The Raiders and Knights were both coming off home losses when they met at GIO Stadium on Friday night, for a critical match in Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad’s evolution in the Canberra jersey. It was a pretty smooth opening for the first five minutes, until Kurt Mann called Shaun Kenny-Dowall off a pretty standard kick from Jack Wighton but failed to clean it up himself. Three tackles later, Ryan Sutton tried to twist and spin through Danny Levi, but lost the footy as he was trying to get it down.
Newcastle got another letoff ten minutes into the match, when Canberra made some good metres up the right edge of the field, and then asking questions on both sides of the park, before Josh Hodgson sent through his best kick of the game so far. Sam Williams got to it on the bounce, but his hands were just high enough that a putdown became a knock-on – at least according to the Bunker, who were confident enough to reverse an onfield ruling of try, and turn the footy over to the Knights.
The third try was called back a set later – this time for the visitors – when Levi tried to crash over beside the posts. Something had to give, and finally John Bateman provided the Raiders with the momentum they needed, breaking through the line to lay the platform for one of their best sets of the game. While an Edrick Lee intercept prevented a right side sweep producing points, he took the footy into touch in the process, getting Canberra the scrum feed, and the set they needed to score.
The result was possibly the deftest matchup of the Canberra season so far – a superb kick from Hodgson, angled off the side of his right boot so that it ricocheted away from Kurt Mann and beneath the posts, where CNK ran a hard line to dive down, catch it on the bounce, and score his first four points as a Raider. After two disallowed tries, Canberra were finally on the board, with Jarrod Croker adding the extras from right in front to carry them to a six point lead.
For a moment, it looked like the Raiders would have all their momentum reversed, as Wighton shanked a 40/20 attempt into the crowd, before taking out his frustration with a leg pull that got the Knights another surge of field position. Yet with Tim Glasby coughing the footy almost immediately, the Raiders didn’t lose too much momentum, as the game settled into a real slog – an arm-wrestle summarized by Levi’s exhausted posture, crouching on his haunches, after he subbed off the field.Embed from Getty Images
One team needed a breakout effort to usher in the next stage of the night, and the Knights provided it with a superb right sweep a couple of sets later. The play started with Pearce sending the Steeden through Mann to Ramien, who stormed up the right side of the field, puting in a big left fend on Wighton, and then getting on the outside of CNK right on the line. While Charnze made a partial tackle, it was too little too late, and he was disposed of by Ramien’s left arm before the ex-Shark got the footy down with his right.
While Ponga booted the sideline conversion away to the left of the posts, the Knights had broken the game wide open, and were set to take control if only they could get another try down quickly. Lee embodied their determination with an epic double trysaving effort on Leilua – the initial contact that prevented Joey from slamming over at the end of a Canberra right sweep, and then the follow-up effort to get his right hand under the ball and wrap his body around Leilua as they both tumbled to ground.
Yet it was the Raiders who scored next, thanks to a chargedown from Wighton, who put himself in the path of a Pearce kick to make up for some of his spottier moments with the boot early in the game. A minute later, Sam Williams received the footy from Hodgson, and dummied as if to send a short pass to Elliott Whitehead. Sione Mata’utia turned his shoulders in at just the wrong moment, allowing Williams to slide past him and Pearce, and curve around to score right behind the posts.
Once again, Croker added the extras, bringing the green machine to an eight point lead as they trotted into the sheds. The rain had set in, and a thunderstorm was starting to approach, when they returned, making for a considerably slippery Steeden and stadium than during the opening forty. The slick of the Steeden first got the best of Iosioa Soliola during the play-the-ball about ten minutes in, but the Knights couldn’t capitalise after Ramien lost the footy, in turn, a few tackles later.
A series of handling errors now ensued for both sides, as the rain really got going, and the game started to settle back into the slog that ended the first stanza. Increasingly it felt like one team just needed to build some field position to score, and the Raiders got a chance with a pair of slow peels – from Aiden Guerra, then from James Gavet on the final tackle – but couldn’t deliver, while a big hit-up from Wighton went south when he was called offside at the start of the next Newcastle set.Embed from Getty Images
Canberra made good on their next bout of field position, however, which started with Bateman forcing a loose carry from Ponga. A minute later, Hodgson gathered the footy in the middle of the field before sending it right to Williams, who popped it across to CNK in turn. From there, the ex-Warrior proved how seriously he’s taken his time at fullback, making a pair of right foot steps on Hymel Hunt and then Lachlan Fitzgibbon to dive over the line for a double.
Seeing CNK cross over recouped the energy of the opening minutes for Canberra – he’s now scored nearly as many tries as NRL games he’s played – bringing them to quadruple the Knights when Croker’s kick slid away from the right posts. Yet Ponga responded immediately at the start of the next Newcastle set, putting his fumble behind him by leaping up to catch a Williams bomb – his highest jump of the night – before thudding painfully to ground.
The sacrifice was worth it, though, since the Knights would score on this set, thanks in part to a slow peel from Papalii that got them up the other end almost immediately. While all eyes were on Ponga, Pearce now stepped up, drawing Wighton off his line before sending Mata’utia through the line, before Sione shifted the Steeden across to Shaun Kenny-Dowall in turn. It all happened so quickly that the ex-Rooster was able to slam over in the corner, narrowing the scoreline to six points once Ponga booted through the most elegant two points of the night.
The Raiders got a bit of a scare when Leilua was pinged for elbowing Glasby in the face early in a promising Canberra set. Yet they managed to hold on, retaining their six point lead until the last five minutes, when Williams booted through a field goal after Hodgson had missed a one-pointer thirty seconds earlier. The Knights couldn’t find a way to retaliate in the dying stages of the game, so they’ll be looking for a big home win when they host the Dragons next week, while Canberra will be keen for a less precarious scoreline when they travel to Townsville to take on the Cowboys.