Roosters v Knights: Keary, Collins, Manu return; Saifiti to miss

The historic Sydney Cricket Ground provides the perfect backdrop as James Tedesco and Kalyn Ponga lead their teams into the new season with high hopes of being around well into September.

Both sides were part of the finals action in 2021 but came up short of the ultimate prize as the grind of a long season took its toll, particularly at the Roosters, who dealt with all manner of adversity along the journey.

With two of their most influential players, Luke Keary and Lindsay Collins, back from knee reconstructions, the Roosters take on a formidable look, while the addition of Dane Gagai gives the Knights more strike power.

The Roosters played five matches at the SCG last year before the COVID relocation to Queensland and won four of them so they are right at home on the hallowed turf.

The rundown
Team news
Roosters: Sam Walker and Luke Keary team up for the first time in the halves as the champion No.6 returns from a knee reconstruction.

Also back on deck are Maroons prop Lindsay Collins, who injured his knee in round eight last year against this week's opponents Newcastle, and centre Joey Manu (fractured cheekbone).

Promising centre Billy Smith has been named to play just the sixth game of his career after an ankle injury cut short his 2021 season in round 19.

Connor Watson returns to the Roosters after four years in Newcastle and he'll fill the No.9 jersey with Sam Verrills not due back from suspension until round two.

There were no changes in the updated squad released 24 hours before kick-off.

Knights: Adam Clune steps up to fill Mitchell Pearce's shoes at halfback while Dane Gagai is back in Knights colours in the centres.

Blues Origin prop Daniel Saifiti is out with a small fracture in his left tibia and will be monitored for the next couple of weeks. His brother Jacob moves into the starting side and former Raiders and rugby union prop Leo Thompson will debut from the bench.

Kurt Mann has won the race for the lock position ahead of Phoenix Crossland, who comes from the bench.

With Hymel Hunt sidelined by a knee injury Dominic Young gets a shot on the wing while Chris Randall is the hooker in the absence of Jayden Brailey (achilles).

The Knights had no changes in the updated squad released on Friday.

Key match-up
Sam Walker v Adam Clune: The Roosters whiz kid is coming off a stunning rookie season and will be out to prove he's no flash in the pan. The Knights No.7 is out to make a name for himself at a new club after playing 25 games across two seasons at the Dragons. Clune steps into the big shoes vacated by Mitchell Pearce and needs to make the team his own as quickly as possible. At 19, Walker already has ownership of one of the NRL's glamour clubs and looks right at home in the driver's seat. 

Stat attack
The Roosters created 152 line breaks in 2021, fourth best in the NRL behind the Storm, Sea Eagles and Rabbitohs. The Knights could muster just 97 line breaks for the year with winger Enari Tuala (16) the only Newcastle player in the top 50 in that category. The Roosters' most prolific line breakers were Daniel Tupou and Matt Ikuvalu with 18, closely followed by the ever elusive James Tedesco on 17.


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