Sydney Roosters vs Newcastle Knights: Lineups, preview and predictions

Allianz Stadium, Sunday 25th March, 6:30 pm AEDT.

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Overview

Rounding out the second round of 2018 is the match featuring some former Roosters players, who are keen to get one up on their former employers, as they return in Knights colours, given they now ply their trade with the Novocastrians. The returning former Roosters include Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Conor Watson, Aidan Guerra and of course Mitchell Pearce, who is now the captain of the Knights. 

The Roosters returned to the winner’s circle last week by comfortably accounting for the Bulldogs, 30-12. The victory was even more special, especially for marquee signings, James Tedesco and Cooper Cronk, as both players opened their try-scoring accounts for 2018. In addition, the return of five-eighth Luke Keary from injury was crucial in helping the men from Bondi to victory. Moreover, although Cronk is playing with Tedesco and not Billy Slater, he demonstrated his understanding with Teddy, as they combined for a Roosters try. Another impressive element of their victory is the fact that, despite being reduced to 12 men, and losing winger Daniel Tupou to injury, they were still able to hold the Bulldogs to zero at halftime. 

For the Knights, what more can be said except for the fact that they have demonstrated their growing maturity, by being able to conjure up the strength to emerge triumphant in two close matches, to begin their season. In their opening match against the Sea Eagles, the match went into golden point, and the Novocastrians showed their newfound character by nailing a clutch field goal. Their last match against the Raiders in the nation’s capital may not have gone to golden point, but the Knights once again displayed an abundance of character. At 28-20 down, most would have expected the Raiders to see out the win. Instead, the Knights scored 10 points in the final 15 minutes to snatch victory.

Without a doubt, the former Roosters who are now plying their trade with the Knights will be eager for revenge against their former club. Knights skipper Mitchell Pearce will be especially desperate to orchestrate the downfall of his former side, especially as he is against superstar halfback Cooper Cronk, the player whose arrival at Bondi spelt the end of Pearce’s time at the Roosters.

Recent meetings 

2017 – Round 20 – Sydney Roosters 28 def. Newcastle Knights 4 at Allianz Stadium. 

2017 – Round 7 – Sydney Roosters 24 def. Newcastle Knights 6 at McDonald Jones Stadium. 

2016 – Round 9 – Sydney Roosters 38 def. Newcastle Knights 0 at Allianz Stadium. 

2015 – Round 22 – Sydney Roosters 38 def. Newcastle Knights 22 at McDonald Jones Stadium. 

2014 – Round 20 – Newcastle Knights 16 def. Sydney Roosters 12 at McDonald Jones Stadium. 

As can be deduced from the aforementioned, the Roosters have won four of the five most recent encounters between the two sides, with the Knights surprisingly jagging a victory in 2014, a season in which they were a tad fortunate to avoid the wooden spoon, while the Chooks ended that season with a game away from defending their crown. In fact, the tricolours have been largely dominant in all of their encounters with the Knights, ever since the great Andrew Johns retired from the game in 2007. 

The Chooks have lost only six of their matches with the Novocastrians since 2007, and have been completely dominant in their meetings at Allianz Stadium since the turn of the millennium, losing only three matches to the Knights (2001, 2002 and 2009). This means that the Novocastrians have not defeated the men from Bondi at Moore Park during this decade. 

The overall head-to-head between the sides reads 30 victories to the Roosters, 19 victories to the Knights, with 2 drawn matches, occurring in 1991 and 1997.

Selected teams

Sydney Roosters Newcastle Knights
1 James Tedesco Kalyn Ponga
2 Reece Robinson Shaun Kenny-Dowall
3 Latrell Mitchell Sione Mata’utia
4 Joseph Manu Tautau Moga
5 Blake Ferguson Nathan Ross
6 Luke Keary Connor Watson
7 Cooper Cronk Mitchell Pearce
8 Sio Siua Taukeiaho Herman Ese’ese
9 Jake Friend Slade Griffin
10 Dylan Napa Jacob Lillyman
11 Boyd Cordner Lachlan Fitzgibbon
12 Ryan Matterson Aidan Guerra
13 Isaac Liu Mitchell Barnett
Interchange
14 Jared Waerea-Hargreaves Brock Lamb
15 Zane Tetevano Chris Heighington
16 Mitchell Aubusson Jamie Buhrer
17 Victor Radley Daniel Saifiti
Reserves
18 Nat Butcher Ken Sion
19 Kurt Baptiste Jacob Saifiti
20 Mitchell Cornish Danny Levi
21 Frank-Paul Nuuausala Luke Yates

The facts that matter 

Roosters 

Whilst the Roosters’ attack finally demonstrated large amounts of its strength last week against the Bulldogs, it is their defence which remains impressive since last season. In both their matches thus far, they conceded fewer kick metres than their opposition. This was especially apparent last week, as they conceded only kick return metres. 

Moreover, despite having fewer runs than the Dogs, they actually amassed 1784 metres, while restricting the Dogs to only 1479 metres for the match. This was a significant improvement from their opening round loss to the Tigers, who completely dominated them in the forward battle, and were therefore outplayed in the meter gain department, as well as the final scoreline. 

However, if there’s one area that the Chooks must improve on, in order to make full use of their potential as a premiership contender, it’s ball security. Last season, the tricolours were one of the biggest culprits in terms of handling errors, and they displayed this yet again against both the Tigers and Bulldogs, making a combined total of 27 errors. As such, there is little doubt that Trent Robinson will be drilling this into his chargers. 

Knights 

For the Novocastrians, their victories in the opening rounds came on the back of their unbelievably newfound character. Epitomising this is the fact that they were able to conjure up their victories over the Raiders and Sea Eagles, despite making fewer meters than their opposition, seeing less of the ball than their opponents, as well as missing a fair amount of tackles in both matches. As such, there is minimal doubt that the men from the Hunter would have lost both matches in previous seasons, especially with such statistics as the aforementioned. 

That being said, their victories came on the back of making fewer errors than their opponents, as well as their very good completion rate, completing over 80% of their sets in each of their matches. There is no doubt that Nathan Brown will be hoping for more of the same, as wellas making more metres and missing less tackles, in order to consolidate on their form.

However, a damning statistic for the Knights is their rather poor record against the Roosters at Allianz Stadium. In fact, history depicts that of all their matches against the Chooks in Sydney, the Novocastrians have returned to the Hunter with the competition points for a grand total of 6 times. This suggests that the ground is somewhat of a burial ground for them.

Prediction

There is little doubt that there will be an abundance of emotion to be displayed in this match, especially from the former Roosters quartet of Kenny-Dowall, Watson, Guerra and, most especially Pearce. Pearce will be incredibly keen to orchestrate the downfall of his former club, while outpointing Cronk, whose arrival to Sydney was the cause for Pearce’s departure from the club he served for so long. Therefore, we expect the ex-Roosters to rip into their former team. 

As close as this game is highly likely to be, I suspect that the Roosters will be the team to emerge triumphant. The reasons for this are that the Chooks are well aware of what type of game Pearce will play, coupled with the fact that the Knights have an appalling overall record against the Roosters at Allianz Stadium, and have not defeated the Chooks at the venue since 2009. 

Therefore, it will be Roosters by 8.

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