Knights surge towards home final with huge win over dreadful Dragons
11 hours ago | Adam Huxtable
Knights eye redemption on Old Boys Day
The Newcastle Knights will be determined to bounce back at home on Sunday afternoon when they host the St George Illawarra Dragons in the traditional Old Boys Day match.
Confirmed to play finals football for the first time in seven years, the Newcastle Knights will be fighting to keep their hopes of a home final alive.
Sitting in seventh position after being humbled 42-12 by the Roosters last Saturday, coach Adam O'Brien will be demanding a stronger defensive performance after the reigning premiers ran riot with four tries in the opening 20 minutes at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Returning to McDonald Jones Stadium for the final time during the home-and-away season, the match will commemorate Old Boys Day - a tradition dating back to the club's origins commemorating past players and officials who have worn the red and blue of Newcastle.
Set to welcome back Kalyn Ponga, Hymel Hunt and Mitchell Barnett after the trio were rested last week, rookie Tex Hoy will play his first match in the halves after being preferred ahead of Mason Lino, while Chris Randall will start in place of Kurt Mann (suspension) at hooker with Phoenix Crossland coming onto the bench in a utility capacity.
Enjoying a tremendous record in Newcastle with 17 wins from 21 visits over the past two decades, the St George Illawarra Dragons will be hoping to finish a disappointing season on a high note.
Embarrassed by the Raiders 37-8 in Wollongong last Saturday, interim coach Dean Young will be expecting improvement from his senior players after three straight losses saw the side fall out of finals contention.
Boosted by the return of representative forward Tariq Sims from a shoulder injury, newly re-signed outside back Max Feagai will make his debut off the bench in place of Billy Brittain (concussion).
Playing against the Knights in three Old Boys Day matches throughout the 2010s, the Dragons have prevailed on two occasions - most recently coming from a 10-2 halftime deficit to win 24-14 two years ago.
Last meeting: Round 10 2019 - Dragons 12 Knights 45
Who to watch: Providing a rare positive for Newcastle in an otherwise disappointing effort last Saturday, winger Edrick Lee made his presence felt after recovering from a broken arm. Showing no signs of ill-effect having spent nine weeks on the sidelines, the 28-year-old speedster caused plenty of havoc under the high ball to set up a try for Enari Tuala and narrowly missing out on one of his own. Averaging 117 metres with the ball in hand this season, expect Lee to give the joint venture plenty of grief as he looks to extend his try-scoring prowess for the Knights beyond seven tries in eight appearances at McDonald Jones Stadium.
Set to join the Knights on a three-year deal from next season, Dragons second-rower Tyson Frizell will be keen to show his future teammates what they can look forward to in 2021. Averaging 127 metres and 37 tackles each week, the powerhouse forward has featured in every match this year - playing all bar seven minutes. Adding 39 tackle breaks and 15 offloads to his name for good measure, the Dragons will be looking to Frizell to lead the way as they strive to continue a dominant record in the Hunter city.
The favourite: Winning 21 of 32 matches on Old Boys Day, the finals-bound Knights are expected to be too strong for the battling Dragons.
My tip: With a home final in the opening week of the play-offs still up for grabs, the Knights should have no excuses for coming up short in front of their club greats. Knights by 16.
1. Kalyn Ponga 22. Gehamat Shibasaki 3. Enari Tuala 4. Hymel Hunt 5. Starford To'a 20. Mason Lino 7. Mitchell Pearce 8. David Klemmer 9. Chris Randall 10. Daniel Saifiti 11. Lachlan Fitzgibbon 12. Aidan Guerra 13. Mitchell Barnett 14. Phoenix Crossland 15. Jacob Saifiti 16. Herman Ese'ese 17. Sione Mata'utia
1. Matthew Dufty 2. Jordan Pereira 20. Brayden Wiliame 4. Zac Lomax 5. Cody Ramsey 6. Corey Norman 9. Ben Hunt 8. Kaide Ellis 13. Cameron McInnes 10. Paul Vaughan 11. Tyson Frizell 14. Tariq Sims 12. Jackson Ford 15. Josh Kerr 16. Blake Lawrie 17. Max Feagai 19. Tyrell Fuimaono
Referees: Grant Atkins; Sideline Officials: David Munro, Jon Stone; Video Referees: Steve Chiddy;