Two of the NRL’s unbeaten sides, Newcastle and Canberra, will lock horns at Campbelltown Stadium in round four action on Sunday afternoon.
Both teams produced impressive round three performances, with an undermanned Knights side clawing their way back for a 14-all draw against the Penrith Panthers while the Raiders claimed a 22-6 win in Melbourne.
Newcastle overcame the early loss of halfback Mitchell Pearce and hooker Connor Watson, as well as a 14-0 deficit, to salvage the courageous draw.
The performance was enough for old boy Matthew Johns to call the coach Adam O’Brien and tell him it was the best performance he’d seen from a Knights side in many years.
O’Brien spent time under Craig Bellamy and Trent Robinson and it’s clear to see the impact they’ve had on his coaching style, with the Knights defence looking rock solid against the Panthers.
The only issue may be just how much that effort took out of his players with many looking gassed after the 90 minutes, but, after two months off, they should still have plenty left in the tank this weekend.
In two huge boosts for the Knights, Pearce has been passed fit after a nasty concussion last week and star full back Kalyn Ponga returns from suspension.
Today’s opponents, the Raiders, looked comfortable in their first match in over two months with new halfback George Williams playing a starring role.
The quicker play the balls and new six-again rule seemed to suit Williams and Josh Hodgson’s game style, with more space allowing them to open up the Storm’s defence numerous times.
With a target now firmly on his back, the test will now be for Williams to play at a high level week in week out in the NRL.
The Raiders have been boosted by the inclusion of Bailey Simonsson on the wing, pushing Jordan Rapana to the bench and Michael Oldfield out of the 17.
Key match ups:
George Williams vs Mitchell Pearce:
The battle of the two number 7s shapes as a crucial one for these sides. Pearce is the general for the Knights and their win record is far improved when he’s playing, while Williams showed his best can match it with any halfback in the game today.
Josh Papalli vs David Klemmer:
Two of the toughest and most influential front rowers go head to head on Sunday and it promises to be brutal. Klemmer ran for 252 metres last week while Papalii ran for 166 in his 200th game. Both packs rely heavily on their leaders to get them moving forward so this matchup is pivotal.
Kalyn Ponga vs Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad:
Unfortunately for the Raiders, Ponga will be fresh for this match and slots straight back into fullback, pushing Tex Hoy to the bench. He’s a star, Ponga. His footwork is second to none and the Raiders will need their kicking and kick-chase on point to make it difficult for him returning the ball. Nicoll-Klokstad continues to prove he’s the best bargain buy of last season. Rarely makes a mistake under the high ball and is always hunting through the middle looking for a chance, evidenced by his try last week.
Whichever side comes out on top of these matchups will go a long way to winning the game. However, you can’t just rely on a few players and, if the Raiders are to win, they’ll need to bring the same strong team defence they had last week.