well and truly worn off mid-season recruit Nikorima. There have been glimpses of the livewire’s game-breaking ability since his first two stellar outings for the Warriors, but the positives have been outweighed by errors and a general lack of involvement. Lino will be primed for a big game against his former club and his coming off his best game for the Knights to date, scoring a try in last week’s win over the Broncos.
Agnatius Paasi v James Gavet: Paasi ran for a season-high 140 metres against the Panthers and – without Klemmer and Daniel Saifiti on deck – the scene is set for him to be the game’s dominant middle forward on Saturday. The Warriors desperately need him to be, while he is also their pack’s most effective offloader. Another ex-Warrior looking for a big game, Gavet has played all but one of the Knights’ games this season but needs to up his output with their two best forwards missing.
— Radio Sport (@radiosportnz) July 3, 2019
Last Time They Met: The Warriors capitulated softly in a 36-18 home loss in Round 8 of the 2019 season – after having a share of the lead with just over 25 minutes to play.
Ken Maumalo’s first NRL career double and Patrick Herbert’s maiden first-grade try were rare bright spots on a bleak afternoon.
The Knights have covered just 7 of 17 at home though they have covered their last three. The Knights are 13-8 ATS in home games after scoring 20-plus. The Warriors have covered five straight playing away from Mt Smart. The Warriors have covered 7 of 9 road night games. The under is 10-6 when the Knights play at home as a favourite. The under is 13-7 in Knights home night games. The over has hit in 8 of 9 Warriors games away from Mt Smart. The over is 21-13 when the Warriors are away from Mt Smart off scoring 18 or more.
TAB’s Best Bet: Over 39.5 @ $1.90
The Verdict: The Warriors have moved into narrow favouritism on the back of Pearce and Klemmer being unavailable. It’s a huge leg-up the Warriors simply must capitalise on, but it won’t be easy in front of a parochial Newcastle crowd against a confident team fielding a bunch of fill-ins hoping to prove themselves. Aside from a solid effort from the Warriors’ middle forwards, the composure and class of RTS and Green is the key. But expect Issac Luke to bust this game open for the desperate visitors in a do-or-die encounter. Warriors by 8