Full Time
4:05pm Sun June 16, 2024
Round 15 - McDonald Jones Stadium, New Lambton / Awabakal - Crowd: 27966

Round 15: Knights v Panthers preview

Knights need to oil their joints against a purring Panthers pack ready to pounce.

McDonald Jones Stadium will host the final game of Round 15 as the Newcastle Knights dig in to stop a third loss in a row, while the Panthers look to galvanise their position near the top of the ladder.

Coming off the back of a loss to the Melbourne Storm 36-28, the Knights will be looking to turn their gritty style of footy into a win and head off a mid-season slump. Although disappointed not to come away with a win, Knights coach Adan O'Brien was pleased this team was able to put 28 points on a top-four team. O'Brien felt the scoreline was a reflection that the halves combination of Jackson Hastings and Jack Cogger were clicking and even challenging what the opposition put to them.

The game also gave the Knights pathway programme a platform to showcase Fletcher Sharpe at fullback. The 20-year-old took to the NRL like a fish in water and will be rewarded with the number 1 jersey. With a baptism by fire against a team like the Storm, Sharpe will dust off the burn marks and ready himself for another challenge, which the coach believes he is ready for. The Knights will welcome back Bradman Best from a hamstring injury, and Daniel Saifiti will take his place on the bench after knee problems. Another protege of the Knights program who made us all sit up and look, David Armstrong, has been named in reserves as he comes back from a quad injury.

In what was a try fest last round for the Panthers against the Manly Sea Eagles, coach Ivan Cleary said there were plenty of things done right by the team, especially coming back from the loss of confidence when Manly was hitting back in the 32-22 victory for Penrith. A testament to the Panthers club was the stepping up of Daine Laurie to fill the boots of injured Origin star Dylan Edwards. Laurie racked himself up 344 meters and helped the Panthers gain the front foot after the relentless Manly attacks.  The combination of Jack Cole and Jarome Luai proved fruitful, and coach Cleary was pleased with how the Origin stars that made the field last round backed up, with Brian To'o solidifying his status as one of the best wingers in the league with a hat trick, over 200 meters gained and 14 tackle busts.

The Panthers will welcome back Origin hitman Liam Martin to the reserves, as well as Dylan Edwards being named as number 1, pushing Diane Laurie to the bench.

Last meeting: Round 17 2023 - Panthers 20 Knights 12

Who to watch:  Plenty of eyes will be on Fletcher Sharpe as he is asked by the club to take charge of the number 1 jersey against last year's premiership winners. The confidence shown by Newcastle in its up-and-comers is good, and with players like Sharpe and Armstrong answering the call, the future looks bright if they can hold on to them. Dane Gagai had a blistering performance against Melbourne last round, and the veteran centre will be looking to inspire his team down their right side and hopefully draw enough attention from the Panthers to leave holes for Sharpe. Bradman Best will likely be up against Izack Tago, and the battle on that edge will be a good watch as Best will be keen to show he is in the conversation for Origin. Dylan Lucas and Leo Thompson have been putting their hands up for the work in the middle and will have to bring the A game against one of the better packs in the comp. The energy these two bring to the middle for Newcastle will be key for them to allow the halves to build a platform to swing out wide.

Dylan Edwards will be hungry to show that he is over his injury and prove his with for the NSW jersey. One of the hardest-working fullbacks in the game, the Panthers will be pleased to have the sound head of Edwards directing at the back, closing up some of the gaps in their right edge that the Sea Eagles exposed last round. Brian To'o will bring fire to his side of the field, and the odds are in favour of the Origin winger putting at least one try on the Knights. He will also cause trouble with some nuggety, bullocking runs. The Panthers' back row combination of Luke Garner, Liam Henry, and Lindsay Smith brings energy to the middle and edges, which will keep the Knights' pack busy. Cleary has used these players to great effect during interchanges, keeping the opposition on their toes and the Panther's momentum charging.

Favourite: Even with the home-ground advantage, the Knights haven't beaten the Panthers at home since 2015. Over the last three games, this and the Knights' leaky defence puts them underdogs in the Sunday clash.

My tip: Newcastle have shown they can be a gritty side and stick it to the top teams. But gritty play can come unstuck against top teams in the last 20 minutes of a game. And with a team like the Panthers, you will have to hope you stay within and try to push for a win. This game will open up for the Panthers with the return of Edwards and the halves of Luai and Cole clicking. Panthers by 10.