When Newcastle attempt to restore their pride this Saturday they’ll have one eye on Canberra’s burly forwards – and the other fixated firmly on Blake Austin.
Seven losses in the last eight rounds ensures the under-pressure Knights will have desperation on their side when they host the Raiders at Hunter Stadium.
Having slipped to an unenviable 12th spot on the NRL ladder, coach Rick Stone’s men need a win before the bye if they fancy getting their finals aspirations back on track.
But returning skipper Kurt Gidley says that won’t happen if they can’t contain the Raiders’ five-eighth Austin.
“He’s a really good runner of the footy and he’s confident at the moment too, so he’s backing himself to take the line on,” Gidley said.
“He’s one that we watched some video on this morning and we’ll need to be aware of when he has the ball, where he is and make sure we don’t fall for any dummies.”
The Knights looked to have turned a corner in form in last week’s four-point loss to the Warriors.
They were missing a host of veterans then, as well as overcoming the loss of halfback Tyrone Roberts to an ankle injury just three minutes in.
Roberts will be out for at least a month, but his teammates will benefit from the presence of replacement Gidley at No.7 and returning forward Kade Snowden (neck), with fullback Dane Gagai (calf) also expected to play.
This week it’ll be a case of the same game plan, against a bigger pack.
“They always have a pretty big forward pack so in the middle of the field, we’ll need to do a pretty good job there,” Gidley said.
“Obviously the past number of games we’ve been inconsistent.
“Any time we’ve played well we’ve defended really well.
“But we’ve been leaking too many points at different stages of our games and we’ve been inconsistent defensively.”
They’ve at least leaked less than Canberra.
The Raiders have conceded the most points (281) of any NRL team this season despite also having scored the most (275).
Their recent slump of three defeats has seen them slip from top-four contenders to 10th and equal on points with Newcastle.
Raiders forward Frank-Paul Nuuausala admitted the majority of their conceded tries have been let in on the edges, saying the key will be marking the Knights’ dangerous outside backs including Sione Mata’utia, and Akuila Uate.
“They’re the ones who start the sets for their team, so we’ve got to control that and make sure we stop that,” Nuuausala said.
“Then it will be pretty hard for them to get out of their own yard.”
*Last week was the first time in six matches that less than 50 total points were scored in a Canberra game.
*The Raiders have let in almost 40 per cent of their tries this season through their right edge.
*Newcastle are conceding the equal-fewest penalties this season (5.3 per game). After losing the penalty count in their opening three matches they have now won every one since.
*The Knights are busting the most tackles (28.3 per game) and making the second-most linebreaks (5.7 per game).