Full Time
80:00
4:05pm Sun August 7, 2022
Round 21 - Campbelltown Stadium, Leumeah - Crowd: 9621

Round 21: Wests Tigers v Knights preview

After an emphatic victory over the Brisbane Broncos on Saturday night, the Wests Tigers return to Campbelltown Stadium to host the struggling Newcastle Knights on Sunday afternoon.

Following Saturday's 14-point victory over the Broncos, the Tigers would've been stoked to get the monkey off their back as their recorded their first win since the 20th of May after seven losses on the trot. After their controversial loss the week prior, the Tigers put that behind them as they continued to improve on the field with Jackson Hastings in the lock role.

Since his move to the number 13 jersey, the Tigers attack has been much more dangerous, creating more opportunities that they had prior to the move. The move has given the Tigers some much needed ball playing in the middle of the park, and it's allowed the halves and fullback to operate in more space which they've taken advantage off. Daine Laurie has played some of his best football since joining the club in the recent weeks and is a direct beneficiary of Hastings' move to lock.

However, with the season ending injury to Hastings, will we continue to see more of that damaging attack from the Tigers? Rookie Fonua Pole has been named in that role and has been explosive of the bench in his few appearances this season, but will he attract as many defenders as Hastings does in the middle of the park or will the Tigers attack go stale once again. If so, the Tigers are going to rely more upon Adam Doueihi and Jock Madden to create opportunities for their outside men, which both were able to do on Saturday. However, they are going to attract more attention from the Knights defence with the exclusion of Hastings. If they can give Laurie enough space for him to get one-on-one with opposition halves, they could see some more magic from the fullback.

The Tigers forward pack has a tough battle ahead of them this Sunday but they will look to make up for their atrocious performance earlier in the year which saw the Knights win by 22-points after a poor showing in the middle of the park. The loss of Hastings doesn't help, but they seemed rejuvenated over the past few weeks with the injection of some young players.

Beside the promotion of Pole to the starting side, the only other change is the addition of 26-year-old Tom Freebarin who will make his NRL debut on the weekend to fill the empty interchange spot.

The poor old Knights will be looking for a repeat performance of their round two victory over the Tigers after suffering their fourth straight defeat at the hands of the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs. The loss sees the Knights occupy 14th spot on the competition ladder and another loss this weekend would see them drop into 15th. Adam O'Brien and his men will be desperate to ensure this doesn't occur.

It was a tough weekend for the Knights who once again struggled to make dents in the oppositions defence, making only 18 tackle breaks compared to the Bulldogs 36. Their forward pack got through a lot of work as is usually the case, but they struggled to make use of it as they failed to create scoring opportunities. The return of Bradman Best may help with this, playing just his second game since his injury in round 11. The 20-year-old has struggled with injury once again this season, but when he has ben available to play he has been one of the better attacking options in the Knights line up. Best has made six line breaks and scored four tries this season and isn't afraid of an offload. It'll be up to the Anthony Milford and Jake Clifford to try and give Best the space and one-on-one opportunities which will see his game thrive.

Their opposite centre Dane Gagai needs to be given similar opportunities and was immense in the opening two rounds, scoring two tries, breaking 17 tackles and running for 362 run metres as the Knights shot out of the gates with two big wins. However, his performances have declined as the teams have and the Queenslander has only managed to score one try since round two. It's all about how the halves can utilise these players and direct the team around the park which is something the Knights have struggled to do since the start of they year.

As mentioned earlier, Best returns from injury, shifting Enari Tuala to the wing and Simi Sasagi to the bench. David Klemmer is out and is replaced by Jacob Saifiti in the starting line up.

Last meeting: Round 2 2022 - Knights 26 Wests Tigers 4

Who to watch: After an impressive performance against the Broncos, Adam Doueihi will be ready to help the Tigers seek revenge on Sunday afternoon after their embarrassing loss earlier in the year. Doueihi was injured then, but now the five-eighth is back and has helped the Tigers' attack immensely. In his three games since returning to the number six jersey, Doueihi has scored two tries, forced two dropouts, broken 12 tackles and averaged 109 metres per game. He scored the try that sealed the game for the Tigers on Saturday and he'll be looking to do the same this weekend.

One player who will scare Tigers fans in Knights centre Dane Gagai, who was excellent for Queensland in State of Origin. Gagai tore up the Tigers in Round Two, scoring a try, breaking 11 tackles and running for 163 metres. Throughout the season, Gagai has averaged 3.9 tackle breaks and 122.3 metres per game. His defence has been questionable at times this season and the Tigers will no doubt seek him out, but if the Knights halves can get Gagai the ball in the right spots and the right time, we could see a repeat of his Round Two performance.

The favourite: The Tigers are the favourite for this clash after their improved performances over the recent weeks whilst the Knights have continued to struggle. The Knights smashed the Tigers earlier in the season after the Tigers defeated them on both occasions last year. However, the Knights have conceded 148 points in the past four weeks whilst only scoring 62 points. That doesn't read well for Knights fans.

My tip: It'll be interesting to see how the Tigers attack goes without Hastings in the middle. It struggled prior to his move there and luckily for the Tigers the Knights have been struggling defensively and offensively since their last meeting. I expect the Tigers to be fired up and ready to continue their hot form whilst the Knights missing Klemmer and Kalyn Ponga will hurt the Novocastrians. Wests Tigers by 8.