Warriors v Knights preview

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Warriors v Newcastle Knights Friday 6:00pm at Central Coast Stadium

Two sides coming off opening round wins face off on Central Coast

The New Zealand Warriors will "host" the Newcastle Knights at Central Coast Stadium on Friday evening in a match that could end up being crucial in deciding the bottom part of the top 8 come the end of the year. 

The Warriors were the closest thing to surprise packets in Round 1, convincingly beating a favoured Titans side by 13 points. It was a match that began as a slugfest, however the Warriors seemed to find their groove attacking wise as the game went on in what was a dream start for Nathan Brown in his tenure as head coach. 

The size of the Warriors forward pack this year has been well documented, and they will need to be at their best once again if they want to match it with the likes of Daniel Saifiti and David Klemmer, who's efforts got the Knights on the front foot and on their way to what was ultimately an easy victory against the Bulldogs. 

With both sides expected to be fighting it out for the last few finals spots come seasons end, this match up shapes as one of those games the loser may come back to and ask "what could have been" at an early mad Monday while the winner plays on in week 1 of the finals. 

Getting the win will be critical for the Warriors, who in the next fortnight will shape up against two contenders in the Roosters and Raiders and will want to go into both of those games with as many points in the bank as possible. The Knights have a fixture consisting of the Tigers, Dragons, Titans and Sharks and are a very real possibility of starting the year 6-0 if they can get the job done on Friday.

In team news, the Warriors are unchanged aside from Adam Pompey coming into the centres to replace Euan Aitken, who unfortunately suffered an ankle injury against the Titans and will be out until at least Round 9. 

The Knights have named the same 17 that beat the Bulldogs, with Connor Watson being promoted to start ahead of Sauaso Sue, however don't be surprised if Adam O'Brien elects to swap those two in a late change again. Kurt Mann has been named despite leaving the field early last week with an apparent leg injury. 

Last meeting: Round 16 2020 - Warriors 36 Knights 6

Who to watch: Kodi Nikorima's performance last week was what will be required consistently if the Warriors want to go deep into this competition. Kodi enjoyed a period of good form to end the year in 2020 and built a solid foundation in Round 1, running for 81 metres and making a line break as well as crossing for a 4-pointer. For years at the Broncos, Nikorima was the younger, more inexperienced half who wasn't always tasked with taking control of the game. With Chanel Harris-Tavita at five-eighth, Nikorima will need to continue adapting his game to form a sustainable long-term partnership and is in a great position to do so behind a forward pack which is among the best in the competition.

After a 2020 season that was cruelly ended just 2 weeks in by an ACL injury, it was great to see Jayden Brailey playing good footy again in his first match as captain of the Knights. It was well documented the struggle Newcastle had in keeping a recognised hooker on the paddock last year, and if Brailey can stay fit and produce the kind of form he showed last week consistently, the Knights will go a long way to proving last year's finals appearance wasn't a fluke. Against the Bulldogs, Brailey has two-line break assists, a try assist, a tackle break all while making 50 tackles. He will look to capitalise this week against a Warriors forward pack that could end up tiring very easily as a result of their size.

The favourite: In what is one of the more even matchups of the round, the Knights are favoured by 1 and a half points over the Warriors.

My tip: The Warriors really surprised me last week not with the talent they showed, but their resilience as a group to hang in there against a Titans side that admittedly wasn't offering that much. The Knights also looked brilliant against the Bulldogs, however I think that against stronger opposition and with a lack of home ground advantage to pump them up, they will lose the battle of the forwards and the Warriors backline will take full advantage and close out a tight one. Warriors by 4.

1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck 2. David Fusitu'a 3. Adam Pompey 4. Peta Hiku 5. Ken Maumalo 6. Kodi Nikorima 7. Chanel Harris-Tavita 8. Addin Fonua-Blake 9. Wayde Egan 10. Jamayne Taunoa-Brown 11. Eliesa Katoa 12. Bayley Sironen 13. Tohu Harris 14. Jazz Tevaga 15. Ben Murdoch-Masila 16. Leeson Ah Mau 17. Bunty Afoa

1. Tex Hoy 2. Starford To'a 3. Enari Tuala 4. Bradman Best 5. Hymel Hunt 18. Phoenix Crossland 7. Mitchell Pearce 8. David Klemmer 9. Jayden Brailey 10. Daniel Saifiti 11. Tyson Frizell 12. Mitchell Barnett 14. Sauaso Sue 13. Connor Watson 15. Jacob Saifiti 16. Josh King 17. Brodie Jones

Referees: Grant Atkins; Sideline Officials: Matt Noyen, Jon Stone; Video Referees: Alan Shortall;

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