Football returns to the Hunter for this Friday the 13th special and for those of you who will be avoiding black cats and walking under ladders, have we got a statistic for you.
The last time these two sides played was Round 13. The average winning margin between these two in their past five games? you guessed it - 13 points. How's that for an omen!
With both sides now out of finals contention, this game may have less meaning but it certainly won't have less spite. After being embarrassed by a struggling Bulldogs last weekend, Newcastle welcome back marquee man Mitchell Pearce. It's a remarkable comeback given Pearce will return having missed just 10 weeks of football. For Parramatta, they languish on the bottom of the ladder, two points adrift of the Bulldogs. A loss here and the Eels will be staring down the barrel of a 14th wooden spoon - that's a record no player wants to be part of. There's plenty to play for in a big Friday night of football!
2018 - Round 13 - Knights 30 def. Parramatta 34 at ANZ Stadium
2017 - Round 23 - Knights 29 def. Eels 10 at ANZ Stadium
2016 - Round 12 Eels 20 def. Knights 18 at McDonald Jones Stadium
2015 - Round 7 - Eels 28 def. Knights 22 at McDonald Jones Stadium
2014 - Round 25 - Knights 42 def. Eels 12 at McDonald Jones Stadium
You only have to go back a month to find the last time these two foes did battle. On that occasion, it was Newcastle who came away convincing 30-4 winners on a wet and windy Sydney evening. Since then, the Eels have become a vastly improved side, having put together a promising, albeit heartbreaking last-minute loss against the Dragons a fortnight ago.
|1||Nicholas Meaney||Clint Gutherson (C)|
|2||Ken Sio||Bevan French|
|3||Sione Mata'utia||Michael Jennings|
|4||Cory Denniss||Jarryd Hayne|
|5||Shaun Kenny-Dowall||George Jennings|
|6||Connor Watson||Corey Norman|
|7||Mitchell Pearce (C)||Mitchell Moses|
|8||Josh King||Daniel Alvaro|
|9||Danny Levi||Cameron King|
|10||Daniel Saifiti||Siosaia Vave|
|11||Mitch Barnett||Marata Niukore|
|12||Aidan Guerra||Brad Takairangi|
|13||Herman Ese'ese||Nathan Brown|
|14||Nathan Ross||Tepai Moeroa|
|15||Chris Heighington||Tim Mannah (C)|
|16||Jamie Buhrer (C)||David Gower|
|17||Jacob Lillyman||Peni Terepo|
|18||Luke Yates||Kane Evans|
|19||Sam Stone||Kirisome Auva'a|
|20||Jack Cogger||Jaeman Salmon|
|21||JJ Felise||Kaysa Pritchard|
The facts that matter
Brad Arthur had seen enough after the Eels last start loss at the hands of the Dragons. Despite a gutsy performance, the Eels didn't have the mettle to hold a fast-finishing St George out and that was typified by a couple of lazy individual performances. One of those was Michael Jennings, who ran out for Wentworthville rather than knocking back a few cold ones over the bye weekend.
Jennings nabbed a try in that game and Arthur must have liked what he saw because the speedster has been recalled at right centre this weekend. Jennings still has a year left to run on his contract at the Eels but many fans will hope he delivers more for the Blue and Gold in coming games. In what has been a lacklustre season for the entire club, Jennings has failed to impress. With the recent signing of Blake Ferguson from the Roosters and plenty of talent breathing down his neck, Jennings will need a big couple of performances in the coming weeks to cement his place.
One big out is met with a HUGE inclusion in Steel City. Mitchell Pearce makes his much-anticipated return from a pec injury for the Knights and it is welcome relief for coach Nathan Brown. After falling to the Bulldogs in Round 16, Brown had to deal with a hamstring injury to Kalyn Ponga and a season-ending MCL rupture to hooker Slade Griffin. The Knights have had little luck with injury this year and it's a shame because their season could have developed into so much more. They find themselves out of finals contention and entering what can only be called another 'rebuilding phase'. Here's hoping Pearce manages an injury-free return and the Novacastrians can put together some enterprising play for their home fans.
Nick Meaney makes his NRL debut at fullback in this game, coming in as an injury replacement for Kalyn Ponga. Joining the club in 2015, Meaney already has huge wraps on him having taken out player of the year awards for Newcastle's Under 20s and NSW Cup sides. At just 20 years of age, Meaney's debut will be a bittersweet one for Knights fans - he's off to the Bulldogs next year on a three-year contract and is seen as the long-term solution for the Dog's persistent fullback woes.
The Knights were average against the Dogs but with the inclusion of Mitchell Pearce, they must surely bounce back here? Parramatta won't be easy beats but with a boisterous Newcastle crowd behind them, it's the Knights who should have the edge. Feeling superstitious? We are - Newcastle to win by 13.
It's Friday the 13th and something could be brewing on the Hunter. Who takes the points when the Eels clash with the Knights?