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2:00pm Sun June 19, 2022
Round 15 - GIO Stadium Canberra, Bruce - Crowd: 12457

Round 15: Raiders v Knights preview

Knights chase ambush in nation's capital

A road trip to Canberra couldn't come at a better time for the despondent Adam O'Brien. Feeling the burn immediately after his side's capitulation to Penrith, the befuddled Knights coach reasoned that the solution "is not a quick fix".

And after five straight defeats on home turf, the Arctic-like conditions in the nation's capital could prove just the tonic to fire-up the 12th placed Knights. They might be stuck on four wins, but with three of those away, the Novacastrians aren't without hope.

With victories over both the Bulldogs and Warriors from their past two away trips, how Kalyn Ponga responds to concussion protocols following last week's head knock will be crucial. Up front, Kurt Mann and Mitch Barnett have been named in the pack with Lachlan Fitzgibbon squeezed from the top-17.

Jordan Rapana rejoins the Raiders line up in the only change to the side that fell agonisingly short of the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium. Having resurrected their season with four wins from their past six starts, the Raiders now find themselves in 11th spot and just one win outside the top-eight.

But for Ricky Stuart, it's the devil in the detail that threatens to derail the Green Machine's season. 

With three players rubbed out by injury during last week's clash, the Broncos were ripe for the picking. But just as poor decisions cost them against the Eels, once again, Stuart was left to wonder what may have been.

A loss here could rattle the finals aspirations of both teams. But with the Dragons and a bye to follow, a fifth win on home turf could kick-start the Raiders run home.

But don't be surprised if the Knights have the last say. Newcastle have collected the spoils in the past three encounters , including last year's clash at Suncorp. Back then, just like this year, both sides were chasing eighth spot with Canberra the favourite and two points clear of Newcastle.

It counted for little, as the Knights bounded out of the gates on the way to an upset 34-24 victory.

Last meeting: Round 20 2021 - Knights 34 Raiders 24

Who to watch: Joseph Tapine has always had the skills but the question marks have often centered on the powerhouse prop's desire. Whatever Stuart is doing behind the scenes has clearly shaken the big unit's tree. Now almost 100m clear of second spot for post contact metres, nobody bends the line better than Tapine. Throw in his 160m per match, 40m above last year's mark, and he's clearly in career best form.

It's almost hard to reconcile that it was in 2013 when a young tearaway named Anthony Milford ignited the NRL in a two year stay with the Raiders that yielded 21 tries. Now three games into his Newcastle stint, at 27, the former fullback is just four games short of the 200-club. With only one try assist to his name so far, the Knights will be banking on his cagey skills to unlock the defence of his former club.

Favourite: The bookies treat form like gold, and in this match-up Canberra has a full vault.

My tip: It would be a tough call to say Adam O'Brien looks clueless, but he certainly doesn't ooze confidence. Newcastle won't be the last side to get toweled by the premiers, but with the coach's eyes on free-spins perhaps he has squeezed the Knights lemon for all its worth. That doubt, alongside a committed Raiders points towards one result. Raiders by 16.