Raiders v Knights: Five key points
Austin stars, another slow Newcastle start, and Canberra aim up in defence. The key talking points to come from the Raiders' big Round 18 win over the Knights.
Blake Austin stars again
He's no longer auditioning for a position in the Blues halves this season but Austin didn't seem to be lacking any motivation to put in another big performance for the Green Machine.
He had one of the fastest hat-tricks in NRL history to open the game, claiming his third try of the night just 14 minutes and 31 seconds into the high scoring encounter.
Rather than heaping praise on his star five-eighth, Raiders coach Ricky Stuart was focused on Austin's improvement after the game.
"Blake will keep improving as the little things in his game [improve]," Stuart said.
"We all know he can attack, he was wonderful in that area tonight.
"The good ones always turn up where the ball is and that’s what happens with Blake because he's a good player.
"The other areas in his game that we're working on are the little things such as his defence and his work off the football and he's doing a good job there, I thought defensively he was good tonight."
Knights get off to another slow start
After letting the Broncos out to a big early lead in their last match, the Knights were once again guilty of starting slow on Friday night.
On a freezing cold night in the nation's capital, the Knights were slightly off the pace in the opening stages and the Raiders took full advantage.
"Its always tough coming down here, we knew what to expect but we just didn’t get out of the blocks well," Jeremy Smith said.
While complimentary of the Canberra attack, Knights coach Rick Stone wasn't pleased with his side's efforts without the ball.
"They did [attack well] but realistically our defence in the first 20 minutes was poor," Stone said.
"The ruck speed that Canberra generated was super quick and it's not an NRL standard what we managed in those first 20 minutes.
"That’s two weeks in a row now. Against Brisbane we were 20-nil down after 20 and 24-nil down after 20 against these blokes (the Raiders).
"Energy-wise the signs before the game were good, it's just like we got off the bus and forgot that we had to work together defensively."
Raiders defend well across the park
While Canberra have had no trouble putting points on the board so far in season 2015, their defence particularly on their goal-line has at times left a lot to be desired.
However that deficiency was rectified on Friday night.
Despite the Knights enjoying 61 per cent of possession and churning out 60 more hitups, the Raiders defended their line staunchly, showing a huge improvement in their attitude.
"Defending our goal-line was probably the strong point for us tonight," Stuart said.
Raiders captain Jarrod Croker looked to credit his big men when asked about the improved defensive effort.
"I thought both edges defended fairly well but for the edges to do that you’ve got to have your middle boys working," he said.
"I thought our middle boys won it for us tonight.
"They were outstanding, they all played well… it just made our decisions a lot easier on the edges."
Stone happy to finally have halves back together
It's been a disjointed few months of football for the Knights after exploding out of the blocks to lead the Telstra NRL Premiership after four rounds.
A huge part of their struggle has been down to their injury toll and more specifically their inability to consistently field their first choice halves.
On Friday night Tyrone Roberts and Jarrod Mullen were finally back playing alongside each other, and while they didn't get the result they craved, their coach was happy to see them get through unscathed.
"[It was] good to see our first choice halves back and executing a bit," Stone said.
"Having our halves back definitely helps, no doubt, but even the world's best halves aren’t going to win you games if your defence is not good enough at the start of the game."
Stone also welcomed the pressure recent signing Trent Hodkinson will apply to Roberts and Mullen in their positional battle next year.
Canberra finally record a home win
Normally a fortress for the Green Machine, GIO Stadium has been anything but this year.
Given that poor home record, the Raiders were especially pleased to notch up a victory on Friday night, only their second home win this year after they defeated the Titans 56-16 in Round 9.
Both before and after that result, the Raiders had fallen agonisingly close in front of their home crowd, largely due to letting go of big early leads.
"We haven’t played poorly at home but we just haven’t been winning the close games," Croker said, echoing his coach's comments.
Meanwhile both Croker and Stuart thanked the 6,000 loyal Canberrans who braved freezing conditions to cheer on their team.
"I've got to thank the fans, they were massive again tonight, they’ve been showing up every home game this year," Croker said.
"The real ones [fans] tunred up tonight in that weather. They're tough fans here... just being on the sideline and hearing the support and encouragement for the players, I know it gives them a boost," Stuart added.