Two of the four unbeaten sides in the 2020 NRL competition were thrown together at the Campbelltown Stadium in Sydney as the Canberra Raiders took on the Newcastle Knights. A big win for the Raiders would lift them to the top of the pile but the Knights knew that a win would see them into second.
Mitchell Pearce was selected for the Knights despite being concussed last time out and Kalyn Ponga was back from suspension for his first game since the restart. The Raiders were unchanged in the seventeen, just Bailey Simonsson and Jordan Rapana swapping positions.
The pre-match billing was that this would be a blood and thunder nail-biter.
There were less than two minutes on the clock when Bradman Best stormed his way over the line off a short pass to open the scoring for the Knights. Kalyn Ponga drilled his kick between the uprights for the best of possible starts for the Novocastrians.
Ponga coasted through the Canberra defence on twenty to score from thirty metres out after throwing a dummy which was bought by the Raiders defence. The full-back hit the near upright with his conversion attempt, Newcastle with a 10-0 lead.
Just after the half-hour mark the Raiders struck back with Jack Wighton rising above the Newcastle defence to take a high kick and drop to the ground over the whitewash. Jared Croker added the conversion to reduce the arrears to four points.
Two minutes before the break the Knights got their third. A Best grubber was chased by Enari Tuala who was tackled by Wighton without the ball as he went to ground. Referee Klein send the decision to the bunker as a penalty try and the touchline official agreed with the decision. Ponga added the conversion to send his side into the interval with a 16-6 lead.
Five minutes after the restart Edrick Lee stretched the Knights lead still further with a spectacular airborne try as he went down the left wing and stretched for the line to score before he was dragged into touch. Ponga added the conversion for 22-6, the game edging out of reach for Canberra.
Lee got his second seven minutes later when he took a Best pass in an acre of space to walk over and ground. It was all too easy for Newcastle and when Ponga added the conversion it was 28-6.
Within two minutes the Raiders struck back with Nick Cotric taking a George Williams cross-field kick to the corner, spinning out of the tackle and stretching for the line. Croker added the conversion but it was still a long way back.
On fifty-eight George Papalii got the Raiders third try after bumping past three tacklers from ten metres for a real barnstorming forwards try. Croker added the conversion to reduce the arrears to ten points with just over twenty minutes left on the clock.
Guerra spilled the ball with the line at his mercy on seventy-five as the rain began to take effect, but the game was already won for the Knights. The icing on the cake came in the last minute with a second try for Best through a broken and exhausted Canberra defence after hacking the ball through and collecting it on the bounce. Tex Hoy added the conversion to seal the 34-18 win.
Newcastle maintain their unbeaten start to the season and leap into second place in the table, more importantly they took apart a Canberra side who started the round above them in the table and who also had an unbeaten record in 2020. Canberra did have their moments but the Knights never looked in any danger of losing the points.
Canberra Raiders: Nicoll-Klokstad, Simonsson, Croker (2G), Scott, Cotric (T), Wighton (T), Williams, Papalii (T), Hodgson, Lui, Tapine, Whitehead, Horsburgh. Subs: Havili, Guler, Soliola, Rapana.
Newcastle Knights: Ponga (T, 4G), Lee (2T), Tuala (T), Best (2T), Hunt, Mann, Pearce, Klemmer, McCullough, Saifiti D, Guerra, Mata’utia, Ese’ese. Subs: Hoy (G), Saififi J, Glasby, Jones.
Referee: Ashley Klein.
Ground: Campbelltown Stadium, Sydney.