Date: Sunday, 28 April, 2019
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle
Kick Off: 4:05pm
Head Referee: Grant Atkins
Assistant Referee: Chris Butler
Head-to-head: Played 53 Eels 21 Knights 29 Drawn 3
Odds: Eels $1.70 Knights $2.20
Broadcast: Foxtel, Nine, Kayo
Last Four Encounters:
Newcastle 18 Eels 24 McDonald Jones Stadium (2018)
Newcastle 30 Eels 4 ANZ Stadium (2018)
Newcastle 29 Eels 10 ANZ Stadium (2017)
Eels 20 Newcastle 18 McDonald Jones Stadium (2016)
The Warm Up
At this early stage of the season, these two teams are poles apart in their performances.
Tipped to push for a top 4 spot this year, the Knights are an Edrick Lee intercept away from opening the season with six losses. Does that sound familiar Eels supporters?
In contrast, as last year’s wooden spoon recipients, the Eels were predicted by many to again be anchored near the bottom of the ladder. A win in this clash will keep the Eels entrenched in the top 8.
Nathan Brown and his players are under pressure to live up to the pre-season hype. They can talk about it being outside noise, but the Eels can attest to the damage that a poor start to the season can do the team. Players start questioning themselves and their team mates. Confidence drops and you find ways to lose games.
The Knights aren’t quite at that low point yet, so this may well be the backs to the wall, rearguard match. They owe it to their fans to deliver a home victory and it’s unlikely that anything less than total commitment will be on display on their turf. Don’t expect to see the embarrassing defence that they dished up against the Titans.
For Parramatta, finding the balance of maintaining confidence yet not getting lost in the euphoria of their annihilation of the Tigers will be the challenge. They need to reset for a new team and focus on the systems that are providing success. Wins of that magnitude are rare, but it should also remind them that they have the capacity to put teams to the sword.
Ultimately, the Eels have to treat this Knights team with respect. A check of the history books reinforces that advice.
Having a Punt
Not to boast, but I’ve tipped you into a few winning bets already this season. Last week, I recommended splashing out on the Head to Head/Over Under Double market. If you took the tip it returned the sweet odds of $3.60.
Therefore, I’m going to push my luck in the same market with the Eels to win coupled with more than 40.5 total match points @$3.40
If you want a higher value score, then my roughie is a try/win double. Take Marata Niukore to score a try at any time coupled with an Eels win at $7.00.
The favourites for first try scorer are listed below:
Eels: Ferguson $8 Sivo $9
Knights: Lee $11 Kenny-Dowall $11
Feed Your Footy Brain
The Knights have become the Eels bogey team in recent seasons. The Eels have only beaten Newcastle twice in the last 11 years. The ten losses over that period have included some really ugly score lines. A 30 to 4 defeat in 2018 made for awful viewing for Parra supporters, but even that wasn’t as bad as the 42 to 12 loss in a crucial game in 2014 or the 54 to 6 blitz in 2013.
I’d take a win of any margin, but I reckon the Eels owe the Knights a drubbing. Can we ask for 52 to 6 this week?
Tracking: Oregon Kaufusi
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, last week’s clash with with Tigers provided you with a vision of the future. We’ve only been given snippets of big Oregon up till now, but that changed last Monday with extra minutes for bench forwards becoming the consequence of Danny Alvaro’s first minute head injury.
The 19 year old forward didn’t disappoint.
At 6’2″ and weighing in around 115kg, Oggy is the prototype big, mobile prop. His barnstorming try running off a terrific Mitch Moses pass is representative of the type of destruction he can inflict on a defence.
Kaufusi came from the clouds to make his NRL debut in 2018. The Hills Sports High graduate had commenced the season in Flegg and earned a call up to NSW Cup midway through the season. Such was his transition to senior football, he became the go to player during an NRL injury crisis and the Eels were given dispensation to debut him in Round 23 against the Storm.
The Cumberland Throw has long predicted a bright future for Oregon, after tracking his career from the Eels Under 16s through to junior Blues and Kangaroo representation. The talented prop is also a fine ambassador for the club with his focus on giving back to the community evident in his association with the Giant Steps school.
