An intriguing showdown between two teams with identical 1-1 records.
The Raiders didn’t play badly in last week’s home loss to Melbourne, they were just out-played during a decisive stage of the first half when the Storm did most of the damage to set up their 22-10 win.
Canberra coach Ricky Stuart couldn’t have been too unhappy, knowing that his team’s performance would’ve been good enough to beat most sides.
If the Raiders play with the same effort from last week and fine-tune a few areas, they’ll be a tough nut to crack on home turf on Friday.
The Knights hung tough to steal victory from Cronulla in round one and were always in the hunt in last week’s 16-14 home loss to Penrith.
But the Panthers exposed a couple of weaknesses and Nathan Brown might have to make some minor strategic adjustments for his team’s first road trip of the season.
Raiders: A late change to the squad named on Tuesday with Aidan Sezer (stomach muscle) ruled out and Sam Williams coming in at halfback. JJ Collins and Bailey Simonsson were the two players left out an hour before game time. With Joe Tapine sidelined with a broken thumb, John Bateman switches to the back row. Bateman's fellow Englishman Ryan Sutton gets the nod to start at lock. Jack Murchie and Sezer were omitted from the squad 24 hours before kick-off.
Knights: Mitchell Barnett will start the match at prop, with Jame Gavet dropping back to the bench. Jamie Buhrer will start on the bench in jersey No.20, with Herman Ese'ese and Brodie Jones the two players to drop out of the team an hour before kick-off. Connor Watson was been ruled out of the clash on Thursday due to an MCL strain, with Kurt Mann will move to fullback. Mason Lino and Watson were the player omitted on Thursday afternoon.
Hooker Danny Levi has a tough battle on his hands against Josh Hodgson, while the clash between opposing halfbacks Mitchell Pearce and Aidan Sezer will be interesting, but the result of this game depends largely on the performances of rival five-eighths Jack Wighton and Kalyn Ponga. Both have made the switch from fullback this season and each of them understands the need to play well every week if their respective teams are going to figure in top eight calculations.
For the Raiders to win
A good start is crucial after the Raiders allowed Melbourne to get the jump on them last week. Defence has been a big talking point for the Green Machine this year and they’ll have to be switched on all night or risk being punished by Ponga and Pearce. Canberra’s forwards have to make it their mission to limit the effectiveness of uncompromising Knights prop Dave Klemmer.
For the Knights to win
Last week’s loss should have the Knights in the mood to make amends, but they’ll have to earn it. Mitch Barnett showed with last week’s solo try what a bit of good old strength and determination can do and Nathan Brown will be looking for a similar effort from his entire team on Friday. If it’s close in crunch time, Ponga needs to take the Johnathan Thurston approach and get his hands on the ball on every possession.
Brett Kimmorley says ...
With Canberra, in the first week we saw their more mobile forward pack work great against the Titans. Last week they got a little bit of a lesson against the Storm. For both these sides it is about staying in the game for longer periods and not leaking points. Newcastle should have beat Penrith but they just have those minor lapses that allow an opposition to score tries. Teams in the middle tier make those mistakes, teams at the top don’t. Raiders by 2
Raiders Stat Attack
Prop Josh Papalii put in a good night’s work at the office against the Storm. In his 49 minutes of game time, Papalii made 138m from 15 runs, including 50 post contact metres. He also got stuck in for 28 tackles without a miss and had 14 hit-ups. His clash with Klemmer should be a cracker.
Knights Stat Attack
In just two rounds Klemmer has already become a cult hero to Newcastle fans who love his appetite for hard work and heavy body contact. The former Bulldogs prop played 63 minutes against the Panthers, making 198m from 21 runs. He made 70 post contact metres, had 19 hit-ups and 34 tackles without a single miss. Klemmer leads the NRL in post contact metres (161).
And another thing ...
It was less than three years ago that Ricky Stuart and the Raiders appeared to be on the verge of something special, finishing second on the regular season ladder to earn a home final. They lost that game 16-14 to Cronulla before bouncing back in the following week’s sudden death final with a 22-12 defeat of Penrith. They bowed out a week later just one game away from the grand final with a 14-12 loss to Melbourne, but the signs were good heading into 2017. It never happened, with the club managing 10th spot in both 2017 and ’18. Stuart is under pressure to re-discover that winning formula and guide the Raiders back into the post-season in 2019.