Dragons finish on a high over under-strength Melbourne
17 hours ago | Josh Robertson
Knights hit their stride as a desperate Sea Eagles outfit awaits
The Knights quashed any doubts over their finals credentials last week with a 44-4 hammering of the Tigers.
Last week's game was a pivotal turning point in the finals hopes of both sides with Wests now on a downward spiral and four points adrift of the eighth-placed Sharks.
Newcastle, on the other hand, sit five points ahead of Michael Maguire's men and simply did not relent in the 40-point victory.
It was exactly the kind of statement performance Adam O'Brien would have been calling for but the challenge now is to back it up.
Manly may have been embarrassed by Penrith, but their backs-against-the-wall win against Parramatta is evidence that they are still capable of an ambush.
As heavy favourites, Newcastle need to make sure they don't fall into a false sense of security like they did against the Bulldogs.
While there still may another seven rounds to go in the regular season, you get the sense that this week's clash with Newcastle is season-defining for Manly.
After initially exceeding expectations following the hamstring injury to Tom Trbojevic, the Sea Eagles have fallen into a slump which has coincided with a growing injury toll.
Joel Thompson and Curtis Sironen both return this week in a boost to their chances but the PCL injury to Addin Fonua-Blake leaves them light up front.
Martin Taupau is also in doubt and will need to prove he is right to go after a head knock in the loss to the Warriors.
While the Sea Eagles had plenty of excuses last week, the same could be said for their opposition.
Yet it was the Warriors who were the more enthusiastic as they raced out to a 20-10 halftime lead and held on for a 26-22 win despite two sin bins.
It was a deflating defeat for Manly who will be looking for the leadership of Daly Cherry-Evans to get them home.
Last meeting: Round 8 2020 - Sea Eagles 12 Knights 14
Who to watch: The battle of the halfbacks is certainly important but the clash of two of the competition's most intimidating front rowers is just as crucial. David Klemmer was only really outperformed by Kalyn Ponga in last week's drubbing of Wests. He ran for almost 170 metres and offloaded four times, sparking second-phase play that added an extra dimension to Newcastle's attack. Those offloads also bring Ponga into the game as he is always sniffing around the ruck for an opportunity. Martin Taupau may be in doubt but if he does suit up on Sunday he will need to take up even more responsibility without Fonua-Blake by his side. Manly are low on confidence at the moment and need someone to inspire them. Hard running from Taupau is the best way forward. Otherwise, even with Sironen and Thompson back the Sea Eagles may still find it hard to match Newcastle up front.
The favourite: Newcastle are well-backed here.
My tip: The Sea Eagles actually have a better record away from home this year but even still Newcastle are brimming with confidence and will have too many points off the back of Ponga. Knights by 14.
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. Daniel Saifiti 11. Lachlan Fitzgibbon 12. Aidan Guerra 13. Mitchell Barnett 14. Phoenix Crossland 15. Jacob Saifiti 16. Herman Ese'ese 17. Josh King
1. Brendan Elliot 19. Tevita Funa 3. Brad Parker 4. Moses Suli 5. Reuben Garrick 6. Cade Cust 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Taniela Paseka 9. Danny Levi 13. Jake Trbojevic 11. Joel Thompson 12. Curtis Sironen 15. Corey Waddell 14. Lachlan Croker 16. Sean Keppie 17. Haumole Olakau'atu 21. Jack Gosiewski
Referees: Ashley Klein; Sideline Officials: Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski, Belinda Sharpe; Video Referees: Henry Perenara, Ben Galea;