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Newcastle's hopes of registering a morale boosting win over North Queensland tonight have been dealt a blow with Test backrower Steve Simpson ruled out of the match.
Simpson has come down with the flu while also being hampered by a corked thigh, coach Brian Smith opting not to risk the representative forward in the Knights' last home game of the season.
His place will be taken by towering rookie Cory Patterson, who is expected to come straight into the starting side. Skipper Danny Buderus has been declared a certain starter after overcoming a knee injury, the Knights out to bring an end to their six-game losing streak.
Newcastle players have vowed to end their six-game losing streak tonight. The Knights have been a club in crisis recently but are determined to end the drama by upholding a Newcastle tradition of winning their final home game as a tribute to the former players who always attend.
The third-placed Cowboys can ill-afford a slip up against the Knights as North Queensland could drop to fifth with a loss and cripple their top four aspirations.
Meanwhile, Melbourne and the Bulldogs square off in a blockbuster at Telstra Stadium tonight that could be a preview to this year's Grand Final.
The Storm can secure the minor premiership with victory while the in-form Bulldogs will be out to continue their push for a coveted top four finish. Tonight's game is Melbourne's first return to Telstra Stadium since they lost last year's grand final to Brisbane, but coach Craig Bellamy is adamant the Storm carry no demons from that forgettable night.
Bulldogs prop Willie Mason has been ruled out from making a comeback from a dislocated wrist in the match.