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NRL Preview: Roosters v Knights

Two weeks ago no one would have banked on a Roosters and Newcastle Grand Final Qualifier. Both sides go into the do or die match as polar opposites. The Sydney Roosters grinded their way to the minor premiership and showed their dogged style of play with a 4-0 nail-biter against Manly. Meanwhile Newcastle, the dark horse of the final eight, knocked off the dogs and then harnessed that momentum to trounce a Melbourne outfit so accustomed to winning the big matches.

If you’re one to buy into statistics, the Roosters are almost certainties to march into the grand final, which will be their sixth in the last 16 years. In finals matches, the tri-colours have won 11 out of their last 13 at Allianz Stadium and lead the Knights 14 – 6 in head to head matches. This being said, Newcastle weren’t given much of a chance to topple Slater and Co. south of the border.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

How could you go past the match up of former team mates Sonny-Bill Williams and Willie Mason? Round 20 saw Sonny-Bill’s infamous shoulder take a liking to Mason’s chin, which prompted the dual international to tell his former budd, “Get up you weak c**t.” Mason’s workhorse attitude and Sonny-Bill’s dynamic ball work sets up a salivating confrontation.

The return of Jared Waerea Hargreaves from suspension for the RoosterS will bolster the mobility of their forward pack, but for the rest of the squad, it will be intriguing to see how they go after a week off. Knights halfback Tyrone Roberts looked in serious doubt after pulling up limp with a hit to his right ankle. Fortunately, he will get his chance to play his first preliminary final after a carrying the ball for 102 metres last week as well as saving a handful of tries with terrific cover.

The performance of the halfbacks will be key to victory. Mitchell Pearce has had a taste of the big stage in State of Origin; meanwhile Jarrod Mullen will be looking to add to his 24 try assists this season; of which 13 have come from kicks. Another telling statistic is that seven time premiership winning coach Wayne Bennett has won more finals matches (53) than his opponent Trent Robinson has coached in the NRL (25). The mantra in racing circles to ‘Never bet against a Cummings horse’ may just resonate with Bennett and his young side.

THE VERDICT

Newcastle’s dazzling run to the preliminary finals, much like Parramatta of 2009 does give them a chance on Saturday night. However, Easts’ stellar form for the bulk of this season, and the fact that they have had a week off should get them over the line in a close one.

ROOSTERS BY 8

Luxbet are offering some great footy finals odds, putting the Roosters at $1.30 and the Knights at $3.65 before tomorrows do-or-die final. Remember, the winner heads into next weeks NRL Grand Final.

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