Look for another powerful performance from Oregon against the Knights.
Danger man: Mitchell Pearce
Now in the veteran class, Mitchell Pearce has never been able to shake the criticism attached to a losing Origin half. That’s been somewhat unfair given the calibre of his Queensland opponents. You don’t make 18 Origin appearances if you can’t play the game.
The 30 year old Pearce has now clocked up 260 appearances in thirteen seasons of NRL football. Though he’s had a disappointing start to this season, I’d expect his leadership and professionalism to kick in sooner than later.
I expect the Knights half to have his most involved game of the season and to try to provide Ponga with enough space to use his step and pace. The Eels will try to nullify his influence by dominating the middle third so that he has no go forward to work off.
Knights: 1. Kalyn Ponga 2. Edrick Lee 3. Hymel Hunt 4. Jesse Ramien 5. Shaun Kenny-Dowall 6.Connor Watson 7. Mitchell Pearce 8. David Klemmer 9. Danny Levi 10. James Gavet 11.Lachlan Fitzgibbon 12. Mitchell Barnett 13. Tim Glasby
Interchange: 14. Jamie Buhrer 15. Herman Ese’ese 16. Daniel Saifiti 17. Josh King 18. Mason Lino 19. Tautau Moga 20. Sione Mata’utia 21.Pasami Saulo
Eels : 1. Clint Gutherson 2. Maika Sivo 3. Michael Jennings 4. Brad Takairangi 5.Blake Ferguson 6. Jaeman Salmon 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Daniel Alvaro 9. Reed Mahoney 10. Junior Paulo 11. Shaun Lane 12. Marata Niukore 13. Tepai Moeroa
interchange: 14. Peni Terepo 15. Tim Mannah 16. Oregon Kaufusi 17. Ray Stone 18. Manu Ma’u 19. Kane Evans 20. Josh Hoffman 21. George Jennings
Clint Gutherson vs Kalyn Ponga
Is it fair for such a weight of expectation to be placed on Kalyn Ponga?
Even without considering his talent, his salary probably demands it.
That said, the 2019 version of the Knights seems to be imbalanced. There’s almost a parallel to how the Eels performed for many years with Jarryd Hayne in the side. Throw Ponga the ball and hope he does something.
Did the Knights fail with Ponga at 5/8? Despite the attacking prowess that he injects from fullback, I’d argue that defensively they looked much better with him at 5/8. After only conceding around 14 points per game in the first four rounds, the last two rounds have been blow outs. They hit rock bottom in allowing the Titans to put on 38 points last week.
That’s not to say that Gutherson doesn’t also play a critical role for the Eels. As captain, the energetic fullback sets the tone for the Blue and Golds, from the training paddock to match day. His absence at the start of 2018 certainly didn’t help Parra’s cause.
Both Ponga and Gutherson can create something out of nothing, but it’s the how that differs greatly. Whilst the Newcastle fullback will let loose with a mercurial step and exceptional pace, the King rules his Kingdom by staying in every moment – playing what’s in front of him, whether that be by backing up the play or taking on a retreating and scattered defence at just the right time.
Whichever way the result goes, we can be certain that one of these two custodian will have played a significant part.
And The Winner Is?
Let me offer a quote from last week’s preview:
“I’m expecting Moses and Gutherson to push contract issues aside and have blinders.”
I could easily base my tip again on the two stars from the Eels spine, but this battle will be determined by the clash of the big men. Look for big collisions between Klemmer and Paulo as both men attempt to lead their respective packs in a battle for dominance. The performances of Ese’ese and Kaufusi off the bench will also be influential.
Boasting a skill set that extends beyond the bash and barge, Junior Paulo will lead the Eels to a commanding victory, with edge back rowers Niukore and Lane to feast off his passing.
It’s unlikely that the Eels will be able to replicate the energy and intensity of last round, but no team could play at that level every week. Their goal will be to return to their processes and win every contest in this clash.
Eels 34 Knights 14
Man of the Match – Junior Paulo