The Canberra Raiders continued their transformation from being an inconsistent yet flashy side to a gritty and well-disciplined one with a workmanlike seven point win over the Newcastle Knights.
Both sides headed into this game coming off losses and were looking to get back to winning ways, they also both had question marks hanging over their playmakers with Kalyn Ponga’s move to five-eighth still the biggest talking point around town, whilst Canberra’s Aiden Sezer was a late withdrawal, replaced by Sam Williams.
Canberra started the better side and had two tries disallowed by the Bunker after English lock Ryan Sutton dropped the ball over the line, before Williams failed to properly ground a smart Josh Hodgson kick. But the Raiders kept knocking on the door and were finally rewarded with fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad chasing down another superb Hodgson grubber to give the Green Machine a 6-0 lead.
Newcastle’s attack continued to look clunky with both Mitchell Pearce and Ponga struggling for timing and cohesion, so it was up to someone else to make a big play; centre Jesse Ramien stepped up scoring a brilliant solo try leaving Jack Wighton clutching at thin air to make the score 6-4.
But Newcastle were their own worst enemy, turning the ball over again and gifting the Raiders a chance to put more points on before the break; a terrible defensive read by Sione Mata’utia on his own line allowed Williams to cross untouched gifting the Raiders a 12-4 lead at halftime.
The second started with Newcastle needing first points, but as the rain set in the Knights continued to turn over possession which led to another Raiders try through Nicoll-Klokstad who brushed past a poor tackle attempt by Hymel Hunt.
With the game slipping away Knights coach Nathan Brown finally made the change everyone was waiting for, moving Ponga back to fullback; although he still struggled to make an impact on the game the Knights were able to get back into the match after Shaun Kenny-Dowall scored after some nice lead up play by Pearce and Mata’utia.
But 16-10 was as close as the Knights would get as the Raiders iced the game with a Williams field goal leaving the final score at 17-10, a good win for the Raiders and some soul-searching needed by the Knights who have now lost two in a row after a promising round one win over the Sharks.
New Year New Raiders
The Raiders have always been one of the better attacking teams under Ricky Stuart, scoring thirty points a game was never a problem, the issue was they’d concede forty. But Stuart has made some big changes and tough calls over the last year and he has transformed his side from flashy to gritty. No player best represents the new Canberra philosophy than John Bateman, the former Wigan utility isn’t much to look at but he’s quickly turning heads with both defence and attack.
It was always going to be a risky move taking Ponga out of fullback and moving him to five-eighth and it’s been the first question asked of Nathan Brown at just about every press conference, but after saying during the week he’d give the move ‘four to five weeks’ Brown had seen enough by halftime, moving Ponga back to fullback midway through the second half. Brown didn’t confirm he’d name Ponga at fullback for next week but with the side struggling for points and struggling to find an adequate replacement in the No.1 it really is a no-brainer to move Ponga back there.
Hodgson a class above
It was easy to be critical of the Raiders in 2018 but watching how well Hodgson is playing now it’s no surprise they struggled without him for the majority of last season. Hodgson was in the thick of everything as he controlled the game with his passing and kicking game, apart from Cameron Smith there is no other hooker in the game that controls the play as well as he does.
Referee blunder denies Knights late chance
With the score at 16-10 the Knights had all the running and were attacking deep into Canberra territory when they spread the ball wide to find winger Edrick Lee. Receiving the ball five metres out from the tryline, Lee was running out of room so he went to ground with three Raiders on him; the rules state once the player is on the ground if the opposition touch him the tackle is complete. But the Raiders’ defenders proceeded to pick Lee up and take him over the sideline, as everyone waited for a penalty to be awarded the referees had seen it differently an awarded the scrum to Canberra. This call didn’t decide the game but it denied the Knights one last chance to try to send the game to extra time.
Canberra Raiders 17
Tries: Nicoll-Klodstad 2, Williams
Goals: Croker 2/3
Drop Goals: Williams
Newcastle Knights 10
Tries: Ramien, Kenny-Dowall
Goals: Ponga 1/2
Drop Goals: n/a
Canberra Raiders: 1 Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad 2 Nick Cotric 3 Jarrod Croker 4 Joseph Leilua 5 Jordan Rapana 6 Jack Wighton 18 Sam Williams 8 Josh Papalii 9 Josh Hodgson 10 Dunamis Lui 11 John Bateman 12 Elliott Whitehead 13 Ryan Sutton Interchange: 14 Siliva Havili 15 Hudson Young 16 Iosia Sloliola 17 Corey Horsburgh
Newcastle Knights: 14 Kurt Mann 2 Edrick Lee 3 Hymel Hunt 4 Jesse Ramien 5 Shaun Kenny-Dowall 6 Kalyn Ponga 7 Mitchell Pearce 8 David Klemmer 9 Danny Levi 16 Mitchell Barnett 11 Siona Mata’utia 12 Lachlan Fitzgibbon 13 Tim Glasby Interchange: 10 James Gavet 15 Aidan Guerra 18 Josh King 20 Jamie Buhrer