Ponga crashes the party as Knights edge out Sharks
62 mins ago | Justin Davies
Questions remain on how many of the six Origin players across both teams will back-up 48 hours later for this top-four clash.
The South Sydney Rabbitohs have earned a buffer from most of the competition on the NRL ladder, having won 10 of their first 12 matches.
While the club must feel confident with their team to be NRL contenders this season, coach Wayne Bennett has given an indication most of his Origin players will play this match.
Dane Gagai, Damien Cook and Cameron Murray are set to provide a big boost for the squad taking on the Newcastle. Cody Walker however is to be rested. Walker played fewer minutes in Origin than expected, but Bennett made comment on Thursday that the five-eighth is carrying some niggling injuries which was a deciding factor on scheduling him a rest.
The Rabbitohs will also be without Adam Reynolds after he was also ruled out on Thursday with a back fracture that could force him to miss a few matches. Adam Doueihi and Connor Tracey are the replacements in the halves.
Sam Burgess will be playing his last game on Friday for about five weeks (but due to the timing he should only miss 2-3 games), as he has scheduled surgery on a troublesome shoulder.
A loss to the Parramatta Eels last week is what they'll be trying to put behind them. After landing first points from a 16th minute Reynolds penalty goal, South Sydney slowly lost touch with the Eels to be down 14-2 at half-time. Tries to Tom Burgess and Tevita Tatola in the second half kept them with an outside chance to win but it proved to be too difficult as the match finished on a 26-14 score line.
The Newcastle Knights have sensationally salvaged their finals aspirations with a current five-game winning streak to become a top-four team.
With the club getting an automatic two competition points from the bye last week, they are yet to play from demolishing the defending premiers 38-12 on a Friday night in Newcastle.
Kalyn Ponga scored 18 points and set up a try, Mitchell Pearce scored and assisted on tries against his old team.
Their attack in the last five weeks has been particularly impressive. In addition to the 38 points they put on the Sydney Roosters, they scored 45 against the Dragons, 22 against the Canterbury Bulldogs, 36 against the New Zealand Warriors and 28 against the Parramatta Eels.
With changes to Newcastle's spine this week, can the points keep flowing? Will the defence continue to hold up?
For this clash Ponga has been ruled out, with Mason Lino named in the fullback position but the club has not confirmed Lino will stay there. David Klemmer is still in calculations to play after remaining on the team sheet when it was cut to 19 players 24 hours before kick-off.
Connor Watson is named to start from dummy-half for the first time this season, as Danny Levi's ankle injury picked in their last start requires more treatment. Jamie Buhrer is likely to provide minutes at dummy-half from the bench.
Sione Mata'utia will be running out for his 100th NRL match.
Last meeting: Round 9 2018 - Knights 18 Rabbitohs 36
This was one match in the middle of a long run where the Rabbitohs were establishing themselves as a genuine premiership contender. Two tries in the first four minutes to South Sydney got the large scoring started. Mitchell Pearce was out and replaced by Jack Cogger.
Who to watch: The absence of Walker and Reynolds gives Connor Tracey another game in the halves following his impressive NRL debut against the Eels a week ago. While watching Tracey break 15 tackles last week with amazing speed and agility, you'd have no clue the 22-year-old has undergone three knee reconstructions. If he can link up with James Roberts it could cause chaos.
Newcastle outside back Jesse Ramien has had a quiet 2019 season based on what he accomplished with the Sharks last year. In 20 matches last season he scored 10 tries, three try assists and eleven errors. In 10 matches this year he's scored one try, no try assists and 13 errors. With the Knights at their best attacking to their left with Ponga, it leaves Ramien without much quality attacking field position to break down the defence. The likelihood of Ponga not backing up from Origin means the play could swing for Ramien. A weak spot in the Rabbitohs defence, fourth in the NRL, will be the combination of James Roberts and Mawene Hiroti who have the task of matching up with Ramien and Shaun Kenny-Dowall.
The favourite: The clear favourite is the South Sydney Rabbitohs, but that could change an hour from kick-off when we learn which players backup from Origin. It can't be ignored that South Sydney has not lost to Newcastle since 2011. They've held an average winning margin of 24 points during that stretch.
My tip: Given the Rabbitohs have won 10 of their first 12 matches this season and took a lot of positives out of playing reserves against the Eels last week, they've shown consistency to always be a great chance of winning. The absence of Adam Reynolds, Cody Walker and Alex Johnston takes away the polish on South Sydney's attack. The Knights will be a confident bunch given their five-game winning streak, but the week off probably has them rusty and if they are without Klemmer as well as Ponga that's a lot to overcome. Rabbitohs by 12.
1. Corey Allen 2. Mawene Hiroti 3. James Roberts 4. Dane Gagai 5. Campbell Graham 19. Connor Tracey 20. Adam Doueihi 8. George Burgess 9. Damien Cook 10. Thomas Burgess 11. John Sutton 12. Sam Burgess 13. Cameron Murray 14. Tevita Tatola 15. Ethan Lowe 16. Liam Knight 22. Billy Brittain
6. Kurt Mann 2. Edrick Lee 3. Hymel Hunt 4. Jesse Ramien 5. Shaun Kenny-Dowall 21. Mason Lino 7. Mitchell Pearce 16. James Gavet 9. Connor Watson 10. Daniel Saifiti 11. Lachlan Fitzgibbon 12. Mitchell Barnett 13. Tim Glasby 14. Jamie Buhrer 15. Herman Ese'ese 19. Pasami Saulo 17. Sione Mata'utia
Referees: Grant Atkins, David Munro; Sideline Officials: Tim Roby, Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski; Video Referees: Steve Chiddy, Bryan Norrie;