Round 15: Knights v Broncos preview
Newcastle look to put horror show against Storm behind them against bumbling Broncos
After a dream run of six-straight wins, the Knights came crashing back down to earth a fortnight ago when they were thumped 34-4 by Melbourne.
It was a steep learning curve for Nathan Brown's men, who had only just taken down other premiership contenders South Sydney and Easts.
While the focus will still be on a top-four finish, Brown will need to ensure his side don't get too ahead of themselves or risk missing out on the finals all together.
They currently sit just one win ahead of the ninth-placed Tigers. And Wests currently have just as many wins as the Panthers, who languish in 14###sup
Back at home, there will be plenty of pressure to perform and make sure that the 30-point loss to the Storm is but a mere speedbump.
The Knights are buoyed by the inclusion of prop David Klemmer on the reserves while Kalyn Ponga is still a chance of backing up from Origin.
Things are starting to get desperate for Anthony Seibold's men. They sit in 12###sup
And while they remain just two points outside of the top eight, the eighth-placed Eels still have a bye up their sleeve.
The Broncos don't.
Instead, they are faced with the prospect of winning at least seven of their remaining 11 matches to be any hope of qualifying for the finals.
Their recent form suggests they have little hope of making that happen.
After a shock 26-18 loss to the Gold Coast, Brisbane backed it up with a 38-10 thumping at the hands of Parramatta.
A win would have seen them draw level with the Eels. But the desire wasn't there. They conceded tries far too easily.
Richie Kennar also replaces Jamayne Isaako on the wing while Joe Ofahengaue makes his return from the interchange.
Who to watch: For the home side, all eyes will be on Mitchell Pearce as he faces another potential Origin recall. It has been a cruel couple of weeks for the 30-year old. He was initially overlooked for Game One despite strong form and likely conceded his time in the Origin arena to be up. Then, he was again in calculations only to be ruled out with a groin injury.
Now, an injury to Nathan Cleary has opened the door once more. The door of disappointment is left slightly ajar though, with Cleary still a chance of suiting up in a fortnight's time. If he doesn't make it, however, Pearce is the favourite to earn his recall. Many were critical of his last-start performance against Melbourne. This is a tad unfair to Pearce though as he struggled to inject himself in a side that just could not hold onto the ball.
With Brisbane struggling for consistency in the halves department, this could be Pearce's chance to re-gain form and lead Newcastle to victory.
The men up front hold the key for the Broncos. Matt Lodge, along with Payne Haas, has been one of Brisbane's biggest metre-eaters this year. The 24-year old's strong form, which has seen him average 155 metres a game, had many touting him for a State of Origin berth.
That appears unlikely now after the Blues' dominant win on the weekend. But Lodge is now in the headlines for different reasons, with the Brisbane enforcer reportedly being pursued by other clubs. Whether this is true or not is still up in the air.
Seibold will just be hoping it is not an unwelcome distraction as a fired-up Lodge is exactly what the Broncos need to get over the big Newcastle pack on Saturday.