Regular line-ups critical to Knights success: Houston

KNIGHTS second-rower Chris Houston said stability around the selection table had been one of the key components of the team’s resurgence in the past month.

Coach Wayne Bennett has named an unchanged team for the blockbuster against the Bulldogs at Hunter Stadium on Saturday night, meaning the Knights will field the same 17-man squad for the third straight game.

The Knights have won three in a row, beating the Sea Eagles, Warriors and Raiders, and the only change to the run-on team in that time was Kevin Naiqama replacing injured left winger James McManus for the past two matches in Auckland and Canberra.

McManus fractured his eye socket in their 32-6 victory over Manly on July 14.

He scored two tries in that game but is expected to be unavailable for another two or three weeks.

The Knights have lost nothing on that side of the field since Naiqama joined the NRL squad.

He scored two tries, ran 14 times for 160 metres, and made eight tackle breaks in their 36-6 rout of the Raiders last Sunday, having crossed for a try, running 18 times for 164 metres, and making 10 tackle breaks in their 24-19 win against the Warriors eight days earlier.

Naiqama’s numbers for the Canberra game were revised after NRL Stats reviewed it on Monday.

Back-rower Marvin Filipo came off the bench against Manly but Neville Costigan, who missed that match due to a biceps injury, has since replaced him in the interchange rotation. Though he has been named on the bench for the past three games, Alex McKinnon has started all of them at lock and that is likely to be the case again on Saturday against the Bulldogs.

‘‘I think it does [help] for sure,’’ Houston said when asked if the players appreciated lining up alongside the same teammates each week.

‘‘That’s a credit to the blokes who have come in, like young Robbie Rochow and Zane Tetevano putting their hand up.

‘‘[Halfback] Tyrone [Roberts] has cemented that spot now, and those young guys who have come into our side are playing some good footy at a first-grade level.

‘‘It’s pretty exciting for the club.’’

Bulldogs coach Des Hasler named Joel Romelo to replace injured halfback Kris Keating, who tore his hamstring in their 20-12 victory over Manly two weeks ago.

Romelo started at halfback in the 32-18 victory over the Cowboys last Saturday.

That was the Bulldogs’ ninth straight win.

Giant pack leader Sam Kasiano is still nursing a fractured cheekbone, and Hasler named Aiden Tolman to start in his place alongside English Test prop James Graham and skipper Michael Ennis in the front row.

Hasler made a late change against the Cowboys, starting Martin Taupau in the front row and bringing Tolman off the bench.

● The Knights confirmed last night that Houston had signed a new two-year deal. The Newcastle Herald reported on July 14 that the Knights were on the verge of extending the 27-year-old workhorse’s contract until the end of 2014.

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