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Knights v Dragons: Ponga returns to fullback; Frizell back in business

With one win each from three games, this is a huge clash for these old steel-city rivals.

The Knights could've easily been 3-0 after losing two games by a combined nine points, but the truth is they weren't quite good enough in either loss.

Kalyn Ponga is back at fullback where plenty of Knights fans reckon he belongs, but regardless of where he bobs up on the field, a good start is crucial for Newcastle on Sunday, especially given the way the Dragons jumped out of the blocks in last week's gutsy 25-24 road win over Brisbane.

The Dragons surprised virtually everyone with their defeat of the Broncos and coach Paul McGregor will call for a similar effort on Sunday, particularly with no Gareth Widdop on deck.

The Rundown

Team news

Knights: The Kalyn Ponga at No.6 experiment is over for the time being with the gifted Queenslander shifted back to fullback. Mason Lino is the new five-eighth and Kurt Mann has been shifted to the bench. Tim Glasby has moved from lock to prop in a straight swap with Mitch Barnett. Daniel Saifiti (knee and foot) returns from injury on the bench and James Gavet is out. Tautau Moga and Brodie Jones were omitted on Saturday. Jamie Buhrer and Herman Ese'ese were dropped an hour before kick-off.

Dragons: In a massive boost for the Dragons, Tyson Frizell was cleared to make his return via the interchange bench, making his comeback from a lacerated testicle suffered in round one. Gareth Widdop (shoulder dislocation) is replaced at fullback by Matt Dufty. Luciano Leilua and Jonus Pearson were omitted on Saturday. The Dragons are aiming for a second win after starting the season with two losses. Mitch Allgood and Jai Field were dropped on Sunday.

Team Lists


  • Fullback for Knights is number 1 Kalyn Ponga
    Fullback for Dragons is number 1 Matt Dufty
  • Winger for Knights is number 2 Edrick Lee
    Winger for Dragons is number 2 Jordan Pereira
  • Centre for Knights is number 3 Hymel Hunt
    Centre for Dragons is number 3 Euan Aitken
  • Centre for Knights is number 4 Jesse Ramien
    Centre for Dragons is number 4 Tim Lafai
  • Winger for Knights is number 5 Shaun Kenny-Dowall
    Winger for Dragons is number 5 Mikaele Ravalawa
  • Five-Eighth for Knights is number 6 Mason Lino
    Five-Eighth for Dragons is number 6 Corey Norman
  • Halfback for Knights is number 7 Mitchell Pearce
    Halfback for Dragons is number 7 Ben Hunt


  • Prop for Knights is number 8 David Klemmer
    Prop for Dragons is number 8 James Graham
  • Hooker for Knights is number 9 Danny Levi
    Hooker for Dragons is number 9 Cameron McInnes
  • Prop for Knights is number 10 Tim Glasby
    Prop for Dragons is number 10 Paul Vaughan
  • 2nd Row for Knights is number 11 Lachlan Fitzgibbon
    2nd Row for Dragons is number 11 Jacob Host
  • 2nd Row for Knights is number 12 Sione Mata'utia
    2nd Row for Dragons is number 12 Tariq Sims
  • Lock for Knights is number 13 Mitchell Barnett
    Lock for Dragons is number 13 Blake Lawrie


  • Interchange for Knights is number 14 Kurt Mann
    Interchange for Dragons is number 14 Jeremy Latimore
  • Interchange for Knights is number 15 Aidan Guerra
    Interchange for Dragons is number 15 Zac Lomax
  • Interchange for Knights is number 16 Daniel Saifiti
    Interchange for Dragons is number 16 Korbin Sims
  • Interchange for Knights is number 17 Josh King
    Interchange for Dragons is number 18 Tyson Frizell

Match Officials

  • Referee: Matt Cecchin
  • Touch Judge: Nick Beashel
  • Touch Judge: Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski
  • Senior Review Official: Jared Maxwell

Last updated:

Key match-up

Mitchell Pearce and Ben Hunt have opposed each numerous times and know each other's games pretty well. Pearce might actually prefer Ponga to return to fullback on the basis it would give Pearce more control and chances to create. Hunt is coming off a great game against his former team Brisbane and his battle with Pearce could be decisive.

For the Knights to win

As mentioned above the Knights need to come out firing and stop playing from behind. Easier said than done, but it all starts with attitude and belief. The home team needs to keep errors down and prevent Hunt from getting comfortable.

For the Dragons to win

Overcoming the loss of Widdop won't be easy, but the Dragons showed last week that they appear to have finally moved on from all the pre-season distractions. Hunt needs to be consistent, Corey Norman has to be an 80-minute leader, while the Sims brothers must play with controlled aggression.

Brett Kimmorley says

The excitement of Kalyn Ponga playing fullback again is going to be great for the Knights. The game management and pressure of defending in the front line have been take off him. Hopefully we see a return of the excitement machine we saw last year. The Dragons ground out an enormous win last week. Gareth Widdop will be missing for a long time, but Corey Norman gets the opportunity to play that five-eighth role and Matt Dufty will add some pace from fullback. Dragons by 1

Knights Stat Attack

Newcastle had just 44% of possession against Canberra and completed 70%. Tellingly, they missed a whopping 51 tackles - more than double that of the Raiders (23).

Dragons Stat Attack

The engine-room of James Graham, Cameron McInnes and Paul Vaughan worked tirelessly in defence against Brisbane. McInnes made a team-high 45 tackles, while Graham and Vaughan had 38 apiece. Vaughan was equally effective offensively with 19 runs for a team-high 189m.

And another thing ...

Knights coach Nathan Brown and Dragons coach Paul McGregor played two years together at St George Illawarra in 1999 and '00, but it was effectively just one season after a shoulder reconstruction sidelined 'Mary' for the entire 2000 campaign. Brown coached the Dragons for 151 games from 2003-08, while McGregor has 123 games under his coaching belt since taking over from Steve Price in May, 2014.

Acknowledgement of Country

St George Illawarra Dragons respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders peoples, where our games are played, our programs are conducted and in the communities we support.

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