Match Day Discussion
Date: Friday, 13th July, 2018
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium Newcastle
Kick Off: 7:55 pm AEST
Head Referee: Adam Gee
Assistant Referee: Tim Roby
Head-to-head: Played 50 – Knights 28, Eels 21, Drawn 1
Odds: Eels $1.80 Knights $2.05
Broadcast: Foxtel, Nine from 7:30pm
Last Four Encounters:
1. Knights 30 def Eels 4, ANZ Stadium – Round 13, 2018
2. Knights 29 def Eels 10 ANZ Stadium – Round 23, 2017
3. Eels 20 def Knights 18, Newcastle – Round 12, 2016
4. Eels 28 def Knights 22, Newcastle – Round 7, 2015
The Warm Up:
Though the Knights remain the proverbial “mathematical chance” of qualifying for the finals, the reality is that this match will have little bearing on the composition of the Top 8.
The Eels go into this clash as slight favourites, though it’s difficult to understand why. Newcastle have obviously had their share of injury woes this season, but the return of Mitchell Pearce is a huge bonus. They will also be enjoying the advantage of the home ground and a historical record which sees them taking the last two encounters with the Eels by big margins as well as notching up nine wins from their last eleven meetings.
Parramatta have had their own issues with season ending injuries, with Manu Ma’u the latest addition to that list. However, it could be argued that the team has been much more settled in recent weeks and they’ve shown flashes of their 2017 form over that period.
The last time that these two teams met was one of the low points of Parramatta’s already woeful season. The odds were in their favour back then, yet they meekly surrendered to an under strength Knights. A similar attitude this week, even without Ponga in the opposition, will see a similar result.
It’s up to the Eels to aim up for their fans. Only full 80 minute efforts will provide their long suffering supporters with something to cheer about in the closing weeks of this season.
Having a Punt:
This week’s value bet (TAB) is in the line/over under double – Parramatta to give away 1.5 points combined with over 40.5 points in the match @ $3.45.
The first try favourites are listed below:
Eels: Bevan French $9, George Jennings $10
Knights: Ken Sio & Shaun Kenny-Dowall both $10
Feed Your Footy Brain:
The Knights defence continues to be its weak link, conceding a whopping 26.8 points per game. It’s much worse than the Eels who concede 23.4 points on average, but this statistic mattered little in Round 13 when the Knights defence looked impregnable as they smashed Parra 30 to 4.
Tracking: Marata Niukore
Surely one of the positives to come out of a disastrous 2018 has been the emergence of powerful back rower, Marata Niukore. Last year’s Wenty player of the year is absolutely odds on to be this year’s Eels rookie of the year.
The 102kg former Warriors lower grade player has solidified his place in the starting side after making his debut off the bench against his old club in Round 11. Arthur has gradually built up Niukore’s playing time in the rounds since then, with the young Eel clocking up over 60 minutes against the Dragons.
Playing on the left edge alongside Jarryd Hayne appears to have brought confidence to the Cook Islands International. His defensive efforts against the Dragons shored up that side of the field for the Eels, but don’t dismiss his capacity to challenge the opposition defence. Marata carries the ball strongly and has the pace to take advantage of any line breaks.
Interestingly, it was a collision between Niukore and Hayne during an opposed session at training which was widely reported in the media earlier this season. Hayne was looking to fire up his team mates and he chose the hard running second rower as his target. They’re now playing alongside each other as they aim to inspire their colleagues against the Knights.
Danger man: Mitchell Pearce
He’s much maligned at Origin, but Mitchell Pearce has always been a high quality half at NRL level.
At 182cm and 92kg, Pearce is surprisingly bigger than his father, legendary Tigers and Australian back rower Wayne Pearce. He is deceptively fast and has a strong kicking game.
There’s little doubt that the Knights have missed Pearce’s game management skills. He’s their marquee signing, and they’ve suffered from only getting seven games thus far from their 2018 captain.
Obviously, the Newcastle half will be a little rusty in his return match and the Eels forwards will look to run plenty of action his way to test out his injury. However, you don’t play 245 NRL games and 18 Origins without being both tough and smart. Expect Pearce to play a significant role in this match.
Knights: 1 Nicholas Meaney, 2 Ken Sio, 3 Sione Mata’utia, 4 Cory Denniss, 5 Shaun Kenny-Dowall, 6 Connor Watson, 7 Mitchell Pearce (c), 8 Josh King, 9 Danny Levi, 10 Daniel Saifiti, 11 Mitch Barnett, 12 Aidan Guerra, 13 Herman Ese’ese
Interchange: 14 Nathan Ross, 15 Chris Heighington, 16 Jamie Buhrer (c), 17 Jacob Lillyman,
Reserves: 18 Luke Yates, 19 Sam Stone, 20 Jack Cogger, 21 JJ Felise
Eels: 1 Clint Gutherson (c), 2 Bevan French, 3 Michael Jennings, 4 Jarryd Hayne, 5 George Jennings, 6 Corey Norman, 7 Mitchell Moses, 8 Daniel Alvaro, 9 Cameron King, 10 Siosaia Vave, 11 Marata Niukore, 12 Brad Takairangi, 13 Nathan Brown
Interchange: 14 Tepai Moeroa, 15 Tim Mannah (c), 16 David Gower, 17 Peni Terepo
Reserves: 18 Kane Evans, 21 Kaysa Pritchard
Bevan French vs Ken Sio
Anyone who doesn’t see the 2018 version of Bevan French as a major disappointment has a short memory of what he’s produced in previous years.
The player who built a reputation as a try scoring freak has been a shadow of his former self, whether he’s played on the wing or his proclaimed favourite position of fullback. Quite simply, if the play hasn’t come his way, he hasn’t gone looking for it.
He’s still just as fast. He’s still as freakishly talented. Indeed, I’ve watched him put on multiple shows of his gifts at training this year, but like a number of his team mates, it just hasn’t transferred to game day.
Against former Eel, Ken Sio, French has the opportunity to find his attacking mojo. Sio is a solid first grade player. He has enough pace, and his share of power, to finish opportunities sent his way. He’ll also do exactly what’s expected of the modern winger – carting the ball back from kicks and getting in to dummy half for early tackle runs. This is probably something that he does better than French.
But Sio will rarely generate a break on his own. He’s just not blessed with exceptional speed.
This is not to say that Sio is a weak link. Far from it. But when you possess the acceleration and evasiveness of French, you need to take advantage of lining up against an opponent that can’t match you in those stakes.
It’s time for French to produce.
And The Winner Is?
Despite the Eels deserved position at the bottom of the table, and the Knights’ strong claim to bogey team status against them, I’m confident of an Eels victory.
i have continued to attend training, and though I don’t report on sessions during the season, the vibe has remained surprisingly positive. The addition of former Storm trainer, Adrian Jimenez, has changed things up a bit and kept training fresh and challenging. It’s interesting to see him get a mention from Tim Mannah in his media this week.
Parra should have taken the points against the table topping Dragons and they matched the Rabbitohs in the first half before that. Though their right side defence around Michael Jennings brought about their downfall in both clashes, the team has shown enough in these clashes to get the better of the Knights.
That said, it’s vital for the Eels to do the simple things well. They need to kick to the corners, hold their defensive line and complete their sets. We’ve witnessed the team do this well against the Dragons, and their attack built off that.
I’m expecting them to be too strong for the Knights.
Eels 32 – Knights 14
Man of the Match – Nathan Brown