Knights v Raiders preview

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Newcastle Knights v Canberra Raiders Sunday 4:05pm at McDonald Jones Stadium, New Lambton / Awabakal

Two of the bigger unknown quantities in 2023 clash on Sunday afternoon when Newcastle plays host to Canberra.

For the Knights, it was always going to be a challenge to match the Dolphins without Kalyn Ponga, who remains sidelined this week after suffering a concussion against the Tigers.

But Newcastle was actually able to stay in touch with the NRL's newest franchise before falling away late, even after Dolphins second rower Felise Kaufusi was sent to the sin bin. 

Errors proved costly down the stretch, with winger Dominic Young one of the worst culprits and the tough night under the high ball ended up costing the 21-year-old his spot in the starting side.

It sees former Titans powerhouse Greg Marzhew take his spot on the wing in one of a few changes for the home team, with Jayden Brailey returning at hooker from a head knock in a boost.

Jack Johns is also back from an ankle injury while Daniel Saifiti has been named despite suffering a shoulder injury in last week's loss against the Dolphins.

Knights coach Adam O'Brien did not seem too optimistic about Saifiti's chances of playing Sunday's game, so there is every chance the representative forward is a late scratching.

Should that be the case, either Dylan Lucas or Thomas Cant could be added to the bench for what would be their second NRL game with Jack Hetherington an option to come into the starting side.

Tyson Frizell has also been named on the extended bench as he looks to make a return from an ankle injury in a reshuffle that would likely see Johns drop out of the team and send Brodie Jones back to the interchange.

While it is hard to get a read on just how good the Knights are this year, they were always expected to be battling at the bottom of the ladder.

The Raiders though appear the bigger mystery earlier in the season, proving they can still take it to the best in the league last week when they took down the Sharks 24-20.

Canberra had been thereabouts in the opening fortnight of the season, going down in close games to North Queensland and the Dolphins.

But that has been an issue for the Raiders since they made it all the way to the grand final in 2019.

Ricky Stuart's side hasn't been bad - certainly not bad enough to be in the conversation for the wooden spoon.

But they haven't been great either - certainly not great enough to be genuine title contenders, seemingly resigned to being also-rans who are always hovering around the top eight.

Canberra's opening three games this year seem to suggest that is not going to change in 2023, although a comprehensive win over Newcastle would be a step in the right direction.

Prop Josh Papali'i plays his first game of the year after recovering from a calf injury while Zac Woolford replaces the injured Danny Levi (broken jaw) at hooker in team news.

Last meeting: Round 23 2022 - Knights 22 Raiders 28

Who to watch: If the Knights are any hope of causing an upset on Sunday it is going to come from individual brilliance, like that fullback Lachlan Miller showed last week in the defeat to the Dolphins. Newcastle made a play for Miller to help facilitate Ponga's move to the halves and while the Knights may be without their most dangerous attacking weapon, the former rugby sevens star helped fill the void last Friday. Miller's support play was excellent and helped him score two tries to go with 212 run metres, two linebreaks and six tackle busts. If Miller continues to push up and Newcastle's forwards get the second-phase play going, there may be opportunities to poke holes in Canberra's defence.

As for Canberra, the clear advantage this weekend is up front and a refreshed Josh Papali'i is someone to fear. Papali'i was sidelined for the opening three games of the season with a calf injury but has been named to start in Sunday's game and is expected to quickly make up for lost time. If Newcastle is not able to contain Papali'i early, the home side could find itself on the wrong end of a lopsided scoreline before halftime. The Knights have one of the most passionate and loyal supporter bases in the league but that means little in a one-sided game.

Favourite: The Raiders are expected to make it two wins on the trot.

My tip: It's always a lottery when Canberra travels away from the nation's capital but the Raiders have been close in every game this season and have the superior forward pack to do this comfortably. Canberra by 14.

1. Lachlan Miller 2. Hymel Hunt 3. Dane Gagai 4. Bradman Best 5. Greg Marzhew 6. Tyson Gamble 7. Jackson Hastings 8. Daniel Saifiti 9. Jayden Brailey 10. Leo Thompson 22. Tyson Frizell 12. Lachlan Fitzgibbon 13. Kurt Mann 11. Brodie Jones 14. Phoenix Crossland 15. Jack Hetherington 16. Mathew Croker 18. Dylan Lucas

1. Sebastian Kris 2. James Schiller 3. Matthew Timoko 4. Harley Smith-Shields 5. Albert Hopoate 6. Jack Wighton 18. Matt Frawley 17. Emre Guler 14. Tom Starling 10. Joseph Tapine 11. Hudson Young 12. Elliott Whitehead 13. Corey Harawira-Naera 8. Josh Papali'i 9. Zac Woolford 15. Pasami Saulo 16. Corey Horsburgh 19. Brad Schneider

Referees: Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials: Kasey Badger, Michael Wise; Video Referees: Grant Atkins;

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