Round 1: Knights v Bulldogs preview
Bulldogs begin new era on a Knight in Newcastle
Making a long awaited return to the finals last season, the Newcastle Knights will be eyeing greater consistency 20 years on from their last premiership title.
Naming a revamped leadership group after Mitchell Pearce stepped down as captain following a pre-season indiscretion, returning hooker Jayden Brailey and representative prop Daniel Saifiti - celebrating his 100th appearance for the club - will co-captain the Knights for the first time.
Making little impression in the pre-season with an expected victory over Newcastle Rugby League premiers Cessnock (20-4) and an underwhelming loss to Melbourne (10-30), the Knights will be hoping to continue a recent trend of bouncing back from a poor trial performance with a win at home in the opening round.
Coming off a disastrous 2020 that yielded three wins and a 15th placed finish, the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs will be entrusting their fortunes to second-chance coach Trent Barrett.
Gaining another head coaching role after refining Penrith's attack as an assistant last year, Barrett will be looking to avoid the pitfalls that led to his bitter divorce from Manly while getting the best out of a club that last played finals in 2016.
Producing a second half comeback to defeat Cronulla (16-12) in the pre-season, the Bulldogs will be determined to continue a run of dominance in Newcastle having won their past six visits in succession.
New signings Corey Allan, Nick Cotric, Kyle Flanagan, Jack Hetherington and Corey Waddell will make their first appearances in blue and white, alongside 26-year-old hooker Brad Deitz, who was granted an exemption to debut in first grade after impressing as a train-and-trial player.
This is the third time the sides have met in the opening round of the season; the Knights have won on both previous occasions (2007 & 2010).
Who to watch: Set to start a season for the first time in the top grade, Auckland born speedster Starford To'a will be looking to hold his place in Adam O'Brien's team all year. Earning an upgraded deal after scoring four tries in seven appearances last season, the 20-year-old winger will line up alongside Bradman Best as part of a potent left side attack. Touted as a long-term prospect for the Knights amid rumours Queensland representative Edrick Lee won't be re-signed, To'a will have his sights set on the immediate future with a strong performance on Friday evening.
Enjoying a breakout year in 2020 on loan with the Warriors, fiery front-rower Jack Hetherington will be out to cement a starting position with his new club. Gaining a release from Penrith in order to secure a longer-term deal at Canterbury, the 24-year-old has garnered plaudits for his aggressive style of play, epitomised by his running battle with Jared Waerea-Hargreaves last season. Taking on a Newcastle pack boasting some of the most acclaimed forwards in the league, Hetherington will have little regard for reputations as he aims to put the bite back into the Bulldogs pack.
Newcastle Knights Form Guide
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Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs Form Guide
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