Ponga crashes the party as Knights edge out Sharks
32 mins ago | Justin Davies
In what historically has been a one-sided matchup, the in-form Newcastle Knights have a great opportunity to take revenge on an out of sorts Melbourne Storm.
The Knights haven't beaten the Storm since 2015 and in their last five clashes Melbourne has won by an average of 27 points.
If any Newcastle team from the last five years is going to beat Melbourne, it's this 2020 side. The NRL's highest scoring club through four rounds is the Newcastle Knights (and they haven't played the Brisbane Broncos), averaging just under 28 points a game.
The new head coach to lead the side on an undefeated start to the season, Adam O'Brien, spent 11 years coaching at the Storm up to 2018 and went on to be an attack coach at the Sydney Roosters last season.
A sign of a change in behaviour from the Knights since the immediate six again penalty was introduced before round three has come from the amount of penalties they've conceded. In the first two rounds they gave 17 penalties away and in the last two rounds Newcastle's allowed just five.
Meanwhile Melbourne has been able to grind to wins even though they've been missing their usual flair, with the exception of a 22-8 loss at home to the Canberra Raiders.
Of all the team's currently in the top eight, the Storm have scored the fewest points per game at an average of just under 15 a game. Last year they averaged more than 25 points per game.
Everyone knows what Melbourne is capable of in attack. It's a matter of when they bounce back, not if. Defensively however they are still among the NRL's best, which will be thoroughly tested by Kalyn Ponga and Co.
They'll have to try and resurrect their attack without Jahrome Hughes as he's going to miss some weeks with a broken hand. Ryley Jacks takes over at halfback in his first match for Melbourne since round 25 2018.
Nelson Asofa-Solomona returns from a one-match suspension and it'll be his first game after the infamous nothing kick at a critical moment against the Raiders. Newcastle has named an unchanged team, but Kurt Mann will need to shake off an injury to play and Lachlan Fitzgibbon is a chance at pushing into the 17.
Last meeting: Round 14 2019 - Storm 34 Knights 4
Who to watch: Bradman ‘The Beast' Best has a nickname that's likely to stick to an already outstanding name. He's only played two NRL games in the last fortnight and three last year, but you're already missing out on some sensational highlights if you haven't seen him play. The 182cm and 103kg centre has four tries on the season and set up a couple against the Raiders on Sunday. Best is a serious rookie of the year candidate and if you play NRL Fantasy or Supercoach he's a must have.
After four rounds it's no secret Melbourne is yet get their attack firing consistently, if they can get that right this week it could unlock Ryan Papenhuyzen. Papenhuyzen is one of the better support players in the NRL, he never seems to get tired and if presented with a gap he can quickly shoot through to score. Will Craig Bellamy throw in some new tactics to free him up and how costly will Hughes' absence be for their playmaking with Papenhuyzen?
The favourite: The Storm have clearly been favoured to win this clash. On this occasion however the Knights being an underdog is interesting as Adam O'Brien should be just as much of a chance to beat a Craig Bellamy coached side as anyone. Melbourne beat Souths by 14 last week, but South Sydney was not as bad as the score indicated and the Storm were not at their best.
My tip: I get why the Storm are considered as favourites for Saturday's clash, but there is enough motivation, talent and coaching experience on the Knights to cause Melbourne problems. It's rare for the Storm to go four rounds without a dominant performance and those who write them off are usually quick to be made look silly. I'm not going to write Melbourne off, but I think we're set for a high-quality game and I like Newcastle to make the winning play. Knights by 6.
1. Kalyn Ponga 2. Edrick Lee 3. Enari Tuala 4. Bradman Best 5. Hymel Hunt 6. Kurt Mann 7. Mitchell Pearce 8. David Klemmer 9. Andrew McCullough 10. Daniel Saifiti 11. Aidan Guerra 12. Sione Mata'utia 13. Herman Ese'ese 14. Tex Hoy 15. Jacob Saifiti 16. Tim Glasby 17. Brodie Jones
1. Ryan Papenhuyzen 2. Suliasi Vunivalu 3. Justin Olam 4. Brenko Lee 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Cameron Munster 7. Ryley Jacks 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Cameron Smith 14. Brandon Smith 11. Felise Kaufusi 12. Kenneath Bromwich 13. Dale Finucane 10. Christian Welch 15. Tino Fa'asuamaleaui 17. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 18. Tom Eisenhuth
Referees: Ben Cummins; Sideline Officials: Todd Smith, Gavin Badger; Video Referees: Jared Maxwell, Ben Galea;