FOR five years they have been bullied and bulldozed by the giant forwards of South Sydney.
But on Saturday at McDonald Jones Stadium, the Newcastle Knights might finally have the necessary muscle to stand up for themselves against their long-time nemeses.
Dating back to 2012, Souths have won seven consecutive games against Newcastle, by a combined scoreline of 261-72, or 37-10 on average. In most of those games, the Knights have been simply unable to contain the Rabbitohs up front.
Former coach Wayne Bennett even admitted in his first season at Newcastle that his players had been physically intimidated by the sheer size of the Souths pack.
But man for man, pound for pound, the Knights should have nothing to fear on Saturday. According to statistics on the respective club websites, Newcastle’s starting six and bench will hold a slight size advantage over Souths – 1046 kilograms, compared to 1041kg.
Heavyweights Daniel (125kg) and Jacob Saifiti (119kg) and Josh Starling (115kg) will go head to head with Sam (116kg) and George Burgess (120kg), who last week showed glimpses of their best form in Souths’ 38-18 demolition of Manly.
Knights back-rower Sione Mata’utia – whose second NRL game was a 50-10 hiding from Souths in Cairns in 2014 – said the Rabbitohs were still a daunting prospect, even with key players like Greg Inglis unavailable.
“We’ve got to aim up in the middle,’’ he said. “I think that’s where the game is going to be won this week … we’re aware of what they can do and their potential.
“If we’re intimidated or not, we’ve still got to get the job done.
“I think our boys will definitely aim up.
“The young boys up front, with Saifiti and the old head of Starlo, I think they’re definitely going to have a good game and match it with the boys up there.’’
Bench prop Jack Stockwell, who has scored a try in each of Newcastle’s game this year, agreed that the key to victory would be containing Souths in the middle.
“They’ve got a big forward pack and they really look to dominate through the middle of the ruck,’’ Stockwell said.
“You’ve got Johnny Sutton coming back through the middle, and Sam Burgess with his offloads and that kind of thing, so it’s a really big part of our game this week, trying to stop them in the middle.’’
Starling and back-rower Jamie Buhrer are the only Newcastle forwards to have played in winning teams against Souths, during their years at Manly. Buhrer has won five of his nine games against Rabbitohs, and Starling three of seven.
Stockwell said he felt full of confidence after doubling his NRL try tally in the past two weeks.
“I’m just pretty happy to get the two meat pies,’’ he said. “To be honest. I probably haven’t done that in the under-14s with Picton Magpies …
“It’s been good just to get a good start to the season.
“That’s what I hoped to do, and that’s what I have done. It’s given me confidence to keep going from here, just keep building on my game, and everyone’s game.
“It’s given the whole team a lot of confidence.’’
Utility forward Robbie Rochow will play against Newcastle for the first time since leaving the Knights at the end of last season.
Rochow, who played 72 games for Newcastle, has appeared in both games for Souths this season.