NRL match preview: Round 2

The Club’s first away trip of the new season looms this weekend, and Canberra has not been the happiest of hunting grounds for the nib Newcastle Knights over the years.

The team is full of confidence following a hard-fought win in Round 1 though, and it’s hard to tell how the Canberra Raiders will bounce back after letting an 18-point lead slip in their first match of 2018.

CANBERRA RAIDERS v NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS

 
Date: Sunday March 18
Gates: 5.15pm
Kick-off: 6.30pm
Venue: GIO Stadium Stadium
Referee: Ashley Klein
 
HEAD-TO-HEAD
 
Played: 47
Knights: 19
Raiders: 26
Draw: 2
 
TEAMS
 
Newcastle
1. Kalyn Ponga, 2. Shaun Kenny-Dowall, 3. Sione Mata’utia, 4. Tautau Moga, 5. Nathan Ross, 6. Connor Watson, 7. Mitchell Pearce, 8. Herman Ese’ese, 9. Slade Griffin, 10. Jacob Lillyman, 11. Lachlan Fitzgibbon, 12. Aidan Guerra, 13. Mitch Barnett. Interchange: 14. Brock Lamb, 15. Chris Heighington, 16. Jamie Buhrer, 17. Daniel Saifiti, 18. Ken Sio, 19. Jacob Saifiti, 20. Danny Levi, 21. Luke Yates.
 
Canberra
1. Jack Wighton, 2. Nick Cotric, 3. Jarrod Croker, 4. Joey Leilua, 5. Jordan Rapana, 6. Blake Austin, 7. Sam Williams, 8. Sia Soliola, 9. Siliva Havili, 10. Shannon Boyd, 11. Josh Papalii 12. Elliot Whitehead, 13. Luke Bateman. Interchange: 14. Aidan Sezer, 15. Junior Paulo, 16. Dunamis Lui, 17. Charlie Gubb, 18. Craig Garvey, 19. Michael Oldfield, 20. Royce Hunt, 21. Jack Murchie.

COMPLETIONISTS


While the nib Newcastle Knights haven’t been one of the better teams at finishing their sets in recent years, following Round 1 they lead the competition in this statistic.

The red and blues finished an impressive 87% of their sets against Manly, while the Raiders sit at 69% so far this season.

That trend will have to continue this weekend if the Knights want to get another win, as the Raiders simply have too many big men that can get the Green Machine rolling forwards when enjoying the majority of possession.

“If you’re going set for set with them, that sort of dulls their impact and if you’re giving them easy ball they’re a lot harder to handle so we’ve got to maintain good completion,” veteran prop Jacob Lillyman said on Thursday.

STRONG START KEY


Against the Titans the Raiders were unstoppable in the first ten minutes, as they ran out to an 18-point lead.

If the Knights find themselves in that position early on, it will be very hard to make a comeback in such hostile territory.

For that reason a strong start is imperative, which happened to a certain degree in Round 1.

It only took the red and blues four minutes to score against Manly at McDonald Jones Stadium, but then the Sea Eagles bounced back soon after and it panned out as a very even contest over the 80 minutes.

If the Knights can get through the first 20 minutes against the Raiders in good shape, then they will have the firepower of players such as Daniel Saifiti, Chris Heighington and Brock Lamb to come off the bench.

KICKING GAME


When playing against bigger sides a strong kicking game is always important, and in Mitchell Pearce the Knights have a halfback that can consistently produce that.

In Round 1 Pearce produced the most kicks out of any player in the competition with 17, and made 492 metres from the boot.

The top kicker for the Raiders meanwhile was Sam Williams, who made seven kicks and 187 metres.

It won’t just be how well the Knights kick though, as limiting Jordan Rapana and Nick Cotric’s effectiveness on kick returns will slow down their sets.

It’s easier said than done to shut down such impressive athletes out on the Raiders’ wings, but it’s something that the Knights have spent a lot of time on in the pre-season.