Newcastle Knights rattle Canberra Raiders in Campbelltown

The Raiders travelled up the highway to Campbelltown to host the Knights, with both teams unbeaten so far in 2020. The Raiders had risen to premiership favouritism after a dominant start to the season, built largely on a rock solid defence, but they were rattled by the Knights who ran in six tries on their way to an impressive 34-18 victory.

Newcastle were coming off a dogged fightback effort against the Panthers last week and welcomed back skipper Mitchell Pearce and fullback Kalyn Ponga. The two stars were key to the performance; along with Kurt Mann, they took control of the game and created much of the attack.

The Raiders ran onto the field to the sounds of a virtual Viking clap, as the big screen showed fans clapping to the beat. Knights prop Dave Klemmer took the first hit-up from the kick-off and was hammered by a lime green wall, before slipping an offload.

The Knights worked their way comfortably into the Raiders half before Raiders fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad dropped a last-tackle bomb. From the scrum the Knights spread the ball to the left through the hands of Pearce and a weaving Ponga, who slipped a perfect pass to Bradman Best who crashed over for the first try after only two minutes. It was very uncharacteristic for the Raiders, who had not conceded more than 6 points in their last three games.

A similar high ball from the last tackle of the very next set was dropped again by Nicoll-Klokstad, this time ruled to have gone backwards. The Raiders had their first touch of the ball 4 minutes into the game and finished their set with a kick from Jack Wighton which was too long, dribbling dead to give the Knights a 7-tackle set. Shortly after Klemmer was penalised for obstructing the defence, and the Raiders were on the attack. This time Wighton was caught on the last for a handover.

The game settled into multiple sets of six for both teams before in the tenth minute the Raiders had their best chance. A nice pass from Wighton saw Jarrod Croker in the clear, he weaved his way inside fullback Ponga, before attempting to flick the ball out to his winger Bailey Simonsson. The ball floated over the touchline to the relief of the Knights.

The Knights were winning the early exchanges in the forwards and Pearce continued to bomb Nicoll-Klokstad, who by now had found his hands. Klemmer was causing problems for the Raiders with offloads and Mann was finding room to run on the left edge. It wasn't until 17 minutes in that the first six again call went out, the Raiders benefitting, but a last tackle kick found Edrick Lee, before Best made a telling run out from his own line.

Another mistake on the last tackle from Wighton saw the Knights on the prowl again. Ten metres into the Raiders half, Ponga put on one of his classic skip, hop and acceleration to leave Elliot Whitehead in his wake, Nicoll-Klokstad grasping at air and an open try line ahead of him. Ponga smashed the conversion attempt into the upright, but the Knights had taken an early 10-0 lead.

With 14 minutes left in the half the Raiders were attacking the Knights line. But a cut-out pass found Knights winger Lee. The Raiders were lacking polish as the Knights defence frustrated them into errors. From the ensuing set, Ponga was hammered and the ball was picked up by Wighton. He was off for the prize until ankle tapped by Hymel Hunt and the Raiders lost the ball shortly after.

A successful captain's challenge 10 minutes out from the break, followed by a scrum penalty, provided relief for the Raiders and put them in Knights' territory. From a last-tackle George Williams bomb, Wighton was able to out-leap the Knights defenders to score the first try for the Green machine. Croker converted to take the score to 10-6.

With two minutes remaining in the half Pearce bombed to the corner and Lee flew high, knocking it back to Best, who stepped and put through a kick under the posts. Knights centre Enari Tuala was winning the race to the ball when he was grabbed from behind by Wighton. It was ruled a penalty try and the conversion took the Knights back to a 10-point lead as the siren sounded and they trudged off for oranges.

The Raiders started the second half with back-to-back sets after a handy six again call and they were centimetres away from scoring, as back-row forward Joseph Tapine reached out for the line. On the last tackle their kick was ineffective, fielded on the full in the in-goal area by Lee for a seven-tackle restart.

The Knights then received a helpful six again call, and were on the attack once again. The Raiders knocked on giving the Knights the scrum feed and they scored another try with slick passing out to the wing. This time Lee dived and stretched out his arm to claim the four-pointer, which Ponga converted to take the score to 22-6.

The Knights had the Raiders rattled. Ten minutes into the second half a Williams kick to Ponga saw the talented fullback pick the ball up behind his posts and make a bullocking run through the heart of the Raiders forwards to the 10 metre line, where his struggles were rewarded with a penalty. The Knights worked their way down the other end of the field where on the last tackle Pearce passed to Ponga, who passed to Best, who passed to Lee for another try in that same corner. Ponga converted again and the Knights were making a meal of this vital clash.

Canberra weren't going to give up though, a short grubber kick off was regained by the Raiders and several tackles later a Williams chip kick to Cotric saw him out-leap Lee to score in the corner. The masterly boot of Croker converted to bring the score to 28-12 in Newcastle's favour.

The next time the Raiders were down that end of the field, the ball found Josh Papalii who barged through four tackles on a wrecking ball run to the line. The Croker conversion saw the Raiders creep to a 10-point deficit, 28-18. There was still 20 minutes on the clock and the Green Machine was gaining momentum.

With 18 minutes remaining, Wighton went off after a head clash in a late tackle, with Jordan Rapana taking his place. The loss of one of their key attacking weapons brought the Raiders' fightback to a halt, as the Knights regrouped and muscled up in defence.

With six minutes remaining Ponga was taken the field due to a head knock he experienced five minutes earlier. The rain started falling, but the cardboard crowd braved the weather, with not a single umbrella raised. The slippery conditions cost Aidan Guerra a try after he was sent through a gap on the Raiders 40 metre line. A clever set play where Mann passed inside to Pearce who passed out to Guerra sent the former Origin forward on his way, but a desperate Curtis Scott dive was enough to knock the slippery ball from his grasp with five metres to go.

With four minutes on the clock, Williams put through a kick on the last tackle, but Tuala filling in for Ponga at the back, was able to kick the ball clear. From the drop-out the Raiders came back hard, but the Knights defence denied them.

In the dying minutes, Klemmer put a big hit on Williams near halfway, his pass was spilt and Best toed the ball through, picked it up and scored under the posts. A push and shove ensued with Tapine throwing a punch at Klemmer as the Raiders' frustrations showed with the siren wailing in the background.

The Raiders go on to face the Tigers next week, while the Knights will have another chance to prove themselves against the Storm.