Knights v Broncos preview

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Newcastle Knights v Brisbane Broncos Saturday 7:30pm at McDonald Jones Stadium

Rivals clash in search of consistency

Returning home for the first time since the opening round, the Knights will be eager to improve upon their past two performances by placing greater attention upon reducing fundamental errors and competing on every play. Having benefitted from high completion rates in the wins over Manly and Canberra, coach Nathan Brown will be stressing the importance of remaining resilient as the side looks to limit the amount of unearned opportunities afforded to Brisbane, while capitalising on their own chances to attack that arise through sustained pressure. Retaining much of the same squad that went down in Wollongong, experienced winger Ken Sio will play his first match of the year as a replacement for Samoan international Tautau Moga, who is set to be sidelined until 2019 after sustaining a ruptured ACL in the opening minutes of last Sunday's fixture. As a result of Moga's long-term absence, fan favourite Nathan Ross will celebrate his 50th appearance for the club by shifting to centre, while despite being named as part of the extended bench, New Zealand representative Danny Levi is poised to make his first start of the year working alongside Slade Griffin at hooker. Winless at home against Brisbane since 2010, the Knights will be hopeful of improving their performance through strong crowd support, while proving that the standard of play produced over the opening fortnight represents the direction of the club moving forward and not merely an anomaly from the high effort - low results form of recent years.

Establishing a reputation as one of the elite sides of rugby league around the world, the Brisbane Broncos have endured a troublesome start to 2018 through a variety of off-field management choices and underwhelming showings on game days. With the public scrutiny surrounding Matthew Lodge resulting in hostility towards the club away from the confines of Suncorp Stadium, the larger issue facing coach Wayne Bennett has been the manner in which his side has been dominated by opponents, while failing to alleviate pressure during matches as a result of self-inflicted errors. While far from reaching a stage of panic after an opening month that has seen the side produce a 50% win-loss record, the Broncos will need to increase their intensity on Saturday or else the need to enforce changes may become a necessity. In the only change from the side that went down 26-14 to the Titans, Queensland winger Corey Oates returns in place of Jonus Pearson, while Tongan forward Tevita Pangai jr may be a late inclusion after sitting out last week due to an injured hamstring. Claiming victory over Newcastle in the past six meetings between the two sides, the Broncos have regularly flexed their attacking muscles over the Knights, but having averaged just two tries per game in 2018, the Broncos will need to demonstrate considerable improvement in both attack and defence to leave the Hunter with two competition points.

Last meeting: Round 19 2017 - Knights 22 Broncos 34

Who to watch: While it may be premature to declare Kalyn Ponga as the most significant signing in the Knights' history, based on his opening month of football, he has done little to dissuade supporters from holding such a bold stance. Having just turned 20, the former North Queensland talent has been among the most exciting players in the competition with his speed and footwork causing plenty of headaches for opponents, while gaining the admiration of long-suffering Novocastrians for his toughness. Taking on the additional responsibility of goal kicking, Ponga has displayed the maturity of a player well beyond his years with his willingness to attack the ball, however due to inexperience in the top grade he has shown himself to be susceptible to areas in need of improvement, most notably his increasingly predictable preference to attack on the left side of the field. In his first full season in the top grade it is likely at some stage Ponga will endure periods of inconsistency, but as he has shown so far in 2018, when offered an opportunity to attack the Knights as a whole appear to be a far greater threat due to his presence at the back of the field.

Identified as a highly sought recruit by the Knights last season, Broncos centre Jack Bird will be hoping to increase his involvement on Saturday night following a series of underwhelming performances over the past fortnight. Returning from a shoulder injury sustained during his time with Cronulla, the 23-year-old New South Wales representative has demonstrated an influential aptitude towards impacting the result of a game since debuting in first grade three years ago, with his skillset of speed, power and natural ability causing opposing teams to take note whenever he is in the vicinity of the ball. Opting to join Brisbane in order to take a more active role on the field, Bird has been a shadow of the player his reputation commands since making the move from the Shire, but should he continue his unbeaten run against Newcastle on Saturday evening, the high-profile recruit may prove to be the player who makes the biggest impact on the end result.

The favourite: In a sign of how far the fortunes of Newcastle and Brisbane have deviated from recent seasons, both sides head into Saturday night's fixture at equal odds.

My tip: With a vocal supporter base spurring them on, look for Newcastle to focus on limiting opportunities for Brisbane to attack, while reaping the benefits of high completion rates to record a passionate win at home. Knights by 6.

1. Kalyn Ponga 2. Shaun Kenny-dowall 3. Sione Mata'utia 4. Nathan Ross 5. Ken Sio 6. Brock Lamb 7. Mitchell Pearce 8. Herman Ese'ese 9. Slade Griffin 10. Jacob Lillyman 11. Lachlan Fitzgibbon 12. Aidan Guerra 13. Mitchell Barnett 14. Jamie Buhrer 15. Chris Heighington 17. Daniel Saifiti 20. Danny Levi

1. Darius Boyd 2. Corey Oates 3. James Roberts 4. Jack Bird 5. Jamayne Isaako 6. Anthony Milford 7. Kodi Nikorima 8. Matthew Lodge 9. Andrew McCullough 19. Tevita Pangai Junior 17. Jaydn Su'a 12. Matt Gillett 13. Josh Mcguire 10. Korbin Sims 14. Sam Thaiday 15. Joe Ofahengaue 16. Tom Opacic

Referees: Chris Sutton, Chris Butler; Sideline Officials: Ricky MacFarlane, Nick Morel; Video Referees: Jared Maxwell, Ben Galea;

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