The Canberra Raiders will be playing for four straight wins to open the season, for the first time since 2005, when they come up against the Newcastle Knights in Campbelltown this Sunday.
The Green Machine have shown they’re the real deal again this year after a huge fly-in-fly-out 22 – 6 victory over Melbourne last week, maintaining their record of conceding just six points per game to start the season.
The Knights aren’t strangers to the scoreboard though, scoring an average of 25 points per game in 2020. They’ll no doubt come out firing after their nail-biting performance last week which saw the depleted side chase down the Panthers 14 – 0 lead and take the game into golden point to finish as a draw. Knights young gun Bradman Best scored two of their three tries last week, and he will be one to watch if the Raiders are looking to maintain their defensive record.
The near-impenetrable green brick wall was a highlight of the Raiders games throughout 2019, and the opening rounds of the 2020 season have proved that the Raiders are geared up to go the distance again.
Raiders v Knights - Round 4
The second and third place sides are separated by one competition point in favour of the Raiders, both returning from the nine-week break due to COVID-19 in spectacular fashion. The hiatus raised many questions around the form of the players and spectacle of the matches, but the first-round back has proved that these two sides are hungry for the points and up to whatever challenges come their way.
The home ground advantage won’t come into play as both teams travel to Campbelltown for the clash, but the boys from Canberra have a slightly higher success rate at the ground which could help to get them over the line.
With the reduction to one referee on the field and the new six again rule speeding up the ruck, the pace and energy of the clash between such close squads will be second to none.
The Raiders have slightly adjusted their squad since their show-stopping performance against Melbourne, with Bailey Simonsson set to return to the starting line-up, having recovered from a leg infection. This will see Jordan Rapana starting on the bench and Michael Oldfield named in the reserves. John Bateman won’t be returning to the side any time soon, with the announcement that he will have to undergo further surgery on his shoulder that has kept him off the field all season.
The Knights have made a number of changes as they welcome Kalyn Ponga back from suspension, with Tex Hoy moving back to the bench. Andrew McCullough will start at hooker as Connor Watson recovers from ankle surgery after suffering an injury against Penrith, Herman Ese'ese will start at lock, with Tim Glasby on the interchange and Chris Randall dropping back to the extended squad. Mitchell Pearce has also been named after his massive head knock which took him off the field in the opening minutes of the Knights round three clash.
The Raiders had the edge when the teams met for their only clash in March 2019, defeating the Knights 17 - 10. With three tries to two, an extra conversion and a field goal from Sam Williams in the 76th minute to seal their fate, the Raiders continued the one for one pattern that began in 2016.
George Williams v Mitchell Pearce
After his stellar performance against Melbourne in round two, Canberra’s newest Englishman has been the talk of the town. Williams exploded onto the scene in 2020 and although he’s yet to score, his try assists put Nick Cotric and Nicoll-Klokstad over the line last week. Williams has a tough challenge ahead though, as he lines up against arguably one of the best Halfbacks in the game in Mitchell Pearce. In their last full games, both playmakers boasted two try assists, one line-break, four tackle-breaks and 14 post-contact metres to Pearce to Williams’ 12, so Pearce will have to be fighting fit following his concussion last week to keep the Raiders young gun in check.
Williams throws the perfect floater to Cotric
Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad v Kalyn Ponga
With Ponga’s return from suspension, it’s hard to look past his matchup against Raiders fan favourite Nicoll-Klokstad. Since coming to Canberra in 2019, the fullback has gone from strength to strength, and his first try of the season against Melbourne last week is only a glimpse of what he can do. Both fullbacks finished the 2019 season on 11 tries each, with the difference lying in the 26 to 42 missed tackles, and average running metres of 175.09 to 127.88, both in favour of CNK.
Williams breaks the Storm through the middle to set up Nicoll-Klokstad
Josh Papalii v David Klemmer
The pair last met in July 2019 for game three of State of Origin, where the Blues prevailed, but not before the Raiders veteran scored for Queensland after 76 minutes. Papalii has scored 47 tries in his career, to Klemmers three, but the Knights prop ran a massive 252m in last week’s clash against Penrith, to Papaliis 166m against Melbourne. Papalii will have a battle on his hands when he faces the 198cm running machine this week, but the in-form Canberra star has hardly missed a beat this season and will no doubt be up for the challenge.
Head to Head:
The Raiders are strong favourites going into Sunday's clash, but there’s not much between the two teams. In 38 games, the Raiders have won 19 to the Knights 17, and they’ve drawn twice. Since their last draw in March 2016, a win/lose pattern emerged, going one for one, so will the Raiders break the pattern and win two in a row, or will the Knights prevail?