Schick Hydro Preview: Newcastle Knights v Canberra Raiders
Knights coach Nathan Brown is sticking to his guns despite his side's poor start to the year, again opting for youth over experience with his Round 3 side.
Naming a hooker, centre, prop and back-rower on his bench Brown has all bases covered as Kade Snowden, Jack Stockwell and Mickey Paea remain in limbo with the experienced trio not named to play in first grade or the Intrust Super Premiership.
David Bhana (syndesmosis) is out for eight weeks leaving Pauli Pauli and Sione Mata'utia to fight for the final place in Brown's 17 – a squad desperate to make amends for their 42-point thrashing at the hands of South Sydney.
The Raiders have had no such troubles and will welcome the cooler Newcastle conditions after a hot, heavy and undefeated start to the year following their one-point win over the Roosters in Round 2.
Brenko Lee will replace Joey Leilua in the centres, with the former Knight looking at a two-week suspension at least. Lee's return coincides with cousin Edrick Lee's 50th NRL game. Newcastle playmaker Jarrod Mullen will also bring up his 200th game this weekend.
Watch out Knights: Ricky Stuart's interchange usage has proven instrumental in Canberra's undefeated start to 2016. Against the Roosters, props Frank-Paul Nuuausala and Shannon Boyd managed 85 metres between them. Meanwhile bench-warmers Sia Soliola (134 metres), Paul Vaughan (168) and Jeff Lima (144) almost single-handily turned the momentum the Green Machine's way in their eventual one-point victory.
Watch out Raiders: There's no better time for Mullen to turn it on in his milestone game. There's no doubt his fledgling combination with Trent Hodkinson has been dulled by the ineffectiveness of Newcastle's forwards so far but it doesn't mean Mullen should shy away from shouldering further attacking responsibilities. One of the best tackle-breaking five-eighths on his day, a good Mullen performance is vital.
Key Match-Up: Trent Hodkinson v Sam Williams – Hodkinson was Newcastle's one big hope for 2016 with the club looking for improved season while Sam Williams was looking likely for reserve grade with Aidan Sezer and Blake Austin. However just three weeks into the season, it's Hodkinson who is under the most pressure to lift to combat his opposite man. Halves' fortunes hinge on forward dominance but the Knights co-captain needs to stamp his authority on this one if they want the 'W'.
The History: Played 43; Knights 18, Raiders 24, Drawn 1. The Raiders have been somewhat of a bogey team for the Newcastle in recent times having won four of their past five games against them. Always high-scoring affairs this one will be good for at least a combined 40 points.
What are the Odds: This is the most one-sided betting game of the round according to Sportsbet. Incredibly, 90 per-cent of the money is with Canberra to make it three wins on the trot to start the season, and virtually all the bets on winning margin are on a big Raiders win. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match Officials: Referee: Ashley Klein. Assistant Referee: Chris Sutton. Sideline Officials: Adam Reid and Rohan Best.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live coverage from 4:30pm.
The way we see it: The Raiders should maintain their solid beginning to the year in Newcastle. Williams and last-start debutant Lachlan Croker provided peace of mind to the Canberra faithful with the way they linked up against the Roosters. The Knights should put together an improved performance but a lack of experience will hurt them where it counts. Raiders by 12.