Knights v Rabbitohs preview

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Newcastle Knights v South Sydney Rabbitohs Friday 7:55pm at McDonald Jones Stadium, New Lambton

Brailey returns as Knights look to spring upset at home

Friday night NRL action will see the Newcastle Knights host the South Sydney Rabbitohs in what is a crucial match-up in deciding who plays finals football in just a few months time. With a deciding State of Origin match upon us, the second bye round sees only half the teams take to the field; this clash being the solitary game on Friday.

The Rabbitohs will be in good spirits on their trip North to Newcastle, coming off a very comfortable win over the 6th placed Eels last weekend. The 30 points to 12 scoreline was in part thanks to their try-scoring machine Alex Johnston, who scored a first half double for the Bunnies in front of their home fans.

But it was the return of their star fullback Latrell Mitchell that arguably had the biggest impact on the result last week. Kicking a perfect 5 from 5 conversions, Mitchell said following the game that he will not be available for NSW in Origin game 3, and that he is 100% focussed on the Rabbitohs. Named to start at fullback yet again, Mitchell's performance will again be crucial in determining the outcome of this match.

A big out this week for the Rabbitohs is their hooker Damien Cook, away on Origin duties. He's replaced by Siliva Havili in the number 9 jersey. Cameron Murry and Jai Arrow are also out, with Mark Nicholls and Jed Cartwright being named in the starting side. Injuries to Campbell Graham, Hame Sele and Liam Knight are further blows for the Bunnies, with Michael Chee Kam and Blake Taafe joining the bench.

The Newcastle Knights raced to a big win over the Titans in their last start, racking up 38 points to the Titans 12. Crossing the line plenty of times at the start of the game, Gold Coast showed some fight at the start of the second, but the Knights showed plenty of maturity to close the game out.

All 8 of the Newcastle tries were scored by their two wingers - Dominic Young crossing for 3, and Edrick Lee a huge tally of 5. With Edrick Lee off to the Dolphins at season's end, the importance of the Knights young outside backs increases significantly. Young is in incredible form, and there's no reason why that won't continue into this match. He scored his debut NRL try the last time these two teams met, back in round 14 of last year, so some good memories are no doubt attached to the Rabbits jersey that his side will be playing against.

After starting 2022 with plenty of promise, the Knights slumped to become one of the major wooden spoon contenders. But they have stayed in the fight, scrapping wins here and there, and still remain very much in touch with the top 8. Sitting in 12th and only 4 points out of the 8, a late resurgence could see a surprise finals spot fall the way of the Newcastle side, if they're up for the challenge.

A huge inclusion for the Knights is that of their hooker Jayden Brailey, who has been named to play his first NRL game of the season this weekend off the bench, with Chris Randall keeping the starting duties for now. Kalyn Ponga will be sorely missed by the Knights this weekend, out on Origin duty, but Tex Hoy will be suitable cover having played five NRL matches so far this season. Dane Gagai is also missing from the regular Newcastle side, with Bradman Best slotting into the centres in his place.

The Newcastle Knights have won just two of their past thirteen meetings with the South Sydney Rabbitohs.

Last meeting: Round 14 2021 - Rabbitohs 24 Knights 10

Who to watch: Bradman Best has been named to return for the Knights at centre this weekend. He has made eleven appearances so far this season, before dislocating his elbow in his side's loss to the Broncos. His return is timely for the Knights, with centre Dane Gagai out on Origin duty. If Best can get straight back into his pre-injury form then the Knights outside backs will be a very intimidating force indeed.

Without their star hooker Damien Cook, Jason Demetriou has put his faith in Siliva Havili to fill the void. Playing the majority of the season as a bench forward and only occasionally being given hooking duties, Havili will need to adjust quickly. He has rarely played much more than forty minutes per game this season, so it seems unlikely that we will play the full eighty minutes, however this shouldn't be too problematic for the Rabbitohs with the utility options of Kodi Nikorima, Blake Taafe, and Michael Chee Kam all on the bench.

The favourite: The Rabbitohs are the comfortable favourites to win away from home on Friday night.

My tip: South Sydney will be too good on this occasion. The Knights have lacked direction in attack all year, and this will only be worse with Kalyn Ponga missing. Rabbitohs by 14.

1. Tex Hoy 2. Edrick Lee 3. Enari Tuala 4. Bradman Best 5. Dominic Young 6. Anthony Milford 7. Adam Clune 8. David Klemmer 9. Chris Randall 10. Daniel Saifiti 11. Tyson Frizell 12. Mitchell Barnett 13. Kurt Mann 14. Jayden Brailey 16. Leo Thompson 17. Mathew Croker 19. Pasami Saulo 18. Simi Sasagi

1. Latrell Mitchell 20. Richard Kennar 3. Taane Milne 4. Isaiah Tass 5. Jaxson Paulo 6. Cody Walker 7. Lachlan Ilias 8. Tevita Tatola 9. Siliva Havili 17. Davvy Moale 11. Keaon Koloamatangi 12. Jed Cartwright 14. Kodi Nikorima 10. Thomas Burgess 16. Michael Chee Kam 18. Daniel Suluka-Fifita 21. Shaq Mitchell 15. Blake Taaffe

Referees: Todd Smith; Sideline Officials: Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski, Wyatt Raymond; Video Referees: Ashley Klein;

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