Schick Hydro Preview: Sydney Roosters v Newcastle Knights
David takes on Goliath this Friday night when the high-flying Roosters play host to the cellar-dwelling Knights in what appears to be a mismatch of biblical proportions.
With the hectic State of Origin period done and dusted, the Tricolours will be keen to build on a brilliant start to the year that has them in second spot on the ladder after 19 rounds and refreshed after last week's bye.
The likes of Mitchell Pearce, Dylan Napa and Blake Ferguson are back from representative duty, but it's not all smooth sailing for the Tricolours with co-captain Jake Friend (hand) and fullback Michael Gordon (pec) out for the foreseeable future.
They are joined on the sidelines by Blues skipper Boyd Cordner who has been given the week off in a bid to manage his workload.
Coach Trent Robinson has had to shuffle the deck with utility Connor Watson named in the No.1 jersey while Mitchell Cornish has been given an opportunity at hooker.
Ryan Matterson retains his spot in the back row while Victor Radley will make his NRL debut off the bench.
Stinging from another second-half meltdown – this time against the Broncos – the Knights have also made a raft of changes as they look to notch their third win of the season.
Former Rooster Shaun Kenny-Dowall will make his Knights debut on the right wing in place of another ex-Rooster, Brendan Elliot. In-form big man Jacob Saifiti (calf) is out, while Danny Levi and Daniel Saifiti have been named to start.
Why the Roosters can win: On paper, the right-edge combination of Dane Gagai and Shaun Kenny-Dowall looks to be a strength for the Knights.
That might very well be the case in attack, but expect the Roosters to target that pairing from the outset on Friday night.
Trent Robinson's men have scored 18 tries down their left flank while the Knights have allowed 32 down their right channel.
The likes of Luke Keary, Latrell Mitchell and Daniel Tupou will be licking their lips if their forwards can give them room to move.
Why the Knights can win: Newcastle will be hoping the Roosters' new combinations take a couple of games to gel.
The loss of co-captain Jake Friend cannot be understated.
He was outstanding in their last-start win over the Rabbitohs with 61 tackles and two try assists so it'll be a huge ask for Mitchell Cornish to step into a role he is yet to play at NRL level.
The Roosters will also miss Gordon's goal-kicking, experience and positional play at the back.
Connor Watson is brimming with potential but is untested in the No.1 jersey 30 games into his first-grade career.
Expect the Knights to run plenty of traffic at Cornish and to pepper Watson with midfield bombs.
KEY MATCH-UP | LATRELL MITCHELL V DANE GAGAI
14 | PLAYED | 16
59 | TACKLE BREAKS | 96
1286 | ALL RUN METRES | 2044
11 | LINE BREAKS | 8
9 | TRIES | 2
The history: Played 49; Roosters 28; Knights 19; Drawn 2.
The Roosters have won eight of their past 10 matches against the Knights and haven't lost to the Novocastrians at Allianz Stadium since 2009.
Mitchell Pearce made a triumphant return in the corresponding clash last year with a try in the Roosters' 38-0 win.
Match officials: Referee: Gavin Reynolds. Assist referee: Chris James. Sideline officials: Nick Beashel and Chris Treneman.
Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Live coverage from 6pm.
NRL.com predicts: The Roosters didn't have it all their own way when they downed the Knights 24-6 away from home earlier in the year, but you get the feeling they are building towards a big win heading into the final seven rounds of the season.
Even without some of their stars, expect the hosts to win and win well as they honour the most important women in their lives.
Roosters by 26.
This article first appeared on NRL.COM