If you believe in good news stories, perfect scripts and incredible stories, then the New Zealand Warriors and Newcastle Knights clashing in a semi-final on Saturday afternoon is must-watch.

The only way this script could have been better for two of the NRL's good news stories in 2023 is if they were to clash in the grand final.

Alas, that isn't the case, and one of these sides will be eliminated at the end of Week 2 in this year's finals series.

Working out which one it will be isn't all that simple though.

The Warriors come into this final off the back of a horrendous loss against the Penrith Panthers last weekend away from home during a qualifying final.

Given Penrith played potentially their game of the season, had hosting rights and the Warriors were playing without Dally M Medal contender Shaun Johnson though, it's difficult to know exactly how much weight to apply to that result.

What the Warriors will - or at least should - have coming into this game though is an advantage in recovery.

The Knights, who had a day less to turn things around and the trip across the Tasman to make mid-week, played out an absolute thriller against the Canberra Raiders in the Hunter last weekend.

Requiring extra time, Adam O'Brien's gutsy side eventually fell across the line by a penalty goal at the end of the ten-minute period. In doing so, they made it a staggering ten straight wins.

At one stage, this was a side who seemed almost destined to be in the conversation for the wooden spoon with little chance of escaping the spoon.

Instead, the forwards aimed up, Kalyn Ponga weaved some magic, and they find themselves with a genuine shot of playing a preliminary final, which would be their first since the days of Wayne Bennett being in charge of dad's army.

For the neutrals, this is a case of which bandwagon to jump on, and afterwards, the remaining bandwagon swelling to capacity.

jazz tevaga
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 18: Jazz Tevaga of the Warriors and Marcelo Montoya of the Warriors celebrate victory with fans during the round six NRL match between the St George Illawarra Dragons and the New Zealand Warriors at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, on April 18, 2021, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Team news

New Zealand Warriors
1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad 2. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 3. Rocco Berry 4. Adam Pompey 5. Marcelo Montoya 6. Te Maire Martin 7. Shaun Johnson 8. Addin Fonua-Blake 9. Wayde Egan 10. Mitchell Barnett 11. Jackson Ford 12. Marata Niukore 13. Tohu Harris
Interchange: 14. Dylan Walker 15. Jazz Tevaga 16. Bayley Sironen 17. Josh Curran
Reserves: 18. Freddy Lussick 20. Taine Tuaupiki

The big in for the Warriors of course is Shaun Johnson. He is - at the time of writing - still no guarantee to play, even though he has been left in the 19-man squad, but one would imagine that's a pretty strong indicator that unless he wakes up on game day and can't walk, he will take to the field with his teammates in front of one of the biggest crowds New Zealand rugby league will have ever experienced.

The Warriors' kicking game - and more on this soon - struggled last week. Johnson's return means Te Maire Martin can move back to his more familiar role in the six jumper, although even that wasn't what the Warriors had planned for given Luke Metcalf finished the season superbly there before being injured in Round 26.

It also means the Warriors gain Dylan Walker back in a bench utility role, where he has excelled, with Freddy Lussick dropping out.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - APRIL 15: Dylan Walker of the Warriors passes during the round seven NRL match between New Zealand Warriors and North Queensland Cowboys at Mt Smart Stadium on April 15, 2023 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Andy Jackson/Getty Images)

Newcastle Knights
1. Kalyn Ponga 2. Dominic Young 3. Dane Gagai 4. Bradman Best 5. Greg Marzhew 6. Tyson Gamble 7. Adam Clune 8. Jacob Saifiti 9. Phoenix Crossland 10. Leo Thompson 11. Tyson Frizell 12. Dylan Lucas 13. Adam Elliott
Interchange: 14. Kurt Mann 16. Jack Hetherington 17. Mathew Croker 18. Brodie Jones
Reserves: 19. Enari Tuala 20. Fa'amanu Brown

The Knights have issues in their team selection that the Warriors simply aren't facing this weekend.

The big one is the absense of Jackson Hastings, who returned last week from an ankle injury but only lasted half of the game against the Raiders before doing the same injury again.

Adam Clune, who did an excellent job through the back-end of the season in replacing Hastings, will take the number seven jumper.

In even tougher news, Daniel Saifiti has picked up a hamstring injury at training and also misses out, with Brodie Jones coming onto the bench in a forced move that shrinks the team against one of the biggest forward packs in the game.

Lachlan Fitzgibbon is also out, with Dylan Lucas coming straight into the side to start in his place.

In short, there is plenty for the Knights to overcome here outside of a full house and fired up Warriors' side.

