NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS VS CANBERRA RAIDERS
Round 6, 2014 NYC Premiership
Saturday, April 12 Kick-Off: 10.40am
Venue: GIO Stadium, Canberra
Last Time They Met:
Newcastle claimed a thrilling 34-28 victory over the Raiders at Hunter Stadium in Round 2 this season.
The scores were locked at 28-all with just seconds left on the clock when fullback Jake Mamo put in a kick for himself, before he toed it ahead twice and regathered to score and seal an amazing win.
Canberra won both matches against the Knights last season, the first a 30-26 triumph in Round 4 and the second a comprehensive 40-26 win in Round 9.
Mamo, Donovan, Mata'utia, Peni, Birch, Gagai, Feeney, Pakau, Levi, Yates, Tapine, Pondekas, Fitzgibbon. Bench: De Saxe, Smith, Boyce, Petterson-Robati.
Garard, Clarke, Lee, Creith, Hurst, Frawley, Heffernan, Webley, Schubach, Barnett, Mago, Pangai Junior, Bateman. Bench: Doyle, Baker, Solomon, K. Pangai, Nchouki, Howe, Wheeler.
They might be unbeaten after five rounds and sit on top of the Holden Cup ladder, but Newcastle's NYC team face their toughest test this season against the Raiders in Canberra on Saturday.
The Green Machine are traditionally strong in the Nations Capital and the Knights will have to replicate their strong opening season form to get the win.
Rick Stone has been highly impressed with the Under 20s so far this season though and has encouraged them to deliver more of the same against Canberra.
"I don’t think they’ve got to change much," Stone says frankly.
"The brand of footy like I said has been terrific.
"They just need to turn up, concentrate and play with the right type of intensity and they’ll give themselves a chance.
"They’ve got enough good players to score points and if they defend well and hold onto the ball, then they are going to be competitive in most games they play this year.
"They’ve got a good balance of some tough, gritty players and a little bit of skill and flair as well.
"It’s a good mix for coach Mick Crawley.
"They are all enjoying their footy and playing a good brand of footy as well.
"They are really challenging the opposition with how they are moving the ball."
Winning in Canberra has never been easy, but Stone believes the young Knights are ready to win away from home.
"Anytime you’ve got a tough road trip for the young blokes it’s always a big test," he says.
"They’ve come through Monday night’s game with flying colours and they need to back it up in a short turnaround this weekend against Canberra.
"They’ve still got some questions that they’ve got to answer for themselves and it will be a good test this weekend, especially after the round 2 clash, but I have no doubt they'll be hard to beat."
Joseph Tapine vs Patrick Mago
Tapine has been terrific for the Knights since returning from his off-season hernia injury against Cronulla two weeks ago.
Whether it be running a perfect line or barging over for a strong try, the New Zealand-born back-rower is a crucial member of the team.
Tapine's match-up with Canberra captain Patrick Mago will go a long way to deciding which side gets on top in the forwards battle.
Mago, a Junior Kangaroos representative who can also kick goals, is a danger player the Knights must contain and Tapine is the man to do so.
Jaelen Feeney vs Andrew Heffernan
As a genuine playmaker from halfback, they don't come much better than Feeney.
The former Bulldogs No.7 has been brilliant for the Knights in the opening five rounds with his composure and class under pressure.
Feeney proved too good on points when he last clashed with Heffernan back in Round 2, so you can expect a closely fought match-up when the pair meet again at GIO Stadium on Saturday.
Both halves need their forwards to fire though, so the Knights' big men need to stand up to provide a platform for their No.7 to shine.
Harry Pondekas vs Tevita Pangai Junior
Pondekas has proven to be a great purchase for the Knights in recent weeks.
The former Brisbane Bronco is a quality runner of the ball, but he can also sniff out a try.
Stone can't speak highly enough of Pondekas and is looking forward to watching his match-up with former Knight Pangai Junior on Saturday.
"Harry has been good," he says.
"He has come to the club and he has added a little bit of a different dimension for us out there on that right edge.
"He is a tryscorer, he has good skill and good footwork, so he is definitely a threat to the opposition.
"He is also a really sound defender, so he has slotted into the team really well."
Player to watch:
The local Newcastle junior isn't eligible to play NRL until he turns 18 in June, but Stone says the skilful outside back has all the attributes to make it at the highest level.
"Don’t be surprised to see him bob up in first grade before the end of the year is out," Stone says about Mata'utia, who scored a double in last Monday's win over North Queensland.
"He is a terrific, mature young player. He had some big raps on him after he played a few NYC games at the end of last year, but he has been a standout junior with us for a long, long time now.
"Well every since he was the captain of our Harold Matthews team when he was just 15, so he was a really mature and well balanced young fella at that stage.
"And he still is and he is showing all the promise."
Where it will be won:
As the clash in Round 2 between these two sides proved, Newcastle and Canberra are evenly matched.
They both possess strong forwards packs and backs with blistering speed, so the result could come down to who wants it more and which team executes better on the day.
The Knights have showcased plenty of class in the opening five rounds and they'll need to deliver that again to topple the Raiders on home turf.
Expect Saturday's match to go down to the wire with the result to be potentially decided by some individual brilliance.