Knights v Raiders
Knights fans will be hoping for a repeat dose of attacking flair this week when their side gets another crack at a team that can’t make the finals.
After hammering the Titans 50-20 the Newcastle boys are in the box seat to make the playoffs, now in seventh spot with a four-point buffer to those outside the top eight.
The Knights were absolutely unstoppable against the Titans, cranking out 57 tackle-breaks and 10 line-breaks, plus (impressively) a completion rate of more than 80 per cent in consecutive games for the first time since 2009.
The Novocastrians became the first team all year to reach 50 points; it was the club’s first half century in 138 appearances and their first at Ausgrid Stadium since June 2004.
But they haven’t qualified for the finals yet and know they cannot afford to get complacent against a Raiders side now low on chances but still high on pride.
The Raiders’ 29-10 loss to the Warriors signalled the end of their campaign for the year but they will be out to provide speed humps for teams who have denied them a return to September footy.
They are down in 14th but with just a four-point break on the last-placed Titans they don’t want to get themselves into wooden spoon territory.
The Knights welcome back Evarn Tuimavave at prop, with Mark Taufua out of the side. Joel Edwards will start at lock with Cameron Ciraldo to the bench and Richie Fa’aoso returns to an extended interchange.
The visitors have prop David Shillington back starting, with Dane Tilse reverting to the bench and Josh Miller and Joe Picker added to an extended reserves list.
Watch Out Knights: The Knights’ weakest part of the field is their left-edge defence – teams coming right in attack seem to be able to crack them at will. The Knights have conceded 16 tries down the right edge and considering the Raiders have Joel Thompson and Bronson Harrison hanging around out there it could spell trouble. The Thompson/Harrison combo hasn’t been as good as it could be this season but should they find form and click they could be in for pay dirt against a struggling Knights’ defence.
Danger Sign: The key to the Raiders’ right side being effective is their offloads. The Knights can keep their weakness from being exploited if they just shut down any second-phase play. They’ll need numbers in defence and a focus on the ball.
Watch Out Raiders: How good were the Knights’ wingers last week! Akuila Uate scored an impressive hat-trick while James McManus wasn’t far behind with a double. Combined the pair added 25 runs for 270 metres, 16 tackle-breaks, four line-breaks and the five tries. It was the first Knights’ wing pairing to both score multiple tries in the same game since Anthony Quinn and Timana Tahu in June of 2003!
Uate is as dangerous contesting kicks as he is powering over the top of an opponent, so the best bet for the Raiders is to try to stop him even getting a sniff of the ball. He has scored six of his 11 season tries from within 10 metres of the line.
Danger Sign: The Knights love to shift the ball early if given a chance. Did you see the opening try of the second half last week? It was a thing of beauty that started on one side of the field and swept to the other side, all from within their own half. The Raiders need to be awake in all parts of the field and be wary of being ‘flanked’.
Plays To Watch: Akuila Uate’s bursts; Junior Sa’u’s tackle-breaks; Neville Costigan’s crunching defence up against former team-mates; Ryan Stig’s speed off the mark; Jarrod Mullen’s creativity in close; Josh Dugan’s missile passes to the flanks; Brett White’s front-on hits; Blake Ferguson’s brilliance; Bronson Harrison’s offloads.
Where It Will Be Won: Possession and respect for it. The Knights carved up the Titans on the back of a great completion rate and few errors. If they can get the recipe right again they’ll be on their way. The Raiders are ranked 14th in the NRL for errors and the Knights 7th, identical to their ladder position… no coincidence really.
If the Raiders are to have any chance of an upset they need to play with a bit of flair but do it successfully. If they hand over cheap ball the Knights will just unleash again and the game will be over before it begins.
The Green Machine have completed at 70 per cent this season while the Knights have competed at almost 75 per cent. It might not sound like much but an extra error a game can mean life or death in this close competition.
The History: Played 34; Knights 14, Raiders 19, drawn 1. The Knights defeated the Raiders 22-12 in Canberra earlier this year leaving the honours four apiece from the past eight games. While the Raiders enjoy a lead in the overall stakes at Ausgrid Stadium the Knights have won 11 of 15 against the Raiders. The Canberra boys have managed just one win in Newcastle from their past nine attempts. Three of Newcastle’s biggest ever scores have come against the Raiders.
Conclusion: It’s the Knights all the way here. They are in form, have a finals berth to try to cement and are in front of their home fans. It seems the biggest obstacle might be complacency but surely they are aware taking your foot off the gas even an inch can see you get towelled up. You’d be brave to back the Raiders.
Match Officials: Referees – Brett Suttor & Steve Lyons; Touch Judges – Russell Turner & Luke Phillips; Video Ref – Paul Simpkins.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 2pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.