Knights v Wests Tigers preview

NRL 2020 MAIN 1000px
Embed from Getty Images
Newcastle Knights v Wests Tigers Saturday 5:30pm at McDonald Jones Stadium

Knights and Wests Tigers face off in do or die clash up the Hunter

The Knights and the Wests Tigers are two sides who have endured lengthy absences from finals football, their last September matches coming in 2013 and 2011 respectively. At various stages throughout 2020 both have looked likely to break that duck, with the Knights still firmly in the hunt for the top 8 while for the Tigers, this match shapes as one they simply must win if they are any hope of avoiding an early mad Monday.

The Knights were gallant but ultimately outclassed by the Melbourne Storm last week on the Sunshine Coast to the tune of 26 points to 16. It was a game where they started and finished strongly, however defensive lapses cost them dearly in the middle stages. Chris Randall became the latest to fall victim to the curse of the Newcastle number 9, going off with an HIA after 36 minutes and failing to return.

The Tigers turned in a performance their fans are unfortunately all too familiar with. On the brink of solidifying a place in the top 8 and against an opponent they were expected to beat comfortably, the Tigers went down by 6 points to the New Zealand Warriors leaving them with an uphill battle to get back in finals contention. The Tigers now sit two points outside of the top 8, however if it weren't for that loss and one to the Titans earlier in the year, they would be sitting pretty in 6th position. 

In team news for the Knights, they have a completely new centre pairing with Enari Tuala shifting in from the wing and Gehamat Shibasaki being recalled. They replace the injured Bradman Best and Tautau Moga (dropped). Starford To'a comes into the side on the wing. Mid-season recruit Blake Green will make his Knights debut in what will be the 7th NRL side he has run out for. He pushes Kurt Mann to hooker and Chris Randall out of the side.  Brodie Jones comes onto the bench in place of Pasami Saulo (suspended).

Michael Maguire has made plenty of changes in response to last week's poor performance. Joseph Leilua returns from a 4-week suspension while rookie Asu Kepaoa will make his NRL debut, covering for Moses Mbye in the backline who is playing hooker in place of the injured Harry Grant. Russell Packer's return from suspension means Oliver Clark comes out of the 17, while Luke Brooks has been recalled to the starting side, pushing Billy Walters to the bench. Matt Eisenhuth replaces Alex Twal, who has succumbed to another injury after making his return last week. 

One area the Tigers have struggled historically is goal kicking. Since 2010, they've had an average success rate of 71% with Pat Richards the only kicker of the decade to average more than 80% for the joint venture. In a game that will most probably be decided by the slimmest of margins, the Tigers would do well to get their goal kicking in order before Saturday. 

Last meeting: Round 2 2020 - Wests Tigers 24 Knights 42

Who to watch: Blake Green will on Saturday become just the third player to play for 7 different first grade clubs and adding to the intrigue, he will take on the same team he did last week albeit wearing a different jumper. In what feels like Newcastle's 13th different spine in as many weeks, it will be very interesting to see how he combines with fellow veteran Mitchell Pearce as both have very similar playstyles that revolve around controlling the game. Green had been one of the Warriors best this year and will be looking to impress his new teammates and fans as well as possible suitors for a contract in 2021 and beyond.

One of Rugby League's most polarising backline players makes his return for the Wests Tigers this week in Joey Leilua, who will play against one of his former clubs. The act that got Leilua suspended 4 weeks ago divided opinion, prompting Warren Smith to even call him the "worst signing of the NRL era." Whilst not many agreed, the statement will surely only add fire to the belly of the star centre and the Knights will need to be on high alert as when he's on form, there aren't many capable of stopping "BJ".

The favourite: The Knights are the favourites to bounce back from their loss last week

My tip: It's definitely fair to say that both sides are vastly understrength, with Newcastle being without their 1st, 2nd and 3rd choice hooker and the Tigers arguably their two best forwards in Harry Grant and Alex Twal. When these two sides met pre-covid it was a high scoring affair, with the Knights winning 42-28. While you probably can't read too much into that form, I think the Knights will again be too strong and that the loss of Grant will make it a bridge too far for the Tigers. Knights by 8.

1. Kalyn Ponga 2. Starford To'a 3. Enari Tuala 4. Gehamat Shibasaki 5. Hymel Hunt 6. Blake Green 7. Mitchell Pearce 8. David Klemmer 9. Kurt Mann 10. Jacob Saifiti 11. Lachlan Fitzgibbon 12. Aidan Guerra 13. Mitchell Barnett 14. Phoenix Crossland 15. Josh King 16. Herman Ese'ese 17. Brodie Jones

1. Adam Doueihi 2. David Nofoaluma 3. Joseph Leilua 4. Tommy Talau 5. Asu Kepaoa 6. Luke Brooks 7. Benji Marshall 8. Josh Aloiai 9. Moses Mbye 10. Russell Packer 11. Luciano Leilua 16. Chris Lawrence 13. Matt Eisenhuth 12. Sam McIntyre 14. Thomas Mikaele 15. Shawn Blore 17. Billy Walters

Referees: Matt Cecchin; Sideline Officials: David Munro, Belinda Sharpe; Video Referees: Jared Maxwell, Ben Lowe;

Follow all the action LIVE in our Match Centre