Round 23: Knights v Raiders preview
Knights Eyeing Finish Line as Raiders Look To Crawl Closer to Unlikely Finals Berth
Last weeks narrow, controversial win over the Dragons meant that the Raiders are still a dreaded "mathematical chance" of making the finals. To do so, they need to win each of their remaining fixtures against the Knights, Sea Eagles and Tigers, and hope that one of the Roosters, Eels, Broncos or Rabbitohs lose enough games to fall out of the top 8.
Standing in their way this week is a Newcastle Knights outfit which, over the last month or so, has gone from scandal to controversy like day goes to night. Whether it's been a tone-deaf press conference from their coach, a star forward getting stood down for an on-field incident, two outside backs getting dropped due to tardiness or their star fullback and captain's father trying to meagrely explain his son's way out of a cubicle situation, it seems that the Knights as an organisation are focused on everything but football.
Their win a couple of weeks ago over the Wests Tigers looks certain to have saved them from the wooden spoon in what is one of the only positives to come out of the joint recently (bear in mind this was written before the results of Kalyn Ponga's drug test come in). With all this happening, along with a terrible performance against the Broncos last week, it's hard to see the Knights putting up much of a fight at all considering they have absolutely nothing to play for.
That fact should make Raiders fans absolutely terrified. The Green machine aren't exactly known for their consistency and reliability in getting the job done over teams they should beat. They themselves haven't been without off-field distractions, with coach Stuart returning this week from his one-week suspension for "weak-gutted gate."
Their form in the last couple of rounds hasn't been that of a finals team either, losing comfortably to a weakened Penrith side, and they should not have allowed the Dragons to come that close to winning last week.
Ultimately, this game is one we've seen many time, with many different outcomes; a team still in the race for finals that must win against a team playing for nothing but pride and the chance to spoil their oppositions season. The Raiders, logically, should have no trouble winning, but there isn't a single Canberra fan who would be surprised if they didn't.
In team news, Enari Tuala and Bradman Best are out after being late to a team bus during the week, to be replaced on the wing and centre by Edrick Lee and debutant Krystian Mapapalangi. David Klemmer is back in the front row, pushing Jacob Saifiti to lock and Mat Croker to the bench.
For the Raiders, Nick Cotric makes his return from injury, coming in for Albert Hopoate on the wing. Joseph Tapine is back in a huge boost to their forward pack, seeing Emre Guler go back to the bench and Ryan Sutton to the reserves.
Who to watch: Tyson Frizell was one of the few players to impress in last weeks loss to the Broncos. His runs were a large reason the Knights were able to have such a large share of possession and field position early on, but the Knights red-zone attack couldn't convert it into points. He finished with 14 runs for 143 metres (71 post-contact) as well as five tackle breaks and 36 tackles with only two missed. If there's one area where the Knights have the potential to match it with the Raiders, it's in the forward pack; if they are going to cause the upset, it's going to have to have a lot to do with the performances of Frizell, Klemmer and the Saifiti's.
The Raiders attacking game plan in good field position should include more early ball to Matt Timoko. The young centre has proven on numerous occasions so far this year that he has the ability to create explosive plays and break the line when given the opportunity to do so, racking up 60 tackle breaks and 9 line breaks in his 21 appearances in 2022. Last week, he had 12 runs for 139 metres, 2 line breaks and 5 tackle breaks, while also making 20 tackles for only 1 miss. Timoko will be matched up against the Knights debutant Krystain Mapapalangi on Sunday, so look for him to test his opposite numbers defence out early and often.