MOUNTIES V NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS

SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 20, 3.10PM, LEICHHARDT OVAL

Fans are counting down to one of the most exciting matches in VB NSW Cup history as the star-studded Newcastle Knights take on minor premiers, Mounties.

While Mounties enter the match as firm favourites to earn a Grand Final appearance next Sunday at Pirtek Stadium, last year’s grand finalists are determined to keep their season redemption alive.

An explosive flourish of points defines the Newcastle Knights and Mounties finals series thus far, and they will collide this week heading into the match with a combined average of 44-points scored since week one.

Mounties enter the match after enjoying the week break as the Knights are rolling with electric form in the first two weeks of the finals, thrashing both Manly and last year’s premiers, Penrith Panthers. 

The Knights convincingly overcame the Sea Eagles 45-6 in week one of the finals, before smashing the defending premiers 44-12 in what was the 2014 Grand Final rematch. Mounties earned a week off with a 43-10 victory over the Warriors, and are ready to rip into the Knights this Sunday.

The Knights are boosted by the return of Jaelen Feeney, while Jake Mamo has hit explosive form on the eve of the Preliminary Finals. Mitch Cornish returns for Mounties, which is a significant inclusion for the minor premiers as he provides a wide range of attacking opportunities at halfback.

Mounties coach Steve Antonelli believes the rest benefited his side, and has prepared a fresh playing group no different to any other week.

“Yeah [the week off] freshened us up a bit actually which was good. We had a couple of niggling injuries so it helped us out there,” said Antonelli.

“[We are] preparing no different than any other week, making sure our one-on-one defence is good. I’m not treating it no different to any other game - same preparation that I do week in week out. We’re looking forward to the challenge actually.”

The points flourish from both sides recently is a major talking point, however Knights coach Matt Lantry is more satisfied with his team’s defensive effort so far this finals series.

“I suppose people are going to say we scored 89 points in the last two games. And that’s nice, but the pleasing thing for me as a coach, and what the team’s recognised as well - is the 18 points in the last fortnight that have been scored against us,” said Lantry.

“Just driving that defensive beam as most teams would be, that’s what wins big games. We’ve spoken a lot about if you’re defending well you generally earn the right to have the opportunity to play attacking footy so we’ll keep driving that defensive theme.”

While both teams experienced different journeys heading into the preliminary final, Lantry believes the do-or-die scenario is helping them get over the line, and is also the reason there is no talk of the Grand Final.

“We’re not talking about the Grand Final, and I think that’s one thing we have had a crack at because it’s been elimination semi-final footy all the way through, which is just week at a time,” explained Lantry.

“We don’t get too far ahead of ourselves, it’s a nice relaxing environment. Everyone’s enjoying each others company and there’s a good feel and a good belief within the group, so we know if we play to our ability we’ll give ourselves every chance.”

As for not talking about the Grand Final, Antonelli has his team steering in a similar direction.

“No [Grand Final talk] at this stage. Trying to get through this week more than anything,” said Antonelli.

Both sides are in-form and have plenty of points in them, but are coming into the match with a defensive focus – making for a terrific contest.

Which team will get a shot at a Grand Final appearance? Find out at Leichhardt Oval this Sunday at 3:10pm.