NRL Rd 4 - Sharks v Knights
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 01: Adam Clune of the Knights looks on during the round four NRL match between the Cronulla Sharks and the Newcastle Knights at PointsBet Stadium on April 01, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Regular season games

Round 1, New Zealand Warriors 20 defeat Newcastle Knights 12
Newcastle's other trip across the Tasman this year came in Round 1, where they fell short against the Warriors. Despite starting the game with a first-minute try, the rampant Warriors ran on two tries in four minutes at the back end of the first half to take the lead into the break.

A Hymel Hunt try after halftime put the Knights back into the lead by two points, but that'd be all she wrote for the visitors, with Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and Wayde Egan scoring second half tries as the Warriors locked down the game.

Round 6, Newcastle Knights 34 defeat New Zealand Warriors 24
In one of those strange quirks in the NRL draw, the Knights and Warriors had played twice by Round 6.

This, with teams vastly different in the performance stakes to what they were now, was a free-flowing, high-scoring battle in the Hunter with the Knights running out ten-point winners after leading the game 22-6 at halftime.

Greg Marzhew and Adam Pompey both scored doubles, but it's tough to really read anything into this one.

Keys to the game

Shaun Johnson's kicking game
The Warriors were actually solid against Penrith last week. They spent most of the game in defence, and given how well Nathan Cleary played, a team who didn't show up defensively would have conceded 60 or 70 points.

The Warriors only conceded 32.

Unfortunately, every time they did get the ball, they just had nothing to answer Penrith's attack. Andrew Webster hinted they may have been more competitive post-game if Johnson had of played, and it's not hard to argue the point.

His kicking game this year has been exceptional. Simply put, Te Maire Martin and Dylan Walker just didn't have the options against Penrith to challenge the NRL's equivalent of a brick wall in defence.

Johnson, does.

He will lead this side against the Knights, and so long as his injuries hold up, likely be the difference.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 06: Shaun Johnson of the Warriors passes the ball during the round 10 NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and Penrith Panthers at Suncorp Stadium on May 06, 2023 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Kalyn Ponga's influence
The Knights were slow out of the blocks against the Raiders last weekend, and only exceptionally sturdy defence kept them in the contest during the first half.

They found themselves down ten points at the break, but the second half - as they ran on a number of unanswered tries - was the Kalyn Ponga show.

At times this year, Newcastle have been accused of having a game plan which is "throw the ball to Ponga and hope", but given how he played last weekend, it's in a way not hard to understand why.

He ripped the Raiders in half on the right edge, and will need to do similar this time around if the Knights are to go toe to toe with the Warriors missing Hastings.

If the Warriors find a way to shut Ponga down, the Knights simply won't have enough points in them. It's as simple as that.

The Knights' forward pack matching it
For everything the Knights have achieved this year, this is a forward pack who still lacks something when it comes up against the best in the game.

The Warriors, in 2023, have been just that.

The enormous volume of work that Addin Fonua-Blake has powered through has him firmly in contention to be named in the Dally M team of the year alongside Payne Haas, while Tohu Harris just continues to churn out performance after performance.

They are the leaders, but the Warriors' pack is deep.

For the Knights, Daniel Saifiti needed to stand up and lead the way, but he is out of the game. That leaves Jacob Saifiti and young Leo Thompson to kick things into gear for the men from the Hunter, while Adam Elliott must provide plenty from lock.

The bench, which now features Brodie Jones to replace Daniel Saifiti alongside Kurt Mann, Jack Hetherington and Mathew Croker is also going to be critical if the Knights are going to grind out a win.

It's hard to see how they match the Warriors at this stage, but shutting down Fonua-Blake will be the starting point.

GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 28: Jacob Saifiti of the Knights looks on during the round 24 NRL match between the Gold Coast Titans and the Newcastle Knights at Cbus Super Stadium, on August 28, 2022, in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)


The Warriors are frankly the stronger of the two sides on paper coming into this game, and the home ground advantage will only add to that.

They hold an enormous advantage in the forwards, which is critical to winning any game, and Shaun Johnson being back provides them one of the game's most important halves.

If Johnson's injuries catch up with him, then it brings the Warriors back to the pack somewhat, but with Hastings out, Saifiti out and coming off a day less in the turnaround stakes after an incredibly physical game, the Knights are relying on some Kalyn Ponga magic to keep them alive here.

I'm taking the Warriors to win relatively comfortably and book a trip to Brisbane next weekend.

Warriors by 12.

Key game information: New Zealand Warriors vs Newcastle Knights, NRL semi-final

Kick-off: 4:05pm, Saturday, September 16
Venue: Go Media Stadium, Auckland
TV: Fox Sports, Channel 9
Online: Kayo Sports, Foxtel App, 9 Now
Betting: Warriors $1.53, Knights $2.55
Referee: Adam Gee
Overall record: Played 48, Warriors 24, Knights 23, Drawn 1
Record in finals: Never played

Zero Tackle will run a live blog, scores and stats of the game in our match centre from 4:05pm (AEST) on Saturday evening.