Raiders v Knights
Perhaps the Raiders’ PA system will load up one-hit wonder Yazz’s 1988 chart-topper ‘The Only Way Is Up’ for the fans this Sunday, as the slow-starting, spluttering Green Machine looks to lift itself off the foot of the table.
Canberra is alone at the bottom of the ladder with just one win from the opening six rounds and if they don’t start stringing together some wins soon their season will be over very early indeed.
Perhaps it is kismet for them that they are playing the Knights this week, as the Newcastle boys have a terrible record in Canberra. The Novocastrians have only beaten Canberra twice in 15 matches at Canberra Stadium – the last win back in 2006.
But, the Knights are coming off a win and currently sit in seventh spot having split their games over the opening six weeks 3-3.
The Raiders will come into the match with a similar side to the one beaten by North Queensland last weekend, although Dane Tilse will start at prop and Tom Learoyd-Lahrs returns to the bench.
Josh Miller has been added as an 18th man and Raiders fans will still be hoping for the potential late inclusion of Josh Dugan. Matt Orford could also come back into the mix.
The Knights have a few changes from the side that conquered Cronulla last weekend. Cory Paterson’s return from suspension means Con Mika misses out, while Steve Southern makes way for Joel Edwards to start at lock. Richie Fa’aoso will start at prop and Antonio Kaufusi hits the bench.
Mark Taufua is also gone from the bench with the two new faces Marvin Karawana and Dan Tolar. Tolar and Kurt Gidley are the only Knights players who played in 2006 when the Knights last won in Canberra.
Watch Out Raiders: Jarrod Mullen is on the right people’s lips when it comes to Origin selection for New South Wales but he knows he needs a few more dominant performances to get another crack in the sky blue.
Mullen offered two try assists last week (coincidently so did his halves partner Kurt Gidley, the first time since 2005 both Knights halves have recorded multiple assists in the same game) and was a big part in getting his side home.
So far this season Mullen is posting career-high averages in runs (nine), metres (75) and tackle-breaks per game (3.7) whilst possessing the highest percentage of any player in finding open space with kicks (76.3 per cent).
Danger Sign: You get the feeling Mullen is on his game when he is running to the line with ball in hand. If he has a crack at the defence early, he is ready to play.
Watch Out Knights: While there has been plenty of focus on Matt Orford and Sam Williams in the Raiders’ halves conundrum in 2011, oppositions shouldn’t forget about Josh McCrone. The side’s five-eighth has been doing his best to carry the Green Machine; last week he tried his guts out against the Cowboys, with seven runs, 15 tackles, 10 kicks, four tackle-breaks, an offload and a try assist.
McCrone is averaging 57 metres running, 265 metres kicking and he has two line-breaks and seven try assists (fifth in NRL). As his confidence grows, so too does his influence. The Knights need to shut him down.
Danger Sign: For most of the season McCrone has just marshalled one side of the field in shared duties with his halves partner – but if you see him bobbing up on both sides early you’ll know he is ready to take the game by the scruff of the neck.
Plays To Watch: Blake Ferguson leaping high for kicks; Bronson Harrison offloads; Mullen 40/20 attempts; Akuila Uate steaming onto long balls; Gidley getting into dummy-half.
Where It Will Be Won: Tries from kicks, or defence to stop them, is going to be a huge factor in this contest.
The Raiders lead the NRL with the most tries from kicks so far this season, with nine from their six games, and the Knights are second in the competition with eight tries of their own coming from the boot.
On the defensive end of the scale the Raiders have conceded five tries to kicks while the Knights have let in just three.
In general the Raiders have had trouble defusing short kicks (missing 67 per cent). They are also failing to clean up 25 per cent of grubbers and chip kicks. Look for Reece Robinson to be a target; he cleans up just 25 per cent of kicks sent his way.
The Knights are actually worse on chip kicks, missing 33per cent, and are also missing 33 per cent of cross-field bombs.
The side that responds best in this department will be on their way to victory.
The History: Played 33; Raiders 19, Knights 13, drawn 1. The struggling Raiders will get some confidence from the fact they have won three of the past four against the Knights at all venues. They’ll be even more confident with the knowledge they have a 14-2-1 record against Newcastle at Canberra Stadium.
Newcastle have not won in the nation’s capital since 2006 although on that particular day they did win 70-32 in the highest-scoring match of all time.
Another black mark for the Knights here – they have won just one Round 7 match since 2003.
Conclusion: The Knights have the form coming in and the Raiders have been far from impressive since winning in the opening round. But if they are to snap the five-game losing streak this is a perfect chance to do it.
Newcastle don’t travel well to this ground and they might be coming down off the Tinkler/Bennett high.
The Knights are still the better team coming in – but the Raiders have to put it together sooner or later and they usually do it at home. Don’t be afraid to back the underdog.
Match Officials: Referees – Matt Cecchin & Gavin Reynolds; Touch Judges – Jeff Younis & Jason Walsh; Video Ref – Phil Cooley.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 2pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.