Canberra Raiders v Newcastle Knights
It's been a while between victories for both these sides heading into their Friday night showdown on what will be a freezing cold night in Canberra.
The Knights come into this one having lost their last five straight since defeating the Wests Tigers way back in Round 10.
For the Raiders, their last victory came against their opponents this week, and it was a dominant one, 44-22 in Round 13 on the back of huge performances from their halves.
Both sides are desperate for victory and both are playing at almost full strength.
The big team news comes for Newcastle who welcome back their star playmaker Jarrod Mullen. With their first-choice playmakers back together for the first time since their Round 8 Anzac Day clash they'll be looking to finally arrest their slide.
In other changes, Kurt Gidley shifts to fullback while Jake Mamo and Carlos Tuimavave return to NSW Cup.
Kade Snowden returns from suspension at prop, Jeremy Smith from a sternum injury and David Fa'alogo returns from a hamstring complaint.
Paterika Vaivai drops to 18th man while Robbie Rochow (broken arm) and Clint Newton drop out completely.
Meanwhile for the Raiders, who currently sit 11th in the competition, Joseph Leilua is forced out as per the conditions of his mid-season release from the Knights. Jarrod Kennedy takes his place on the bench.
Watch Out Raiders: Jarrod Mullen is back for the Knights and his inclusion could lift the whole team. The club's eighth most capped player with 195 NRL games, Mullen provides the leadership and playmaking skills that this club have yearned for since starting the competition with four straight victories. In his absence Tyrone Roberts, Kurt Gidley and Carlos Tuimavave have all struggled to fill the hole that he has left. Look for Mullen to step up and lead from the front on Friday night, if he plays his role well it will give Newcastle a great chance.
Watch Out Knights: The Raiders ripped the Knights apart with their big bodies rolling through the middle of the field just a few weeks ago. On Friday night, Canberra will once again feature one of the biggest and most powerful prop rotations in the NRL with the likes of Paul Vaughan, David Shillington, Shannon Boyd and Frank-Paul Nuuausala. Meanwhile, Newcastle will once again face the Raiders without a comparable set of big boppers. If Canberra can control the middle third again, they can negate the return of Mullen and give their own flashy five-eighth Blake Austin a chance at creating plenty of points.
Key Match-Up: Sisa Waqa v Dane Gagai. Two of the NRL's best ball-running outside backs go head-to-head in what should be an exciting battle on Friday night. While Waqa has added experience and class out wide to the Raiders backline he certainly hasn't been able to put the same numbers on the board as Gagai this year who beats him in most statistical areas. In evasion runs Waqa averages 9.4 a game (18th in NRL) while Gagai has 11.3 a game (3rd NRL), tackle breaks Waqa has 1 a game (167th) while Gagai has 4.3 (3rd). If Gagai has a big game in his Origin debut on Wednesday he should bring a lot of confidence into the Knights backline, while Waqa will be hoping for a big performance to consolidate his standing as a star out wide for the Green Machine.
The History: Played 42; Raiders 23, Knights 18, Drawn 1. The last time these two sides met was back in Round 13 when the Raiders dominated the under-strength Knights 44-22 off the back of a big game by the Raiders halves.
What Are The Odds: There's almost 50 per cent more money placed on the Raiders compared to the Knights when it comes to head-to-head betting with Sportsbet. Canberra 1-12 is the most popular margin. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Matt Cecchin. Assistant Referee: Grant Atkins. Touch Judges: Rick McFarlane and Michael Wise. Video Referees: Steve Clark and Ben Galea.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live from 7:45pm.
The Way We See It: This should be a really intriguing encounter on Friday night. Both teams have struggled in recent weeks but should be rejuvenated after a bye and looking to rip in. Mullen is a huge inclusion for the Knights but even he may not be able to make a difference on the outcome of this game if the Knights can't create space for him with their work through the middle. The Raiders will make that venture extremely difficult. Playing at home on a freezing cold Friday night their big boppers should be far too good for the Knights. We reckon they'll get the win by eight points.