The Canberra Raiders will be hoping their final home game of regular season will inspire them to a crucial win in their do or die clash with the Newcastle Knights.
With just two rounds yet to play the Raiders remain a slim chance of playing finals football but must win their next two games.
Despite sitting at the foot of the ladder the Knights have earned a reputation of fighting until the final whistle and regardless of an impressive three game winning streak coming to an end last week, the Knights are sure to come out firing.
The match has extra significance for Blake Austin who will run out for his 100th NRL appearance and do his best to replicate the heroics of their last Friday night game against the Dragons which they won in golden point 18-14.
The Raiders have a clean bill of health coming into the match with the only omission being Sia Soliola who is still serving time on the sidelines for a match review citation.
The news isn’t as good for the Knights however who suffered some big injuries in their 44-12 loss to Melbourne last week.
Five-eighth Brock Lamb (knee) and Luke Yates (ankle) are both set to miss the rest of the season while captain Sione Mata'utia (concussion) will also be missing in action.
Young play maker Jack Cogger comes into the side in place of Lamb while Jamie Bruher slides into the back-row in cover of Mata’utia. In a big boost fan favourite Nathan Ross returns from a back injury.
Four tries in the final 24 minutes of play gifted the Newcastle Knights a big win over the Raiders at McDonald Jones stadium last time these two teams met.
Strong performances from Daniel Saifiti, Luke Yates, Brock Lamb and Sione Mata’utia got the home team into the game but with four tries in the final 24 minutes, the Knights blew the Green Machine away to cruise home winners 34-20.
Jack Wighton v Nathan Ross
In a battle of the fullbacks, Nathan Ross will need to outclass his opposite number if the Knights are to once again upset the Raiders. Wighton has been quiet of late with the normally electric fullback unable to have his usual impact.
With the Raiders expected to let the ball sing throughout the game Ross will have his hands full defensively, but if the fan favourite is able to contain the Raiders attack while being dangerous with the ball in hand it could sway the outcome of the match.
Junior Paulo v Daniel Saifiti
Not many players in the NRL outweigh Raiders wrecking ball Junior Paulo, but Daniel Saifiti is one of those players. Tipping the scales at a whopping 125kg Saifiti has been the engine of the Newcastle go-forward all year.
Averaging almost 25 more running metres per game, Paulo will be in the driver’s seat in this matchup. Paulo will be aiming to win the ruck and get quick play the balls so his outside men can capitalise on the momentum. Expect Paulo to be at his damaging best and targeting Saifiti in the line to tire his opposite number.
Saifiti will have his hands full but if the talented youngster can slow down the ruck and find a way to increase his offloads and create second phase play, he could have a big impact on the game.
Joe Tapine v Jamie Buhrer
After getting his NRL debut at the Knights Joe Tapine will be hoping for a big performance against his former teammate Jamie Buhrer. Tapine has been great for the Raiders at the tail end of the season playing more minutes than ever before in his career and finding his way across the try line three times this season.
Conversely Buhrer has been playing less minutes of late but his work rate has been up averaging 10 more tackles than Tapine per game. With Tapine’s late footwork and his big impact in attack Buhrer will need to be on top of his game if he is to win this match up.
Head to Head
The Raiders and Knights have enjoyed a close rivalry since their first game in 1988. Since then 35 matches have taken place with the Raiders securing 17 wins while the Knights have managed 16 with two games ending in a draw.
Recently the Raiders have had the edge over the Knights winning three of their last five games with one match ending in a 24-all draw and the Knights most recent win coming in round 10 this year.
Quote of the Week
"The Knights have been in some good form lately and have only lost to the Storm recently so it will be a tough test."
"We're going to have to make sure we're switched on and play some good footy."