Would it come as a surprise if both the Newcastle Knights and Wests Tigers dished up one of the games of the round on Sunday?
Some are predicting this clash will determine who will take out the unwanted 2017 wooden spoon, despite the regular season still over two months away from ending.
All that separates the two sides on the bottom of the Telstra Premiership ladder is a points differential of 33 with both level on competition points.
Newcastle’s biggest issue has been their second-half performances. Nathan Brown’s side have given up eight leads at half-time from their 12 losses including an agonising four-point defeat to the Dragons on Sunday after racing out to an 18-point advantage at the break.
After enabling Cronulla to nab them at the death a fortnight ago, the Tigers were no match for a fired-up Jarryd Hayne at Campbelltown Stadium on the weekend.
The Wests Tigers’ season has been well publicised in recent months and with seven-straight losses on the board; another defeat will see them record their worst ever losing streak in club history.
With a bye still up their sleeve next week, it presents a perfect opportunity for Ivan Cleary’s men to turn things around and register a 4-point win heading into their week off.
In team news, Newcastle welcome back injured pair Jamie Buhrer and Joe Wardle in a huge boost for the side after losing young forward Luke Yates to a shoulder complaint.
Fresh after a hat-trick against the Dragons, Nathan Ross remains in the No.1 jersey with Dane Gagai in the centres.
For the Wests Tigers, James Tedesco returns after missing the Titans loss with an ankle injury suffered in Origin II. The NSW fullback’s inclusion shifts Malakai Watene-Zelezniak out of the 17.
Why the Knights can win: If last week’s result won’t fire the side up in front of their home fans then not much else will. Perhaps being back in front of the Newcastle faithful is the kick the side needs and a healthy record in recent years over the Tigers will prepare the side well. The return of Buhrer is a massive boost to add some much needed experience particularly when the game is on the line. As stated, the Knights are in games until the clutch stages and have lost five clashes in 2017 by a converted try or less – three of which were games away from home against teams in the top eight (Sharks, Sea Eagles, Dragons).
Why the Wests Tigers can win: Second phase play from the Dragons tore the Knights apart in Kogarah on Sunday and with the Wests Tigers ranked third in offloads (169) compared to the Knights 16th with 91 in the Telstra Premiership – you can bet the message from Cleary will be to keep the ball alive at the backend. Psychologically the Knights will be down on last week’s result and their second-half jitters should play into the Tigers’ hands. While the joint venture haven’t been much better in 2017, the return of game breaker Tedesco should be enough to get them over the line on the back of a strong individual performance. Tedesco has been in quiet club form but up against the Knights could enable him to produce his best game of the season.
The history: Played 70; Knights 12; Tigers 11. Despite the Wests Tigers prevailing last-start in 2016, the Knights have won five of the last seven clashes between the two sides including four of the last five held at McDonald Jones Stadium. Newcastle winger Ken Sio has also scored a try in all four career games played against the Wests Tigers.
What are the odds: Around 50 per cent more money has been placed on Newcastle in Sportsbet’s head-to-head market which has seen the Knights go from outsiders to favourites since markets were opened. Newcastle 1-12 is the way punters are going as far as winning margin is concerned. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Referee: Gavin Reynolds; Assistant referee: Alan Shortall; Touch judges: Dave Ryan and Chris Sutton; Review Officials: Ben Galea and Ashley Klein.
Televised: Fox League – Live from 2:00pm.
NRL.com predicts: As clichéd as it sounds, whoever turns up in the second half will win. The motivation for both sides is clear and there is plenty to play for – no club wants to be on the bottom of the ladder and in front of what is usually a healthy home crowd in Newcastle, we’ll back to home side to pull through. Knights by 10.