Knights face big ask across ditch

THE Knights must end a seven-year drought against the New Zealand Warriors at Mt Smart Stadium tonight to keep their faint finals hopes alive.

What was once a happy hunting ground has become a graveyard for Newcastle, who are 12th on 18 points but trail the ninth-placed Warriors by just two points.

After losing just one of their first nine games against the Warriors in Auckland, the Knights have lost six straight stretching back to their last win on the other side of the Tasman in 2005.

Overall, a 24-22 victory in Newcastle on Easter Sunday 2009 has been the Knights’ only triumph against the Warriors from their past nine encounters.

Captain Danny Buderus is the only survivor from the last Newcastle team to win at Mt Smart, starring in a 16-4 victory and helping spoil what was supposed to be a farewell party for Warriors legend Stacey Jones.

After two seasons in France with English Super League club Catalans Dragons, Jones returned to the Warriors as their kicking coach in 2008 then came out of retirement for one last season in 2009 before hanging up his boots for good.

After a forgettable first two-thirds of the season, the Knights have won three of their past four games, including a comprehensive 32-6 victory over defending premiers Manly at Hunter Stadium last Saturday night.

Buderus said the challenge for his teammates was to reproduce that performance, and play with the same levels of energy and intensity, on foreign soil in front of an intimidating crowd.

‘‘It’s up to the individual. I think players these days, they know how to handle that,’’ Buderus said.

‘‘But we have spoken about it. Last week, a lot of effort went into that, but it’s about consistency ... in your own performance and to go over there and play to your ability.’’

Newcastle led 12-4 at half-time of the corresponding game last year, played on August 13, but the Warriors overpowered them in the second half to win 20-12.

The Knights travelled to Auckland on Thursday with the 18 players coach Wayne Bennett named on Tuesday, so he must omit one from a five-man bench of Robbie Rochow, Zeb Taia, Adam Cuthbertson, Alex McKinnon and Marvin Filipo.

Bennett named Kevin Naiqama to replace injured left winger James McManus, who will be sidelined for four to six weeks after undergoing surgery next week on a fractured eye socket he suffered in the victory over Manly.

Knights fullback Darius Boyd has the chance to open his Newcastle try-scoring tally against the same opponents at the same venue at the same stage of the season as he did in his first year at St George Illawarra.

In 2009, Boyd scored his first try in Dragons colours in their 29-4 victory over the Warriors at Mt Smart in round 20.

The subject of much scrutiny and more than his share of criticism in his first season in Newcastle, Boyd regained form while helping Queensland win a seventh straight State of Origin series and has reproduced that for the Knights in the NRL.

He is yet to find the line but already has seven try assists to his name – one more than he amassed in his first full season at the Dragons.

Beaten grand finalists last season, the Warriors suffered a 10-8 loss to the Broncos in the rain in Brisbane eight days ago after consecutive wins against the Titans (32-14) and Cowboys (35-18).

‘‘They’ve won three of their last four so we’ve got a healthy respect for them,’’ Warriors coach Brian McClennan said of the Knights.

‘‘But we’ve had a good look at them and have come up with a game plan we think will suit best against them.’’

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