Knights v Raiders Preview

Knights v Raiders
EnergyAustralia Stadium
Saturday 7.30pm

It is crunch time in the Steel City this Saturday night as the local Knights look to consolidate a push for finals football, while the Raiders try to keep their slim hopes alive.

While some pundits are just waiting for the Knights to falter, the belief inside ‘Camp Newcastle’ is growing every week, although the confidence took a small beating last weekend against the Storm.

The Novocastrians had enough possession and field position to knock the Storm over in Melbourne but failed to do so and they must now regroup and win at home against a desperate Canberra.

The Knights maintained a place in the top eight despite the loss, currently sitting seventh, but they are equal on points with teams five, six, eight and nine so any slip-up could see them fall out of the finals zone. Losing at home to a team outside the current top eight would be unacceptable to the side and Canberra, currently sitting 10th just four points behind, represent a must-win game.

The Raiders showed they can be deadly if given a chance to throw the ball around, beating the top-four Titans last weekend to make it two wins on the trot against quality opposition (they beat Melbourne the week before).

Their equation is simple: just keep winning… or start planning for next season.

Newcastle loses captain Kurt Gidley to Origin duty which sees Shannon McDonnell move from centre to fullback. Also, Adam MacDougall returns from injury at centre.

Steve Simpson returns to the side in the second row to captain the team, with Marvin Karawana returning to the bench.

Scott Dureau has been added to the reserves list which currently has six members.

For the Raiders, Justin Carney is out injured with Daniel Vidot named to take his place on the wing.

David Shillington and Tom Learoyd Lahrs will be missing on Origin duty, which sees a forward pack reshuffle. Dane Tilse will start at prop, Alan Tongue moves from hooker to lock with Glen Buttriss to start at dummy-half and Joe Picker starts in the second row with Nigel Plum moving back to the bench.

Joel Thompson, Scott Logan and Glen Turner are the new faces on the bench.

Watch out Knights: Young fullback Josh Dugan is a real handful and continues to improve with each first grade opportunity. He makes an amazing 173 metres a match and while he only has the one line break and no tries, this is surely going to change in the near future.

He has 43 tackle breaks in just seven games and he is constantly looming up in support at the right moments, but his team-mates have failed to get their arms free for him at vital times. This is a kid with a real future and if the Knights underestimate him it will be at their peril.
 
Watch out Raiders: Zeb Taia is a human wrecking ball and definitely one of the competition’s best players this season – even if player of the year voting might not reflect it. Let go by Parramatta a few seasons ago, Taia has developed into an impressive specimen. He is a crucial element to the Newcastle attack.

He averages 111 metres gained a match and has 10 line breaks this season. He has scored four tries and has an impressive 55 tackle breaks to his name, while he also has more offloads (24) than any of his team-mates. Perhaps what is most impressive is his low error count – he has just seven for the season despite making countless runs.

Where it will be won: Second-phase football and the defence to it.

The Raiders have shown in recent weeks they can battle any side in the competition if they get some quality ball-promotion going. However, both their recent victories came in daytime football and this match will be played under lights with slippery conditions, making their attacking structure a little less potent.

The team shouldn’t rein in their offloads completely but they will need to be more selective or just be ready to defend should turnovers result. The Raiders are popping just over two more offloads a game than the Knights, but both sides are good at attacking off the back of good second-phase ball.

Players to keep an eye on include Canberra’s Bronson Harrison, who with 52 offloads leads the NRL and also accounts for about 24 per cent of the Raiders’ entire season offloads. Terry Campese (20 offloads) and Joel Monaghan (15 offloads) also need to be watched. The Knights’ main dangers are Zeb Taia (24 offloads) while bench forward Richie Fa’aoso (22 offloads) and hooker Isaac De Gois (21 offloads) are also adept at promoting the ball.

Both sides need to be vigilant in attack and need to shut down the football before retreating back to their defensive lines.

The history: Played 30; Knights 12, Raiders 17, drawn 1. The Knights have won four of the past six games between the clubs and hold a substantial 10-4 edge at EnergyAustralia Stadium. The Raiders haven’t won in Newcastle since 2005.

Conclusion:
Newcastle at home deserve favouritism – but the Raiders won’t hand this match to them on a platter. Far from it.

The Knights will miss Kurt Gidley but the Raiders’ forward pack has been severely depleted by the loss of Shillington and Learoyd Lahrs.

Smart money is to stick with the home side but if you are looking to make up some ground a flutter on the Raiders wouldn’t be altogether foolish.

Match officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Bernard Sutton; Sideline Officials – Jeff Younis & Adam Reid; Video Ref – Chris Ward.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7.30pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.