Schick Hydro Preview: Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v Newcastle Knights
Belmore Sports Ground
After both suffering defeats in Round 17, the Canterbury Bulldogs and Newcastle Knights meet this Sunday in a condensed round of NRL Telstra Premiership action.
Canterbury finished strongly to force golden point in an eventual 13-12 loss to the Parramatta Eels last Thursday, a result which seems them drop six points out of the top eight.
The Knights meanwhile missed the chance to climb off the bottom of the ladder in suffering a 33-12 defeat to the Wests Tigers, which coach Nathan Brown labelled as their worst performance of the year.
The Bulldogs have lost Brett Morris, Josh Jackson and David Klemmer to Origin duty, which means Kerrod Holland comes in on the wing with Raymond Faitala-Mariner and Sam Kasiano to start in the pack.
Asipeli Fine and Andy Saunders join coach Des Hasler's bench.
With Ken Sio out and Dane Gagai in camp with Queensland, Chanel Mata'utia and Brendan Elliot are named on the wings for Newcastle.
Former Bulldog Trent Hodkinson maintains his spot in the halves ahead of Brock Lamb, while Luke Yates replaces Josh Starling on the bench.
Why the Bulldogs can win: While Canterbury struggle to execute inside the attacking half, they have no real issues getting there thanks to a strong cast in the middle of the park who are helping the Dogs to average 1542 run metres per game. Despite going down last week, Canterbury powered through for 1671 metres, almost 200 more than the Eels, with four members of their pack running for over 100 individually.
Why the Knights can win: Canterbury average less than 14 points scored per game this year and in eight of their 15 matches so far Newcastle have managed to score more than that, averaging 16.6 across the season. While they haven't always shown it in 2017, the Knights have some strong ability on the ball and can rack up points when they fire, with the likes of Nathan Ross, Trent Hodkinson and Jaelen Feeney all genuine attacking threats.
The history: Played 44, Bulldogs 23 wins, Knights 20 wins, one draw. The Bulldogs are currently riding a four-game winning streak over the Knights, and haven't lost to them since 2013. But this weekend's home ground advantage is questionable, given that since returning to playing at the Belmore Sports Ground in 2015 the Bulldogs have an unfavourable record of one win from five games at the venue.
Match officials: Referee: Ben Cummins. Assistant referee: Gavin Reynolds. Sideline officials: Michael Wise and Rickey McFarlane. Review official: Bryan Norrie. Senior review official: Ashley Klein.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live coverage from 4pm.
NRL.com predicts: Given both sides have struggled to consistently generate points this year, this has the potential to be a grinding encounter played mostly through the middle of the park. The Bulldogs have the superior forward pack and appear to have more quality than the Knights right now, which should be enough to see them get up in this one. Canterbury by 10.