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The Newcastle Knights are primed and ready for a finals charge in 2019, and get to open their season at home against the in-turmoil Cronulla Sharks. Join The Roar for live scores and coverage of this clash from 6pm (AEDT).
It was only six months ago the Sharks were heading to Melbourne for a preliminary final, but they come into the new season all over the place.
A self-reported salary cap problem led to the NRL discovering Shane Flanagan communicated with the club while suspended. He has now been de-registered, meaning John Morris takes over the running of the side.
Add to that Wade Graham’s injury – he’ll miss the first half of the season with a torn ACL – and the loss of Valentine Holmes, and this is a different Sharks outfit.
They have signed Shaun Johnson, but his off-the-cuff style of play may not suit a side which loves to grind out victories in the middle third. Even that might get tougher this year with Paul Gallen starting to slow down and the pack changing shape.
Against the new-look Knights, that tough, attritional style of play will be their best shot at getting two competition points, with Newcastle likely to build momentum in front of a big home crowd.
Newcastle’s biggest problem in the early rounds may be their new combinations not clicking.
Kalyn Ponga’s move to the halves is the biggest question. His trial form indicates there might be an issue moving to the no.6 jersey, but alongside Mitchell Pearce, who was their best player before succumbing to injury last year, they will be hoping to get things right in Round 1.
If they click, then the talent out wide, particularly on the right-hand side where Shaun Kennny-Dowall is joined by new recruit Jesse Ramien, will have a field day.
They also need their forwards to lay a platform for Ponga’s running game. With Ramien’s fellow new recruits, David Klemmer and James Gavet, leading the charge, they should do just that.
If they can stay patient and starve the Sharks of the footy, building with lots of repeat sets, then they are going to be hard to beat.
The Knights are at home, and even with new players still building their combinations, I expect them to take the chocolates over a weaker-than usual Sharks side.
Knights by 8.
Be sure to join The Roar for live coverage of this Friday night NRL match from 6pm (AEDT) and don’t forget to leave a comment below.
Kick-off: 6pm (AEDT)
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle
TV: Live, Fox League 502
Online: Live, Foxtel app, Foxtel now, Kayo Sports
Betting: Knights $1.91, Sharks $1.91
Overall record: Played 52, Knights 27, Sharks 24, drawn 1
Last meeting: Round 24, 2018 – Sharks 38 defeat Knights 12 at Shark Park
Last five: Sharks 5, Knights 0
Record at venue: Played 25, Knights 14, Sharks 9, drawn 1
Referees: Peter Gough, Phil Henderson
1. Connor Watson, 2. Edrick Lee, 3. Hymel Hunt, 4. Jesse Ramien, 5. Shaun Kenny-Dowall, 6. Kalyn Ponga, 7. Mitchell Pearce (c), 8. David Klemmer, 9. Danny Levi, 10. James Gavet, 11. Lachlan Fitzgibbon, 12. Sione Mata’utia, 13. Tim Glasby
Interchange: 14. Kurt Mann, 15. Aidan Guerra, 16. 17. Daniel Saifiti, 18. Jamie Buhrer, 19. Herman Ese’ese, 20. Josh King, 21. Brodie Jones
1. Matt Moylan, 2. Sosaia Feki, 3. Josh Dugan, 4. Josh Morris, 5. Sione Katoa, 6. Shaun Johnson, 7. Chad Townsend, 8. Andrew Fifita, 9. Jayden Brailey, 10. Matt Prior, 11. Briton Nikora, 12. Kurt Capewell, 13. Paul Gallen
Interchange: 14. Blayke Brailey, 15. Jayson Bukuya, 16. Aaron Woods, 17. Jack Williams, 18. Scott Sorensen, 19. Kyle Flanagan, 20. Bronson Xerri, 21. Braden Hamlin-Uele