Knights v Sea Eagles preview

Embed from Getty Images
Newcastle Knights v Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles Sunday 4:05pm at McDonald Jones Stadium, New Lambton / Awabakal

The season may still be early but you get the sense this week's game against Manly is a must-win if Newcastle is serious about making a push towards the top eight.

The Knights will be surprisingly well-stocked this weekend with Kalyn Ponga and Dane Gagai missing out on State of Origin selection.

Instead, Tyson Frizell is the only Newcastle player to be on Origin duty - but that doesn't mean coach Adam O'Brien is just going to sit by idly and hope things suddenly change.

Rather, after last week's heavy 26-6 defeat to Cronulla, O'Brien has swung the axe in a spine shake-up.

Lachie Miller's time in the NRL is up - for now - with Kalyn Ponga moving to fullback and Tyson Gamble joining the starting team to partner Jackson Hastings in the halves.

Elsewhere, Adam Elliott starts at lock with Jack Johns filling in for Frizell in the second row.

As for their opposition this week, the Sea Eagles had a much-needed win over Canberra last Sunday as they prepare to be heavily impacted over the Origin period.

Manly already has enough problems trying to field a fit forward pack, with Josh Aloiai (shoulder), Aaron Woods (thumb), Kelma Tuilagi (facial fracture), Jake Trbojevic (calf) and brother Ben (hamstring) all unavailable this weekend

Now with Tom Trbojevic and Daly Cherry-Evans on Origin debut, the Sea Eagles will field a new-look team for Sunday's game against the Knights.

New signing Jake Arthur has been included in the 22-man squad but Cooper Johns is given the nod in the halfback jumper while Kaeo Weekes replaces Trbojevic at fullback.

Elsewhere, Toafofoa Sipley starts at prop with Sean Keppie shifting to lock and Samuela Fainu joins the run-on side at second row. 

Christian Tuipulotu is the new face on the bench, offering cover for the backline.  

Last meeting: Round 5 2023 - Sea Eagles 32 Knights 32

Who to watch: While Ponga is the obvious pick here fresh of being dropped from Queensland's Origin team, this writer is keen to see how Adam Elliott goes after being promoted to the starting team. Elliott had an injury-interrupted start to the season but has started to build up his minutes in recent weeks and could add some much-needed starch and aggression to Newcastle's forward pack. Manly's understrength middles punched above their weight last week but look for Elliott to lead from the front in a much tougher test against a Newcastle side with plenty to prove.

Josh Schuster had his best game of the season last week against Canberra, silencing some of his critics in the process. Speaking to media on Tuesday, Schuster said that it "hurts" every time he reads negative commitments questioning his fitness or commitment to the team. "But you know if you are doing the work behind the scenes you're going to shut them up real quick," Schuster added. Now fitter and more focused than ever before, Schuster recorded three try assists, three linebreak assists and a try in last Sunday's win over Canberra. It was impressive stuff but won't mean much if he can't back it up. Sure, no one is expecting those kinds of numbers without Cherry-Evans and the Trbojevic boys this week. But Manly fans will be wanting to see the same kind of effort and attitude from Schuster irrespective of the scoreline.

Favourite: The Knights are expected to bounce back against an understrength Manly outfit.

My tip: Newcastle was dreadful last week but in front of a home crowd and with Ponga and Gagai having a point to prove to selectors, look for the Knights to do this relatively comfortably. Knights by 16.

1. Kalyn Ponga 2. Dominic Young 3. Dane Gagai 4. Bradman Best 5. Greg Marzhew 6. Tyson Gamble 7. Jackson Hastings 8. Daniel Saifiti 9. Phoenix Crossland 10. Leo Thompson 11. Jack Johns 12. Lachlan Fitzgibbon 13. Adam Elliott 14. Lachlan Miller 15. Jacob Saifiti 16. Jack Hetherington 17. Mathew Croker 18. Kurt Mann

1. Kaeo Weekes 2. Jason Saab 3. Brad Parker 4. Tolutau Koula 5. Reuben Garrick 6. Josh Schuster 7. Cooper Johns 8. Taniela Paseka 9. Lachlan Croker 10. Toafofoa Sipley 11. Haumole Olakau'atu 12. Samuela Fainu 13. Sean Keppie 15. Karl Lawton 16. Ethan Bullemor 17. Ben Condon 19. Jakob Arthur 18. Morgan Boyle

Referees: Peter Gough; Sideline Officials: Kasey Badger, Darian Furner; Video Referees: Grant Atkins;

Follow all the action LIVE in our Match Centre