Barry Toohey’s game preview: Knights vs Warriors

OVERVIEW:

History suggests the Knights have little hope of causing an upset against the Warriors across the ditch on Friday night, given their record of 11 losses from their past 12 trips to Mt Smart Stadium.

But in the Knights favour is the Warriors' record at home this season is way down on previous years. They have won just four of nine games at home but boast an 8-3 win-loss record on the road, the best away record of any team in the competition. After a couple of straight losses, the eighth-placed Warriors righted the ship last weekend with an 18-12 win over the Dragons in Wollongong and a top four finish is still a possibility. Only the most optimistic Knights fan would have had them as a finals hope before the Wests Tigers game but the 25-16 loss has definitely killed off what little chance they had.

KEY MATCH-UPS:

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck v Kalyn Ponga:

Two of the more brilliant attacking fullbacks in the NRL come face to face in this one. Ominously, Tuivasa-Sheck produced one of his best performances of the season last weekend in the win over the Dragons and will be a broken field threat with his footwork and pace in this one. Ponga has been battling an ankle injury but is on the mend and expect him to be even more of a threat then he was against the Tigers.

Shaun Johnson v Mitchell Pearce: 

At his best, Johnson is absolutely scintillating but he can also go missing in games if things aren't going his way. The Knights will be hoping for the latter. Pearce was below his best against the Tigers before succumbing to a bad cork and he has been racing the clock just to even get on the field for this one.

Issac Luke v Danny Levi:

The master verses the apprentice when it comes to Kiwi hookers. Levi has always looked up to and modelled his game on Luke, who has been as instrumental as anyone in the Warriors' finals challenge. If Luke dominates in this one, the Warriors will win.

THE DEBUT:

What an NRL initiation for boom young prop Pasami Saulo. It's a tough ask for any 20-year-old making his NRL debut but to do it in the front row against the Warriors in Auckland will be a huge test of character for the Morpeth junior, who comes into the squad at the expense of Josh King.

OUTCOME:

There won't be too many tipping against the Warriors at home in this one but if Pearce is close to full fitness and Ponga has a night out, anything is possible against the hot-and-cold Kiwis.

TEAMS:

WARRIORS:

1 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, 2 David Fusitu'a, 3 Gerard Beale, 4 Solomone Kata, 5 Ken Maumalo, 6 Blake Green, 7 Shaun Johnson, 8 James Gavet, 9 Issac Luke, 10 Agnatius Paasi, 11 Isaiah Papali'i, 12 Adam Blair, 13 Simon Mannering.

Interchange: 14 Jazz Tevaga, 15 Leivaha Pulu, 16 Bunty Afoa, 17 Peta Hiku.

KNIGHTS:

1 Kalyn Ponga, 2 Ken Sio, 3 Sione Mata'utia, 4 Cory Denniss, 5 Shaun Kenny-Dowall, 6 Jack Cogger, 7 Mitchell Pearce (c), 8 Herman Ese'ese, 9 Danny Levi, 10 Daniel Saifiti, 11 Lachlan Fitzgibbon, 12 Mitch Barnett, 13 Aidan Guerra.

Interchange: 14 Jamie Buhrer (c), 15 Chris Heighington, 16 Pasami Saulo, 17 JJ Felise.