The Late Mail: Rabbitohs v Sea Eagles
2 hours ago | LeagueUnlimited Media
September on the line in season defining Knight
The Newcastle Knights will be fighting to stay in the race for the top eight when they take on the Canberra Raiders in the first match of a Suncorp Stadium triple header on Sunday.
Slumping to 11th on the ladder after a dispiriting second half fade out last week, the Newcastle Knights will be pinning their hopes of a late season resurgence on a number of returning stars.
Welcoming back David Klemmer and Bradman Best from injury, coach Adam O'Brien will be demanding consistent intensity from his players after the side established an 8-0 lead before wilting away in a 28-8 loss to the Roosters.
Holding an above average record against their ACT rivals with four wins from their past six clashes, the Knights will be aiming to register three consecutive victories over the Raiders for only the second time in history.
In addition to Klemmer and Best returning from injury, Mitchell Pearce could be a late inclusion after being named on an extended bench while Enari Tuala shifts to the wing in place of Dominic Young.
Rising back into finals contention off the back of three consecutive wins, the Canberra Raiders will be hoping to continue their late season surge at a ground that has produced little joy over the years.
Coming off their best performance of the season after upsetting the Eels 12-10 last Thursday, coach Ricky Stuart will be buoyed by the return of Jack Wighton from a rib injury.
Winning just three of their 15 visits to the redeveloped Suncorp Stadium, the Green Machine did snatch a narrow victory over the Bulldogs when they played at the venue earlier this year during Magic Round.
English international Elliott Whitehead is also set to return after spending the past three weeks on the sidelines, however his fellow countryman Ryan Sutton will miss the match with a chest injury.
Last meeting: Round 9 2021 - Raiders 16 Knights 24
Who to watch: Few players are as intrinsically tied to their club's fortunes as Newcastle fullback Kalyn Ponga. Holding a similar influence in club football as Tom Trbojevic for the Sea Eagles, the 23-year-old has shown an abundance of class when injury hasn't proved troublesome this season. Burdened by off-season shoulder surgery and a groin injury aggravated during Queensland's plagued Origin campaign, the superstar number one has remained one of the best attacking players in the league with six tries, seven try-assists and 36 tackles breaks in eight appearances for the red and blue. Hampered by a sternum issue that limited his impact last week, the Knights will need Ponga to play through the pain if they have any hope of featuring beyond the regular season.
In a career that has featured stints with Wildcats and various Dragons, Sam Williams has always had his heart with the Raiders. Finally bringing up 100 NRL matches with Canberra a decade on from his first grade debut, the 30-year-old has thrived in the twilight of his career with six forced dropouts, four try-assists and four tries in 2021. Regarded by his coach as a pre-eminent clubman, the one time first grade captain and Country Origin representative will be intent on elevating the Raiders back into the top eight with a strong showing in his centenarian match.
The favourite: Sitting outside the top eight on points differential, the much-improved Raiders are expected to heap further misery upon the erratic Knights.
My tip: In a match where going up in sixes will be vitally important, the accuracy of Jarrod Croker's boot may be the edge the Raiders need to go four-in-a-row. Canberra by 4.
1. Kalyn Ponga 2. Enari Tuala 3. Kurt Mann 4. Bradman Best 5. Hymel Hunt 6. Phoenix Crossland 7. Jake Clifford 8. Jacob Saifiti 9. Jayden Brailey 10. Daniel Saifiti 11. Tyson Frizell 12. Mitchell Barnett 14. Sauaso Sue 13. Connor Watson 15. David Klemmer 16. Josh King 17. Brodie Jones 20. Tex Hoy
1. Jordan Rapana 2. Harley Smith-Shields 3. Jarrod Croker 4. Sebastian Kris 5. Semi Valemei 6. Jack Wighton 7. Sam Williams 17. Joseph Tapine 9. Josh Hodgson 10. Emre Guler 11. Corey Harawira-Naera 12. Elliott Whitehead 13. Hudson Young 8. Josh Papali'i 14. Tom Starling 15. Matthew Timoko 16. Iosia Soliola 19. Dunamis Lui
Referees: Adam Gee; Sideline Officials: Jon Stone, Todd Smith; Video Referees: Steve Chiddy;