Knights v Bulldogs preview

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Newcastle Knights v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs Sunday 2:00pm at McDonald Jones Stadium, New Lambton

Reborn Bulldogs look to keep momentum rolling against Knights

The Newcastle Knights and Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs both find themselves out of finals contention and on the same amount of points heading into Sunday afternoon's game. 

But their respective fan bases could not be feeling more different.

For Newcastle fans, a season that started with two-straight wins has quickly unraveled into yet another example of just how far away the Knights are from being legitimate contenders.

Adam O'Brien's future as head coach is doubtful, with Newcastle losing five of its past six games. 

Most concerning has been the way McDonald Jones Stadium has transformed from a fortress to one of the easiest road trips in the league, with the Knights constantly giving up large margins in front of their home fans like they did last week against the Roosters (42-12).

Newcastle has a chance to change that, at least in the short-term, this weekend against the Bulldogs although they will be without fullback Kalyn Ponga. 

Ponga may in fact sit out the remainder of the season after suffering repeated head knocks, with the Super League-bound Tex Hoy named as his replacement.

The challenge for the Knights now will be finding points with their best attacking player sidelined. 

Roosters coach Trent Robinson admitted himself last week that "as soon as Kalyn went off, you sort of knew that they were going to struggle on their creativity on the back of any opportunities they got".

That should sound alarm bells for coach O'Brien as it is an admission from a rival coach that his Newcastle outfit is far too reliant on Ponga and unable to adapt without their talismanic fullback. 

It also speaks volumes to O'Brien's coaching and inability to get the most out of his playing group as the best teams in the competition are able to still get the job done without their best players.

Bulldogs interim coach Mick Potter is the perfect example of someone who is getting the most out of a less-than-ideal situation. When Trent Barrett exited Belmore mid-season, Bulldogs fans wanted some reason to believe that this year's signings and next season's recruits would bring success to one of the league's biggest clubs.

Matt Burton and Josh Addo-Carr had shown glimpses of what they were capable of but Potter needed the rest of the squad to follow suit.  They have done just that, turning into the league's unlikely entertainers in recent weeks and piling on the points. You only have to look at the long-range tries and linebreaks the Bulldogs managed last week in a 36-26 win over the Titans.

The defence is still a work-in-progress but the signs are there that they are turning things around under Potter's watch.

In team news, Jake Averillo (Covid-19) is back with Declan Casey bumped back to the reserves while Raymond Faitala-Mariner (ribs) is sidelined, shifting Josh Jackson to lock and seeing Jackson Tapine join the line-up. Corey Waddell will miss the clash after copping a five week suspension at the judiciary on Tuesday night, which will likely see Kurtis Morrin recalled to the 17.

Last meeting: Round 10 2022 - Bulldogs 6 Knights 16

Who to watch: The Knights desperately need to find some spark in attack without Ponga. The best chance of finding that is five-eighth Anthony Milford. The skills are certainly there but it is a case of Milford applying himself consistently. The big question is whether the 28-year-old has the motivation to do just that. Milford is off to the Dolphins next year so it is not like he needs to perform at the highest level to secure a contract. The Knights need to ask themselves whether they should be planning ahead for next season and drop Milford given he won't be at the Hunter next year. If Milford wants to be playing first-grade he too needs to prove he deserves his spot. This is his chance.

Yet to play a minute of first grade this year, Jackson Topine's absence from the Bulldogs' top side has been puzzling. Topine is off-contract at the end of this season too but has spoken previously about his willingness to die for the club. That may sound like an over-exaggeration but with the way Topine runs the ball and tackles in defence, you would be brave to doubt him. An injury to Faitala-Mariner has given Topine the perfect chance to make a statement on the NRL stage and make it clear to Bulldogs powerbrokers that he deserves a new deal.

The favourite: Recent form is enough to see the Bulldogs well-backed to get the win.

My tip: Without Ponga, it is hard to see the Knights matching the rejuvenated Bulldogs for points. Bulldogs by 18.

1. Tex Hoy 18. Simi Sasagi 3. Dane Gagai 4. Enari Tuala 21. Dominic Young 6. Anthony Milford 20. Jake Clifford 8. David Klemmer 9. Jayden Brailey 10. Daniel Saifiti 11. Tyson Frizell 12. Mitchell Barnett 13. Brodie Jones 14. Phoenix Crossland 15. Jacob Saifiti 16. Pasami Saulo 17. Mathew Croker 23. Krystian Mapapalangi

1. Jake Averillo 2. Jacob Kiraz 3. Aaron Schoupp 4. Braidon Burns 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Matt Burton 7. Kyle Flanagan 8. Max King 9. Jeremy Marshall-King 10. Paul Vaughan 11. Jackson Topine 15. Tevita Pangai Junior 13. Josh Jackson 14. Zach Dockar-Clay 16. Joe Stimson 17. Chris Patolo 22. Harrison Edwards 20. Kurtis Morrin

Referees: Chris Butler; Sideline Officials: Darian Furner, David Munro; Video Referees: Kasey Badger;

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