The Raiders are back at GIO Stadium after a months absence to host the Newcastle Knights on Sunday afternoon.
The two sides couldn’t be separated earlier this year when a Canberra outfit without Aidan Sezer and Blake Austin travelled to Hunter Stadium.
Although the Knights have only won once this season, prop Shannon Boyd is wary that the Knights could cause an upset if the team is complacent.
“We got a bit of a lead on them, and then we took the foot off the throat, and they came back at us. We can’t go doing that, and they’re still not a bad side there. They’ve got some good forwards and if we don’t pick up and start off well, it’ll be a tough day,” said Boyd.
Five-eighth Blake Austin missed the game against the Knights earlier this year, but is pleased by how the team has been performing in recent weeks.
“I think the Broncos game definitely put a bit of a dampener on things, but we’ve won four of our last five and have created a bit momentum. The next month is going to be really important to where we finish for the season, and we can’t wait for that.
A couple of wins and you can jump three or four teams and a couple of losses, and you’re sliding back below four teams, so we know how congested the ladder is and how important each week is,” he said.
Despite struggling with injury this year, the five-eighth is pleased with the improvement in his game - something that the Knights will dread. In his last two appearances against the blue and red, Austin has scored five tries.
“I think me and Aidan (Sezer) worked together a lot better yesterday (against the Titans). It’s something that we worked really hard on over the break, and I think there was a lot more clarity around our spine,” Austin said.
A win for the Raiders could see the Green Machine move up to 5th place, while a loss could see them drop as low as 9th.
The Knights remain rooted to the bottom of the NRL ladder, although they showed signs of improvement last week in the second half against the Dragons.
Ricky Stuart has named an unchanged side to face the Knights. Bateman and Paulo come back into the starting side at the expense of Soliola and Vaughan, who drop back to the bench. Both Soliola and Wighton are picked up minor injuries in the Raiders win over the Titans and will be assessed closer to game day.
Josh King is named on an extended bench in which is the only change for the Knights. Mitchell Barnett starts in the second row for his first trip back to Canberra since signing for the Knights.
Jack Wighton v Dane Gagai
The 23-year-old from Orange has been the Raiders most creative outlet this season, with ten try assists to his name. The fullback set up two tries against the Titans last weekend to take the game away from the Gold Coast.
After scoring three tries in Origin II, the Newcastle fullback will want to replicate his try scoring exploits for Queensland at club level. The fullback has scored two tries as well as setting up two for his teammates this season.
Jordan Rapana v Nathan Ross
Rapana has been kept reasonably quiet the last couple of weeks but will be hoping to run rampant against the Knights. The winger averages close to 150 meters per game and leads the NRL for linebreaks (16).
Ross has been a bright spot for the Knights. Despite having to wait till he was 26 to make his NRL debut, the winger has been Newcastle’s most consistent performer. Ross has ten tries to his name so far this season, while his try against the Dragons last week was one of the most spectacular of the season.
Josh Papalii v Mitch Barnett
Papalii has become one of the most consistent performers for the Raiders this year. Although he is solid in defence, it’s his running with the ball that causes problems for opposing teams. Up against an inexperienced Newcastle right edge, the Australian international will be looking cause havoc.
Barnett returns to Canberra after signing for the Knights last month. The former Raider played two games in green last year and will be looking to prove a point against his old teammates. The second rower averages 32 tackles a game but is part of an inexperienced right edge that could be targeted.
Highlights from last time we met - a 24 all draw at Hunter Stadium in Round Three