Canberra Raiders v Newcastle Knights on Sunday at 6:30pm at Hunter Stadium
The Raiders will travel up to Newcastle in search of their first win of the season this Sunday evening when the Green Machine takes on the Knights.
Despite going down to the Jonathon Thurston-inspired Cowboys, Canberra was thoroughly impressive in their opening match of the year.
After taking out the inaugural Auckland Nines competition and containing the game’s premier playmaker in their line-up, the Cowboys firmed as one of the competition front runners during the pre-season.
Although many ‘experts’ had written the Green Machine off prior to a ball being kicked, the Raiders went down by just six points to the Cowboys after leading for the majority of the match.
Canberra will look to replicate that good start against Newcastle this weekend and then maintain that lead for the match’s entirety.
Assisting that endeavour will be the fact that Ricky Stuart and his coaching staff have been able to name an unchanged line-up for Round 2, including the two exciting rookies who debuted in the opening match of the season.
“We did take a lot of positives out of Round 1 but the unfortunate thing is that we didn’t get the two points and at the end of the day that’s the main thing,” Assistant Coach Dean Pay said. “There were certainly some good moments of footy there but we’re all about getting the two points.
“It’s a fortunate position for us to be able to name an unchanged line-up. Everyone deserves to keep their spots in the team.
“Young Shannon did a good job in the middle there playing up to 30 minutes, which is a really good effort for a kid playing in the front row. Matty Allwood did a terrific job on that right edge too. We expected them to make quality contributions in Round 1 and we expect them to do so again this week.”
Canberra will be further boosted by the fact Newcastle has unfortunately lost the services of representative fullback Darius Boyd for the clash. Boyd suffered a low grade two hamstring strain and is expected to be sidelined for two to three weeks with Kurt Gidley shifting to fullback and Travis Waddell moving to starting hooker.
Regardless of whether Boyd is fit or not, Pay is wary of the Knights’ hardened forward pack and the potency in their outside backs.
“It’s unfortunate for Darius to have an injury at this early stage of the season but that’s our good fortune because now we don’t have to worry about him,” Pay said. “Although they don’t have Darius in their side they’ve still got plenty of strike in their team though with centres Dane Gagai and BJ Leulia and two representative class wingers in Akuila Uate and James McManus.
“Nullifying their forwards is the key for us though. I thought that we held our own in the middle there but we’ve got a big task ahead of us this week against a quality Newcastle pack. With all the calibre of players that they have in their team, they’re going to be difficult to stop.”
The Raiders and the Knights have met previously this year in a pre-season trial at Tamworth with the affair proving to of an impressive quality and tenaciously hard-fought in the first half, where the Raiders fielded their strongest line-up. The second half saw Stuart field a vastly inexperienced outfit.
Matt Allwood v BJ Leulia
In the trial in Tamworth, BJ Leuilia proved to be an extremely dangerous customer for the Raiders.
The powerfully built centre has deceptively sharp footwork and an effective fend which he used to great effect in the trial, scoring a try and setting up another for McManus.
Allwood’s performance against the Knights in this trial all but guaranteed him a place in the Raiders NRL line-up for Round 1 with the match-up between the pair proving to be one of the highlights of the trial.
With Allwood’s confidence receiving a boost following his fine performance against the Cowboys, look for the NSW Under 18s Country representative to get one up on his more experienced opposite this Sunday.
Edrick Lee v Akuila Uate
You wouldn’t get a more charismatic and entertaining set of wingers than Edrick Lee and Akuila Uate and the duo will no doubt bring the crowd to their feet at some stage during this encounter.
“It will be a good challenge for myself coming up against Akuila Uate,” Lee said. “I believe that he’s one of the best wingers in the world, he’s played State of Origin and represented his country. It will be a big test for me but it will make me a better player coming up against players as good as Akuila.
“You’ve got to be up in his face in defence to stop him and that’s one thing that I will be looking to do. I’ve got a height advantage over him though so we’ll have to test him under the high ball a bit.”
Shaun Fensom v Jeremy Smith
Fensom and Smith are arguably the heart and soul of their respective forward packs.
It is not just the incredulous amount of work they compile in both attack and defence but the peace of mind that their presence provides their team mates whilst they are on the field that conveys their impact.
They go about their work without much fanfare but it is their actions that do the talking, and these actions speak loud and clearly of the positive affect Fensom and Smith have on their team mates.
Smith, the fiery Kiwi Test veteran, was one of Newcastle’s best in the trial match and limiting his impact on the match will go a long way to taking the wind out of an impressive Knights forward pack.
Record against the Knights:
In a total of 40 games against the Knights, Canberra has won 22 games, drew one and lost 17.
They said it:
Jarrad Kennedy: “I’m trying to get as much game time as I can in the NRL each week. I really want to make the most of my opportunity. It will be a big test this week in the forwards this week but we’ve got one of the biggest forward packs in the NRL so we can match it with anyone on our day.”
Jarrod Croker: “We’re not happy about losing, nobody likes losing, but there are plenty of positives to come from that match and it’s made us more hungry to win this week. I suffered a quad strain in the game but I’ll manage it this week and will be right to play on Sunday.”
Joel Edwards: “There are plenty of positives that we can take out of Round 1. I thought that we played particularly well in parts and with a lot of enthusiasm but to match it with the best teams in the competition we need to do that for the entire game.”
Matt Allwood: “I really enjoyed making my NRL debut on the weekend. I thought it was a great experience and I’m looking forward to improving this weekend. It gives me a lot of confidence that Ricky has selected me in the side again and I’m can’t wait to get out there.”