CANBERRA RAIDERS 26 (Jarrod Croker 2, Josh McCrone, Paul Vaughan, Edrick Lee tries; Anthony Milford 3 goals)
NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS 20 (Akuila Uate, Beau Scott, James McManus, Tyrone Roberts tries; Kurt Gidley 2 goals)
At Hunter Stadium on Sunday night.
Referees: Adam Devcich and Henry Perenara. Crowd: 14,674
MORE GRIT IN GREEN MACHINE VERSION 2014
The Canberra Raiders seem a more united, spirited and gritty team this year under new coach Ricky Stuart. Once Josh Papalii left the field injured, they had an excuse to throw in the towel, but showed great character to overcome adversity and finish over the top of the Knights. They defended three straight sets on their own line early in the second half with scored locked at 10-all. That would have been huge odds of happening in recent seasons. They look on the same page and are playing for each other.
HITMAN EDWARDS ON A MISSION
Ex-Newcastle Knight Joel Edwards was clearly on a mission to leave a lasting impression on his former teammates after coming up with a couple of crunching tackles. First the hard-hitting back rower lined up Newcastle centre B.J. Leilua to force a mistake. Just before half-time he caused a mini-scuffle when he upended Chris Houston well after he had got rid of the ball. The fiery redhead set the tone for a Canberra side, which played with great intensity. It wasn’t the only moment of spite in the match. Raiders lock Shaun Fensom nearly came to blows with Dane Gagai early in the match, with the referees giving both teams a stern dressing down before calling play on.
WIGHTON TAKES KICKING REINS
Canberra’s first-choice kicker Terry Campese was put under all sorts of pressure by North Queensland’s defence last week. The Raiders were too predictable with their last-tackle plays, and young five-eighth Jack Wighton tried to alleviate the attention on his skipper by taking the first few kicks of the game. His pinpoint grubber laid on the first try of the game for Jarrod Croker. Croker was unlucky not to double up after he dropped a Wighton bomb just before planting it down. The Raiders need other kicking option to ease Campese’s burden. It’s a major reason Josh McCrone was moved to hooker. He needs to do more of it, as does starting hooker Glen Buttriss and fullback Anthony Milford. While Wighton made a few mistakes, his early ball to Croker proved a major weapon for Canberra at times.
ARMGUARD REVIVES ‘BIG MAL’ MEMORIES
Canberra winger Edrick Lee joked during pre-season he didn’t want to wear a protective armguard because "I can’t play like Mal Meninga". Meninga wore an arm guard after breaking it multiple times during his career, and Lee has followed suit after he suffered the same injury midway through last year. Interestingly, he didn’t use the guard in his NRL return last week against the Cowboys. If he develops into even a quarter of the player Big Mal was, Raiders fans will be cheering.