Round 6: Newcastle v Cronulla preview
Friday Night Football heads to the Hunter as the Newcastle Knights look to overturn a form slump when they take on the Cronulla Sharks who themselves have been in the news this week with the departure of coach John Morris with Josh Hannay acting as caretaker coach.
Newcastle have fallen out of form significantly after three straight defeats following their back-to-back victories to start the season. The Knights last week fell to a heavy 42-16 defeat to the Gold Coast Titans last week at Cbus Super Stadium.
Despite having a number of key players ruled out due to injury, the Knights did welcome back Kalyn Ponga but it wasn't enough for them as they were comprehensively outplayed by the Titans with Newcastle unable to handle the impact of Titans forward David Fifita who tore the Knights apart. The issues for the Knights may have been exacerbated by the injuries but the Knights have looked off the pace in the past few weeks which will be a major concern for Adam O'Brien.
The Knights have got some relief on the injury front with Bradman Best, Kurt Mann and Jacob Saifiti all returning to the side after injuries and suspension respectively. The addition of these three players strengthens the Newcastle line-up after being boosted last week by the return of star fullback Kalyn Ponga.
The Cronulla Sharks have been in all the news this week for the wrong reasons with the potential and now confirmed recruitment of Craig Fitzgibbon as head coach for 2022 and the departure of coach John Morris. The Sharks on the field last week will have plenty of question marks on how they fell to a 26-18 defeat to the Sydney Roosters after holding a 14-point lead.
Dominating the first hour or so of the contest, the Cronulla Sharks looked as if they were going to pull off their first top 8 scalp in two seasons. However, their defence was unable to handle the magic of Roosters rookie Sam Walker as they conceded four tries in the final 20 minutes to capitulate to defeat.
The Sharks have suffered two major injury blows with Wade Graham and Josh Dugan both ruled out of the contest after failing HIA's last weekend in the contest against the Roosters. Connor Tracey moves from the bench into the centres replacing Dugan. Briton Nikora's return suspension sees him move straight into the second row with Siosifa Talakai added to the bench.
Last meeting: Round 17 2020 - Knights 38 Sharks 10
Who to watch: The return of Bradman Best to the Knights line up will help bolster the strength at the back for the Knights where they have been struggling in their form-slump. The partnership that brings Best and Ponga together can be a big help in attack for Newcastle as his carries out of his own end will be a benefit to the Knights.
As someone who could hardly be described as a fan-favourite, Chad Townsend is regularly coming under fire from Sharks fans and another poor performance could potentially seal his fate in the line-up. Townsend came up with some good plays last weekend but his defence at times was more than questionable and with Josh Hannay set to have a selection headache with the return of Shaun Johnson in a couple of weeks and Townsend could have his position in doubt.
The favourite: The two sides are tough to split on paper and most markets have them marked as equals in the odds.
My tip: It's hard to go past the Knights, the Sharks have has a tumultuous week and the events could derail their preparations for this weekend which were already thrown out by Wade Graham and Josh Dugan being ruled out. Returning to Newcastle, the Knights will be boosted and the returning players strengthen their line-up significantly. Newcastle by 10.