Tigers v Knights: Reynolds injured; Lamb dropped
Tim Keeble Timestamp Tue 17 Apr 2018, 05:21 PM

For a team with a 5-1 record (which could’ve easily been 6-0), the Tigers will start favourites for just the second time this season.

It’s amazing what a strong culture and coach can do for a club, even in a so-called rebuilding year. The Tigers were supposed to hover around the bottom of the ladder all season, yet here we are after six rounds wondering if they might actually be a top four contender.

The Knights (3-3) had high hopes against Melbourne last week but were comprehensively beaten 40-14. Coach Nathan Brown will be analysing the Tigers’ performances to see if he can find any chinks for his side to exploit.

Key match-up: Luke Brooks v Mitchell Pearce. All those Tigers fans who used to rant and rave about Brooks failing to live up to his potential aren’t making so much noise anymore. Now in his sixth season with the Tigers, the 23-year-old is playing so well that he’s been mentioned as an Origin candidate. Brooks is up against one of the best halfbacks in the business on Saturday at Tamworth’s Scully Park and will boost his Origin chances by out-playing the experienced Pearce.

For the Tigers to win: They’ve shown us they can defend, they’ve shown us they can rack up points and they’ve shown us they can win away from home. The Tigers don’t need to change a thing about their game plan. Just keep giving Brooks and Benji Marshall lots of touches.

For the Knights to win: Humbled by Melbourne last week, Newcastle can’t dwell on the negatives. Pearce and the rest of the small group of senior players have to instil confidence in their younger teammates by taking charge from the get-go and making the Tigers play from behind. Easier said then done, of course.

Tigers stat attack: The Tigers are the NRL’s top team for overall runs (1104) and rank second behind the Rabbitohs in run metres (9448). They also lead total kicks (127) and total kick metres (3211).

Knights stat attack: Fullback Kalyn Ponga leads the NRL in tackle breaks with 48 in six games, while Pearce has racked up the most kicks (73) and kick metres (2164) for an individual.

And another thing: Newcastle forward Jamie Buhrer will play his 150th NRL game, while Tigers centre Kevin Naiqama chalks up his 100th NRL appearance. If the Knights score 13 points or more they will boost the club’s all-time tally to 15,000.

Prediction: Tigers by 14

Wests Tigers v Newcastle Knights, 5.30pm Saturday at Scully Park, Tamworth

Wests Tigers: 1 Corey Thompson, 2 David Nofoaluma, 3 Esan Marsters, 4 Kevin Naiqama, 5 Malakai Watene-Zelezniak, 6 Benji Marshall ©, 7 Luke Brooks, 8 Matthew Eisenhuth, 9 Jacob Liddle, 10 Ben Matulino, 11 Josh Aloiai, 12 Robbie Rochow, 13 Elijah Taylor ©

Interchange: 14 Pita Godinet, 15 Alex Twal, 16 Michael Chee-Kam, 17 Sauaso Sue

Reserves: 18 Tim Grant, 19 Chris McQueen, 20 Tyson Gamble, 21 Tuimoala Lolohea

After getting through his injury comeback last week, star recruit Josh Reynolds is out again, replaced on the bench by Pita Godinet. Reynolds is tipped to miss at least four weeks with a shoulder complaint. Back-rower Chris Lawrence is also out with a hamstring strain while lock Elijah Taylor returns from his hamstring injury. The reshuffle sees Matt Eisenhuth move to prop and Josh Aloiai go to second row.

Knights: 1 Kalyn Ponga, 2 Shaun Kenny-Dowall, 3 Sione Mata’utia, 4 Nathan Ross, 5 Ken Sio, 6 Jack Cogger, 7 Mitchell Pearce ©, 8 Herman Ese’ese, 9 Slade Griffin, 10 Jacob Lillyman, 11 Lachlan Fitzgibbon, 12 Aidan Guerra, 13 Mitchell Barnett

Interchange: 14 Danny Levi, 15 Chris Heighington, 16 Jamie Buhrer ©, 17 Jacob Saifiti

Reserves: 18 Daniel Saifiti, 19 Josh King, 20 Luke Yates, 21 Cory Denniss

Young halfback Brock Lamb has been dropped for Jack Cogger. Mitch Barnett’s return from suspension pushes Herman Ese’ese to prop and Daniel Saifiti to the reserves.

Head-to-head: Played 24; Tigers 12 wins; Knights 12 wins

2017 result: Tigers won 33-12 at McDonald Jones Stadium in round 17

Points per game: Wests Tigers 17.7; Knights 16.3

Points conceded per game: Wests Tigers 11.2; Knights 27.3

Televised: Live on Fox League