Canberra Raiders v Newcastle Knights
Friday July 10, 7:45pm, GIO Stadium
CLICK HERE to purchase tickets!
Coverage: Channel 9
Referees: Matt Checchin and Lawrence McDonnell
Video Referees: Steve Clark and Ben Galea
Canberra will look to replicate their emphatic performance in Round 13 when they again face the Newcastle Knights, however this time the Novocastrians must travel down to GIO Stadium and overcome an expected frosty reception from the Raiders parochial fan-base.
The Green Machine’s 44-22 victory over the Knights earlier this year was one of the team’s best performances of the year and featured an array of exhilarating tries.
CLICK HERE to watch the Round 13 Match Highlights.
Unfortunately, the Round 13 victory was Canberra’s last triumph to date.
Following the bye, the side has now slumped to 11th place on the ladder after back-to-back losses to the Cowboys and the Warriors.
“That was a great win for us and whilst we have the confidence knowing that we can beat the Knights, that means little now following back-to-back losses,” Captain Jarrod Croker said. "We're bracing for a tough game and we need to lift because they will be a completely different team to the one that we played up in Newcastle as they've got a couple of their key players back in Jarrod Mullen and Jeremy Smith.
“The bye came at a good time for us. They were two pretty taxing losses but we’ve had a good rest now and we’re firing to go for this Friday.”
With just nine games remaining, and the side situated four points outside of the top eight, the Raiders must start their charge to the finals now.
“There is no need for panic stations at the moment but we need to get back in the winner’s circle, we know that,” Croker said. “We want to be playing semi-finals football but we can’t get too far ahead of ourselves, we need to start our push now.
“Our possession rates over the past two games have been around 40% so we need to improve our completion rates to make sure we are getting the most use out of the time we have the ball.
“We’re ready to go.”
On the other hand, despite the Knights having a rather forgettable season, sitting just one spot out of the grasps of the wooden spoon in 15th position, they are only six points out of the top eight and are capable of upsetting the very best of sides on their day, as evidenced by their victory over the Cowboys earlier in the season.
Newcastle will be determined to turn around their poor recent form, having lost their past five matches on the trot.
Central to these losses has been some fairly flimsy defensive efforts by the Knights, which does not bode well for the visitors given the Raiders have the second best attack in the competition.
Alongside the Eels, the Knights have the second worst defensive record in the NRL behind the Titans. The Raiders aren’t much better, with Ricky Stuart’s men having the fourth worst defensive record.
Stuart has been forced to make one change to the line-up that was defeated by the Warriors in Round 16 with new recruit Joseph Leilua unable to play due to a clause in his release by the Knights. His place on the interchange bench will be taken by the reliable Jarrad Kennedy.
Whilst Josh Papalii and Dane Gagai are expected to back up from Origin, the Knights Beau Scott will be sidelined with suspension.
CLICK HERE to see the NRL Team List.
Historically, the Knights have a dismal record at GIO Stadium with just five wins from 21 clashes at the venue, however they have turned their record around recently with three wins from their last four encounters in the Nation’s Capital.
“It’s a home game for us and we need to lift for our fans,” Croker said. “It’s our first Friday night game this year so it’s something that we as players are looking forward to. It’s exciting and I’m hoping that the fans get out there because they’ve been great for us this year. They nearly got us over the line against the Bulldogs and the Cowboys so hopefully they can cheer loudly again and we can get the job done for them on Friday.”
Jarrod Croker v Dane Gagai
As a whole, Croker has enjoyed another memorable season in what is his first year as skipper of his beloved Raiders.
The 24 year old is the competition’s leading point scorer having accumulated 138 points thus far through six tries and 57 conversions, and has been a consistently top performer on the left hand edge in all of his 15 appearances.
Unfortunately, Croker was well below his best in the Round 16 loss to the Warriors, registering two handling errors and three missed tackles which led to tries. Croker was evidently disappointed in his performance and will look to bounce back this Friday like all top class players do.
Croker will need to be at his defensive best against Gagai who has registered 12 line breaks and averages 151 metres per game in 2015. Gagai’s electric performances this year led to him gaining selection in Queensland’s victorious side for the Origin decider.
Sisa Waqa v Akuila Uate
Friday night 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.
Blake Austin v Jarrod Mullen
Mullen was a notable absentee in the Round 13 encounter and his inclusion back in the Newcastle line-up is likely to lift the whole team.
The talented pivot provides leadership, vision and creativity to the Knights and his absence has been a major factor in the side’s five match losing streak.
The return of Mullen, the eighth most capped player in Newcastle history with 195 NRL games, will allow Kurt Gidley to shift back to fullback.
Austin was able to wreak havoc in their last encounter on the back of the dominance of his side’s powerful prop rotations of Paul Vaughan, David Shillington, Shannon Boyd and Frank-Paul Nuuausala.
Following his two-try performance, the in-form five-eighth will be a heavily marked man by Newcastle.
Record against the Knights:
In a total of 42 games against Newcastle, Canberra has won 23 games, lost 18 and drawn on one occasion.
Knights record at GIO Stadium:
In a total of 21 games played at GIO Stadium, Newcastle has won just 5 games, lost 15 and drawn on one occasion.
Last three encounters:
1. Raiders defeated Knights 44-22 at Hunter Stadium in Round 13, 2015
2. Knights defeated Raiders 26-12 at GIO Stadium in Round 6, 2014
3. Raiders defeated Knights 26-20 at Hunter Stadium in Round 2, 2014
HE SAID IT
Jarrod Croker: “Dane is quite a handful. He is extremely quick and we’ve had quite a number of good battles over the last couple of years. He made his Origin debut last night and scored a try so he’s going to be on cloud nine on Friday. It will be a tough match-up for me but one that I’m looking forward to.
Josh Hodgson: “I know we only played them three or four weeks ago but we’re expecting a totally different team. They’re in a different situation now on the back of a few losses so they will be desperate for a win and they’ve also been boosted by the return of a few players, namely Jarrod Mullen.”
CLICK HERE to see the full interview with Hodgson.