NRL Match Preview: Raiders v Knights

Canberra Raiders v Newcastle Knights

Saturday June 6, 3:00pm, Hunter Stadium

CLICK HERE to purchase tickets!

Coverage: Foxsports 1

Referees: Grant Aktins and Matt Noyen

Video Referees: Ashley Klein and Luke Patten

The Canberra Raiders will look to recapture their winning formula when they travel up the F3 to take on the Newcastle Knights on Saturday afternoon at Hunter Stadium.

Like Peter Pan trying to regain his shadow, the results are within grasp of the Raiders. They do not have to reinvent the wheel in regards to their playing structure, however there are minor facets of their game that needs tinkering to amend their three game losing streak.

After concluding a three match winning streak, the Green Machine’s past three losses have all been on the back of poor starts to the match, particularly in regards to their defence.

The three consecutive defeats have seen the Raiders slump from fifth place, to 10th on the competition ladder.

“We’ve got a few things to work on, but we’re not far away by any means,” David Shillington said. “Our intensity was definitely a lot better against the Broncos. Once you have that intensity, you just need to polish off a few things to make sure you get the right result, so we’re heading in the right direction.

“We’ve been heavily criticised for the way that we’ve started games over the last few weeks and rightly so. That’s a major focus area for us; starting the match well.”

Peculiarly, the Raiders are statistically the best attacking team in the competition, but also the worst defensive team.

Whilst this bizarre statistical circumstance has made the Raiders one of the most entertaining sides in the competition, if they are to improve their defence, then the Green Machine will begin to be one of the most successful teams in the competition.

The majority of the tries conceded have been leaked on the edges, and Canberra’s outside backs will need to be on high alert against a Newcastle backline brimming with the talents of Dane Gagai, Akuila Uate, Sione Mata’utia, Joseph Leilua and James McManus.

“There is no problem with us scoring points and that’s something that we take a lot of confidence from, but we’re not going to win as many games as we should if we don’t improve our defence,” Jarrod Croker said.

“There’s plenty of fight in us, we’re not giving in, and the attitude is definitely there. We’re putting ourselves in the frame to win the games, it’s just a matter of fine-tuning a few areas, particularly with our defence and how we start the match.”

The side’s breathtaking attacking form has led to Croker’s current standing as the NRL’s premier point scorer. Croker has amassed 106 points through five tries and 43 goals and needs just two points to reach 1000 career points.

Giving the Raiders further confidence as they travel up to the Hunter region is their outstanding form on the road in 2015. In their six away games for the year, Canberra has won four matches.

In team changes, evasive winger Jordan Rapana returns from an ankle injury for the Raiders. Rapana’s return sees Sisa Waqa shift to the centres and allows Jarrad Kennedy to return to the interchange bench where he will be used in his more familiar role as a back-rower.

CLICK HERE for the team line-up! 

For the Knights, injuries to first choice halves pairing Jarrod Mullen and Tryone Roberts has forced Coach Rick Stone to select the versatile Kurt Gidley at halfback and rookie Carlos Tuimavave at five-eighth.

Novacastrians love their Saturday afternoon matches at home and the Raiders can expect a hostile reception when they run out onto Hunter Stadium, with Knights fans looking to inspire their side to turn around their recent form slump.

The 12th placed Knights have won just one from their last seven fixtures however they have dominated the Raiders at Hunter Stadium in recent years, winning 10 of their past 13 fixtures against the Raiders at the venue.

KEY MATCHUPS

Jack Wighton v Dane Gagai

Despite Newcastle’s recent form slump, Dane Gagai has been simply sensational since relocating from centre to fullback, where he has played previously at a junior level, including for the Junior Kangaroos.

Gagai has relished the added space and freedom provided by playing at the back. Against the Warriors last week, Gagai scored a fantastic individual try, created another, sliced through for two line breaks, broke seven tackles and ran for 191 metres.

Whilst Wighton did not score last week, nor break the line, you can’t help but feel a break-out performance is not too far away for the prodigiously talented Orange CYMS junior.

The Country Origin representative was thoroughly involved in the narrow loss to the Broncos, running for a game-high 225 metres.

Sisa Waqa v Akuila Uate

Saturday afternoon footy, with two of the most entertaining finishers to come out of the rugby league nursery of Fiji, where else would you rather be?

The individual battle between Waqa and Uate is set to be as entertaining as they come. Both players are exhilarating to watch, particularly in open pastures, and have an innate knack of scoring tries on a regular basis, much to the delight of their respective fans.

Furthermore, the Fijian dynamos are two of the more charismatic players that you come to see in the NRL, with great big smiles that flash across their dials when they find the try line.

Aside from their try scoring prowess, Waqa and Uate are also extremely valuable in terms of gaining territory when working the ball out from their end of the field.

Josh Papalii v Beau Scott

A week after absolutely flattening Josh Maguire, the player who took his Maroons jersey, Papalii will line up against the player he could potentially be opposing if he were to be recalled into Mal Meninga’s 17 for Game II.

CLICK HERE to watch Papalii’s hit on Maguire.

Following a slow start to the year by his high standards, Papalii’s form has improved significantly over the last month, so much so that many were surprised when his name was left out of the Queensland side.

Whilst Papalii was left bitterly disappointed to have lost his Origin jumper, he has taken the setback in the best possible way; by concentrating on improving his performances for the Raiders.

A top notch performance against one of NSW’s best forwards will no doubt give Meninga some food for thought at the selection table for Game II.

STAT ATTACK

Record against the Knights:

In a total of 42 games against Newcastle, Canberra has won 23 games, lost 18 and drawn on one occasion.

Raiders record at Hunter­ Stadium:

In a total of 20 games played at Hunter Stadium, Canberra has won 7 games and lost on 13 occasions.

Last three encounters:

1.        Knights defeated Raiders 26-12 at GIO Stadium in Round 6, 2014

2.        Raiders defeated Knights 26-20 at Hunter Stadium in Round 2, 2014

3.        Raiders defeated Knights 44-14 at GIO Stadium in Round 9, 2013


HE SAID IT

Jarrod Croker: “The Knights game is crucial for us leading into the bye, particularly after the couple of losses that we’ve had. We’re not playing bad footy, but that still doesn’t show on the scoreboard and at the end of the day, that’s what counts. It’s a four point game for us essentially.”

CLICK HERE to see the full interview with Croker.

Jarrad Kennedy: “It’s good to have the versatility to play in the centres but I’ve still got a lot of learning to do there because it’s a very different position to second row even though they’re located quite close to each other on the field. I still see myself as a back-rower but I’m happy to be able to help the team out there if that’s what Sticky wants.”

CLICK HERE to see the full interview with Kennedy.

David Shillington: “We’ve got a bit of work to do as a team but hopefully if I can play my part well, then it will speed up the process.”

CLICK HERE to see the full interview with Shillington.