Sunday’s round of matches kicks off with the Knights playing host to the defending premiers, the Melbourne Storm. One team will be hoping to sustain their run to the finals, while the other will be hoping to find themselves in the top four, preferably by the end of this round.
After completely demolishing the Eels in Sydney the previous weekend arresting a four-game losing streak in the process, the Knights returned home full of confidence and were eager to build upon their win against the star-studded Roosters. Although they ultimately came up empty-handed, they can take a great deal of confidence out of that match, knowing they are capable of scrapping with the best.
Despite having a rather ordinary opening forty minutes, the Storm reminded us why they are the reigning premiers by steamrolling a shell-shocked Broncos outfit, en route to a 32-16 victory. Skipper Cameron Smith proved to everyone that he made the correct decision to retire from representative football, by being completely influential in the final outcome.
This match will feature a mouthwatering key matchup, where dazzling Knights youngster and fullback, Kalyn Ponga, will be up against the highly decorated Storm custodian and stalwart, Billy Slater. It is an exciting individual battle, in that the outgoing Maroons fullback Slater takes on Ponga, who will undoubtedly be a future star for the Maroons.
2018 - Round 6 - Melbourne Storm 44 def. Newcastle Knights 14 at AAMI Park.
2017 – Round 24 – Melbourne Storm 44 def. Newcastle Knights 12 at McDonald Jones Stadium.
2017 – Round 13 – Melbourne Storm 40 def. Newcastle Knights 12 at AAMI Park.
2016 – Round 19 – Melbourne Storm 20 def. Newcastle Knights 16 at McDonald Jones Stadium.
2016 – Round 5 – Melbourne Storm 18 def. Newcastle Knights 14 at AAMI Park.
The aforementioned recent meetings show a complete and utter domination by the Storm over the Knights. In fact, of their 39 overall meetings, the Storm have claimed 24 of those matches, whereas the other 15 matches went the way of the Knights. The Knights last tasted victory over the Storm in 2015, while their most recent home success over the reigning premiers took place in 2014, when the Novocastrians won in highly dramatic circumstances, by scoring a few tries in the dying stages to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. However, it appears that the Storm have learned their lesson since then, by only losing to the Knights once more, and returning from the Hunter Valley with the competition points.
|Newcastle Knights||Melbourne Storm|
|1||Kalyn Ponga||Billy Slater|
|2||Ken Sio||Suliasi Vunivalu|
|3||Sione Mata'utia||Will Chambers|
|4||Cory Denniss||Curtis Scott|
|5||Shaun Kenny-Dowall||Josh Addo-Carr|
|6||Connor Watson||Cameron Munster|
|7||Jack Cogger||Ryley Jacks|
|8||Herman Ese'ese||Tim Glasby|
|9||Slade Griffin||Cameron Smith|
|10||Josh King||Nelson Asofa-Solomona|
|11||Lachlan Fitzgibbon||Felise Kaufusi|
|12||Mitchell Barnett||Ryan Hoffman|
|13||Aidan Guerra||Kenny Bromwich|
|14||Danny Levi||Brandon Smith|
|15||Chris Heighington||Christian Welch|
|16||Luke Yates||Joe Stimson|
|17||Jacob Lillyman||Jahrome Hughes|
|18||Nicholas Meaney||Young Tonumaipea|
|19||Sam Stone||Sam Kasiano|
|20||Brock Lamb||Patrick Kaufusi|
|21||Brent Naden||Cheyse Blair|
The facts that matter
The Knights may be two wins adrift from the top eight, but they are playing with the confidence that has not been seen since their remarkable finals run in 2013. Whilst they have been on the receiving end of some blowout score lines from the Roosters, Sharks and their opponents for this match, rarely have we seen them on the end of consecutive hidings. In fact, whilst only one of their victories was a blowout, they have been highly competitive in the vast majority of their matches. This is being done on the back of sound leadership from their veterans, and some highly entertaining footy from the likes of excitement machine, Kalyn Ponga.
Exemplifying the Knights’ renewed confidence are a number of factors. The Novocastrians lead the competition in terms of set completions (80%), made 55 line breaks (3rd most, behind the Rabbitohs and Raiders), and made 436 tackle breaks (5th most, behind the Dragons, Sea Eagles, Rabbitohs and Raiders) Although there is minimal doubt that the Knights are performing above a multitude of expectations, there are still some areas of concern. One such area is in defence, as they have conceded 364 points for the season, which is more than any other team. And with the Storm being one of the stronger teams in attack, they must be alert, otherwise, the reigning premiers may end up having a field day.
Whilst the Novocastrians have a surprisingly good away record (4 wins and 4 losses), their record at home is another area of concern. The Knights have only won two games at home and lost four. After beginning their season with impressive home victories against the Sea Eagles and Broncos, the Knights have dropped their next four home games against the Rabbitohs, Panthers, Sharks and Roosters. Although the teams who have walked away from the Hunter with the competition points are entrenched in the top eight, the Knights will need to rediscover their mojo at home and learn to beat the top sides at home, particularly if they are to compete in the finals.
The Storm once again reminded everyone why they are they reigning premiers last week. After not performing anywhere near their best in the first half against the Broncos last week, the Storm stepped it up a notch or two, and completely blew the hapless Broncos off the park. This was led by a masterclass from their captain Cameron Smith, who looked incredibly fresh, given that he was not backing up from State of Origin for the first time since 2003. That victory saw them continue their overall stranglehold over the Broncos.
That win saw the premiers advance to fifth place, however, there is minimal doubt that they would much rather be in the top four. This is because being in the top half of the top eight would make it easier for them to successfully defend their crown since no team has managed to win the premiership from outside the top four. Although their attack and defence is not as strong as it was last season, the reigning premiers must only be written of at one’s own peril. The 297 points scored by the Storm sees them ranked 4th in attack, behind the likes of the Rabbitohs, Dragons and Panthers. Further proof that their defence is difficult to crack is the fact that their 205 points conceded sees them ranked 2nd in defence, behind only the Panthers.
The Storm’s away record is not as great as they would like it to be. The defending premiers find themselves with three victories and as many losses, which have come against the Sharks, Tigers and Dragons. That being said, apart from their away loss to the Dragons, their losses have been relatively close (especially that match against the Tigers). Whilst their opponents are certainly no pushovers, the Storm have an opportunity to improve their away record in this match, and continue their pursuit of a top-four spot.
As emphasized earlier, a mouthwatering individual clash will take place in this match, featuring Storm veteran Billy Slater, against Knights excitement machine, Kalyn Ponga, in what will shape as a battle between the past and future of the Maroons. Slater outpointed Ponga in the earlier match this year, thus Ponga will be thirsty to get one back on the legendary custodian this time around.
The Knights were very brave in defeat last week against the Roosters. Therefore, one can be certain that they will be looking to unleash fury on the Storm, thereby remaining in touch with the top eight in the process. The Storm also have plenty to play for, particularly with a top-four spot up for grabs, should the Warriors drop their match against the Cowboys. The top four is all important for the defending premiers, as they seek to maximise their chances of successfully defending their title.
As such, although I can feel that the Knights will give it all they have, as they have so often done this season, I feel they lack the cutting edge to cause an upset over the powerhouses of the NRL. That is why I will tip the Storm in what will be a hard-fought encounter. Storm by 4.
Who will come out on top in this Sunday afternoon blockbuster when the Knights host the Storm? Let us know in the comments and poll below.