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The Newcastle Knights have an important weekend ahead, highlighted by a return trip north of the border.
The Knights? recorded their first win over the Broncos in Brisbane, upsetting the grand opening of Suncorp Stadium last season. The Knights travel to Brisbane with renewed confidence on the back of recent success against intimidating opponents.
Injuries have plagued the Knights since the loss of second-rower Steve Simpson (foot) and champion halfback Andrew Johns (knee) early in the season. Their injury concerns reached crisis point last week as the Knights fielded a side missing it?s entire back-row, it?s peerless halfback, and two internationally-proven backline stars. The need for two of the clubs? three Country Origin representatives to back up less than 48 hours after their win over City, further hindered the side?s fitness.
Captain Ben Kennedy had been set to return from a troublesome hamstring tear, only to have his comeback delayed a further week. The problem was: they faced the virtually impossible assignment of defeating the premiership-leading Bulldogs who were in the midst of a hot-streak of success. The loss of Kennedy and Country Origin forward Daniel Abraham on the Friday made the chances of matching the Bulldogs for quality and experience all the more slim.
There is something about the underdog tag that forces sides to stand up and learn to compete. Granted the Bulldogs looked, in their coaches? own words ?predictable?, they never looked like matching it with the Knights. But to keep the then premiership-frontrunners to just six points and score 32 of your own is an incredible feat for a side given little hope of performing without their more prominent stars. The return of former NSW representative Mark Hughes proved instrumental to the Knights? success.
"For Mark Hughes to come in on the back of one Premier League game ... I thought he was exceptional," coach Michael Hagan commented after the match.
Hughes had spent the past eight months recovering from a neck injury and more recently a leg complaint. Any suggestion he was incapable of performing in the top grade once more was proven incorrect. Hughes slotted into the fullback role, replacing the injured Robbie O?Davis who had been in ominous form until a hamstring injury ruled him out of the match. Coach Hagan had been considering moving Matthew Gidley to fullback because of concerns about whether Hughes had sufficient match-fitness.
This week, the Knights face a similarly under-strength Brisbane outfit who surprised many with a dominant 34-20 win over the Raiders. The Broncos are joint-premiership leaders with the Roosters, as they await their appeal over the stripping of two competition points for a substitution error. The Broncos presented their case during a five hour appeal hearing in Sydney yesterday. The decision has been delayed until early next week.
Knights captain Ben Kennedy is considered a ?certainty? of returning this week after two fault-starts in consecutive weeks. The representative backrower had been considered a real possibility to play against the Bulldogs ? before pulling out on eve of the match.
Meanwhile, Test winger Timana Tahu still hopes to be selected in the NSW Origin side, despite being ruled out of tonight?s match against the Broncos. Tahu has been battling a hamstring injury he aggravated during the ANZAC Test last month. But Tahu?s chances rest on whether NSW coach Phil Gould considers his preparation sufficient to warrant selection.
"I would be 100 per cent right for the first game but I think coach Phil Gould would like to see players playing club footy,? Tahu told News Ltd.
"It's just a feeling that I've got that I might not be there."
Knights? coach Michael Hagan said he was looking for consistency from his side.
?With such a young side taking the park, the real test will be their ability to put consistently good performances together week after week,? Hagan said.
?We are under no illusions as to how tough the Broncos will be, but if the team can continue to produce the types of efforts we have seen over the last month I think we will be in this game to the end.?
The Knights say they have never been beaten in an away game where they have arrived two days before the match. The Knights? flew north for tonight?s match on Wednesday.