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Roosters v Knights: Robinson to debut, Buhrer on bench

In one of the most anticipated grudge matches of 2018, the Tricolours will look to ruin the homecoming of former pin-up boy Mitchell Pearce.

Much has been made of the halfback's defection to the Hunter, with the premiership winner in 2013 replaced by new Roosters number seven Cooper Cronk.

The Knights, coming off three wooden spoons, have started better than many predicted, grinding out wins versus the Sea Eagles and Raiders. Aidan Guerra, Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Connor Watson also take on their old teammates from Bondi Junction.

The selections: Winger Reece Robinson makes his debut for the Roosters in place of Daniel Tupou (pectoral). Dylan Napa has been named to start, with Jared Waerea-Hargreaves benched. Despite suffering a nasty gash in last Friday's win over the Bulldogs, Mitchell Aubusson will feature as an interchange option. For the Knights, co-captain Jamie Buhrer returns to the bench, with Jacob Safiti the man to make way.

The key match-up: While plenty of eyes will be on the Cronk v Pearce showdown, respective fullbacks James Tedesco and Kalyn Ponga will have a huge say in the end result. Tedesco was at his brilliant best against the Bulldogs, while Ponga has justified the hype deluxe after joining the club from the Cowboys.

For the Roosters to win: They need to back the game plan of coach Trent Robinson. Poor in their first-round defeat against the Tigers, they responded in ominous fashion on home soil last Friday. Props Napa and Sio Siua Taukeiaho must lay the platform early on.

Roosters v Knights

For the Knights to win: Win the arm wrestle in the middle. It is no secret at times the Roosters forward pack can be found wanting, so the likes of Herman Ese'ese and the experienced Jacob Lillyman need to play enforcer roles.

Roosters Stat Attack: With a combined 3218 run metres, the Bondi boys sit behind only the Sea Eagles (3278m) and the Panthers (3268m) in that stat after two rounds. This looms as a battle to be won up front, so look for the Roosters' series of big boppers to lay an early platform.

Knights Stat Attack: Newcastle's completion rate, sitting at a very healthy 86 per cent, is the yardstick in the competition. It is a far cry from previous years and shows the value of astute recruiting in key positions.

And another thing: Pearce has ensured he will cop it from the home fans after having the cheek to question if Roosters supporters will turn out in force this weekend. The answer is yes, with Pearce certain to be sledged on and off the field.

Prediction: Roosters by 14

Sydney Roosters v Newcastle Knights, Sunday 6.30pm AEDT at Allianz Stadium

Roosters: 1 James Tedesco, 2 Reece Robinson, 3 Latrell Mitchell, 4 Joseph Manu, 5 Blake Ferguson, 6 Luke Keary, 7 Cooper Cronk, 8 Sio Siua Taukeiaho, 9 Jake Friend (c), 10 Dylan Napa, 11 Boyd Cordner (c), 12 Ryan Matterson, 13 Isaac Liu

Interchange: 14 Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, 15 Zane Tetevano, 16 Mitchell Aubusson, 17 Victor Radley

The Roosters are 1-17, with Nat Butcher and Frank-Paul Nuuausala dropping off the extended bench. Reece Robinson makes his club debut on the wing in place of Daniel Tupou (pectoral). Dylan Napa returns to the starting side with Jared Waerea-Hargreaves benched this week. Mitch Aubusson retains his bench spot despite suffering a nasty head gash last week. Kurt Baptiste and Mitchell Cornish were dropped from the reserves list 24 hours out from kick-off. 

Knights: 1 Kalyn Ponga, 2 Shaun Kenny-Dowall, 3 Sione Mata'utia, 4 Tautau Moga, 5 Nathan Ross, 6 Connor Watson, 7 Mitchell Pearce (c), 8 Herman Ese'ese, 9 Slade Griffin, 10 Jacob Lillyman, 11 Lachlan Fitzgibbon, 12 Aidan Guerra, 13 Mitchell Barnett

Interchange: 14 Brock Lamb, 16 Jamie Buhrer (c), 17 Daniel Saifiti, 19 Jacob Saifiti

Jacob Saifiti replaces Chris Heighington on the bench. Co-captain Jamie Buhrer returns on the interchange while Danny Levi and Luke Yates were dropped from the reserves list 24 hours out from kick-off.

Sydney Roosters v Newcastle Knights, Sunday 6.30pm AEDT at Allianz Stadium

Head-to-head: 50 wins, Roosters 29 wins, Knights 19 wins, 2 draws

Points per game: Roosters 19; Knights 24.5

Points conceded per game: Roosters 11; Knights 23

Televised: Live on Fox League

Acknowledgement of Country

Sydney Roosters 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 Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.