Knights v Raiders preview
Newcastle Knights v Canberra Raiders
Picking the winner of this match is like choosing who your favourite parent is – it's just too hard. Considering each side's recent form, it's a matter of working out which club is the least bad.
In Newcastle, you have a team who have lost seven of their past eight games but who looked to have turned a corner in last week's tough loss to the Warriors, despite missing a host of veterans as well as overcoming the loss of halfback Tyrone Roberts just three minutes into proceedings.
While Roberts will be out for the next month with an ankle injury, returning captain Kurt Gidley is a straight-swap replacement for him at halfback. Kade Snowden (neck) also returns with Korbin Sims returning to the bench in place of Joseph Tapine.
Their Canberra opposition aren't faring too much better. The Green Machine have lost their past three games and share a 5-7 start to their season with the Knights. While each of their past three matches could have easily gone their way, a desperate Newcastle team at home is another challenge in itself.
The Raiders welcome back Jordan Rapana (leg) on the wing for this one as Sisa Waqa pushes into the centres, Jarrad Kennedy moves to the bench and Luke Bateman drops out of the team.
Watch out Knights: Sisa Waqa's move to the centres spells danger for the Knights. While Joey Leilua and Sione Mata'utia are two of Newcastle's danger players, their defence is susceptible at times. With Waqa and captain Jarrod Croker (who requires two points to make it 1000 in his career) combining in the centres yet again, expect the Green Machine to spread it wide where possible.
Watch out Raiders: Ricky Stuart's men will have to be wary of either end of the Knights team list as Jack Stockwell and Dane Gagai look to continue their good form. While both are playing out of position at lock and fullback respectively, the Knights duo finished in Newcastle's top three metre-eaters against the Warriors in Round 12.
Key Match-Up: Carlos Tuimavave v Blake Austin. Blake Austin has been in amazing form this season. Touted for an unlikely State of Origin berth after his show-stealing performance for City Origin in Wagga Wagga a month ago, the former Panther and Tiger has been building ever since, and has been Canberra's most dangerous player the past few weeks. Newcastle's Carlos Tuimavave is a whole different story. Biding his time in NSW Cup until last weekend, Tuimavave was thrown in the deep when Roberts went off injured, suddenly having to become both the team's chief playmaker and kicker – something he's not accustomed to. With Gidley back to steer the ship, it should allow the 23-year-old to cut loose.
The History: Played 41; Knights 18, Raiders 22, Drawn 1. History is pretty balanced when it comes to this clash but in recent years it has been Newcastle who has pegged back the difference between the two. Since 2011, the Knights have won five of their past eight against Canberra including a big 26-12 win back in Round 6 last season.
What are the Odds: Sportsbet customers are showing no confidence in either side but there have been 50 per cent more individual bets on the Raiders away from home. Both sides have been well backed 1-12 which suggests we could be in for a tight one. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee – Grant Atkins; Assistant Referee – Gavin Reynolds; Sideline Officials – David Ryan and Kasey Badger; Video Referees – Ashley Klein and Luke Patten.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 (Live) – 3pm.
The Way We See It: While Ricky Stuart left his own press conference after 30 seconds last week in a huff after his team was beaten by the Broncos, the truth is the Raiders weren't good enough and will be looking to lift this week. In Newcastle they are coming up against a team who gave it their all and almost came away with the win despite missing five of their best. The importance of Gidley and Snowden's inclusions can't be overstated. Newcastle by two points.