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2021 NRL Round Nine Preview, Raiders Vs Knights

Matt Pritchard previews the clash between the ninth-placed Raiders and eleventh-placed Knights at McDonalds Park in Wagga Wagga.

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TEAM NEWS

Venue: McDonalds Park (Wagga Wagga), Date: 8/5, Time: 3pm

Raiders Team

1. Caleb Aekins
2. Bailey Simonsson
3. Sebastian Kris
4. Curtis Scott
5. Jordan Rapana
6. Jack Wighton
7. George Williams
8. Josh Papalii
9. Tom Starling
10. Emre Guler
11. Corey Harawira-Naera
12. Elliott Whitehead
13. Ryan Sutton
14. Siliva Havili
15. Hudson Young
16. Corey Horsburgh
17. Joseph Tapine
18. Sam Williams
19. Ryan James
20. Matthew Timoko
21. Dunamis Lui

Team Changes

IN: Dunamis Lui, George Williams, Josh Papalii, Sam Williams.
OUT: Iosia Soliola.

Knights Team

1. Kalyn Ponga
2. Brayden Musgrove
3. Enari Tuala
4. Bradman Best
5. Hymel Hunt
6. Kurt Mann
7. Phoenix Crossland
8. David Klemmer
9. Jayden Brailey
10. Daniel Saifiti
11. Tyson Frizell
12. Mitchell Barnett
13. Connor Watson
14. Sauaso Sue
15. Jacob Saifiti
16. Brodie Jones
17. Pasami Saulo
18. Lachlan Fitzgibbon
19. Starford To’a
20. Josh King
21. Tex Hoy

Team Changes

IN: Hymel Hunt, Josh King, Lachlan Fitzgibbon, Tex Hoy.
OUT:
Blake Green

Referee: Adam Gee

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Raiders

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It’s been an unhappy month for the Raiders as they’ve slid outside the top eight with losses to fellow 2020 finalists Penrith Panthers (30-10), Parramatta Eels (35-10) and South Sydney Rabbitohs (34-20). The surprise was the loss in North Queensland where they held a neat 24-12 lead at the half-time break.

The speculation about George Williams’ future, Josh Hodgson relinquishing the captaincy and Joseph Tapine’s wife taking aim at Ricky Stuart, just adds to mounting pressure on the 2019 grand finalists.

Last week in their loss to the Rabbitohs they adapted to the late withdrawal of Williams, taking a surprise lead into the break. Souths scored three unanswered tries in the 20 minutes after the break before Jordan Rapana scored his second. A grandstand finish was avoided with one try cancelled out by the Bunker and another pulled back for obstruction. The effort was there despite the absence of Josh Papalii, who was controversially rested.

Stuart has named Papalii and Williams in the 17 this week. Sia Soliola drops out of the squad.

Knights

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Newcastle are aiming to end a two-game losing streak. Their last win came against the Sharks in mid-April, a game where Kalyn Ponga starred while suffering from illness all night. In round seven they pushed the Panthers for almost 70 minutes before going down 24-6, before being comprehensively beaten by the Roosters 38-4 at McDonald Jones last start.

Coach Adam O’Brien is urging his players to find the spark that’s been missing this season. To be fair, injuries aren’t being kind to the Knights, with Mitchell Pearce, Hymel Hunt, and Edrick Lee on the sidelines. Last week a late hit on Blake Green by Matt Ikavalu added to the injury list.

Pheonix Crossland will replace Green in the halves. Lachlan Fitzgibbon is named on the reserves list as he closes on returning from shoulder surgery in the pre-season.

PREVIEW

With the regular season a third of the way completed, both the Raiders and Knights will be desperate to stay within reach of the top eight. For now the ambitions of the Raiders to make the top four are on hold as they concentrate on putting a tough month behind them. The Knights need to pick up a few wins on the road after winning just two of five at home – that record is unlikely to help them make the finals.

Both side’s chances rely heavily on their playmakers to provide an edge. Jack Wighton took on the added responsibility last week without George Williams and almost rose to the occasion in the final 20. Kalyn Ponga is without doubt Newcastle’s hope given the heavy criticism of the halves over recent weeks where Kurt Mann and Blake Green have struggled to add much-needed punch.

Both sides have solid forward packs but it may come down to the number nines – Tom Starling and Jayden Brailey – to add spark to their respective sides. With Hodgson stepping aside as skipper this is the opportune time for Starling to make the starting role his own.

If the Knights are able to show some attacking flair, then expect a big game from Bradman Best. He’s overdue for a try given his eight tries in 11 matches last season. Canberra will be hoping Jordan Rapana can add to his tally of eight season tries. He’s in white hot form having scored doubles in the last two outings.

This is anyone’s game given the Raiders’ slump and the Knights having just won one of their last six. There might be just a little bit more class across the field in the Raiders side as they try to maintain their good record in Wagga Wagga.

KEY STAT

When these two sides met in June last year during the middle of the COVID-19 lockdown, Newcastle stole the two points, winning 34-18, with Bradman Best and Edrick Lee scoring braces for the Knights. In the last decade they’ve met on 17 occasions with both sides recording eight wins apiece and one draw. Canberra were the last side to record back-to-back wins in 2015. Since then, it’s been a win followed by a loss to either side.

PREDICTION

Raiders by 10.

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