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Tipster's nightmare: Ricky's written-off Raiders upset rusty Knights to show they won't be wooden spoon fodder

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Expert
7th March, 2024
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The NRL’s opening fixture on home soil to kick off the 2024 season was not necessarily a clash of the titans but Newcastle and Canberra served up an intense contest more representative of the competition’s weekly grind than the glamour of Las Vegas. 

While the Knights were rusty, the written-off Raiders were fired up to prove their many critics wrong that they could still be finals contenders despite the departure of former Dally M Medal winner Jack Wighton. 

And the Green Machine continued the tipster’s nightmare start to the year when they peeled off the third straight upset in as many matches on the back of Manly beating Souths and the Roosters rolling Brisbane in Vegas. 

There was nothing flashy about this 28-12 triumph. With Corey Horsburgh suspended, Josh Papalii and Joseph Tapine laid the groundwork through the middle, Jamal Fogarty directed the team where they needed to be in attack and the Raiders gritted their way to a first-up victory.

Wooden spoon talk spurs Raiders on

Canberra have been widely predicted to be among the also-rans, even wooden spooners this year, despite making the playoffs last season and nearly advancing to the second round before being beaten in a controversial thriller against the Knights in Newcastle.

In a perverse way, their coach Ricky Stuart will be happy with his team being panned by the so-called experts because it will add further fuel to the fire of his eternal rage.

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“It’s only game one,” Stuart said. “It’s been a fun off-season. All the younger players have rejuvenated life and energy and when the senior boys came back after their rep commitments, they took the training to another standard.

“I’ve got to credit the buy-in from the whole group.”

NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 07: Zac Hosking of the Raidersis tackled during the round one NRL match between Newcastle Knights and Canberra Raiders at McDonald Jones Stadium on March 07, 2024, in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

Zac Hosking is tackled. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

New five-eighth Ethan Strange had a few eye-catching moments and the 19-year-old playmaker, who represented NSW in the under-19 Origin ranks last year, is clearly a player of the future.

“I think people will see we’ve got something to work with,” Stuart said when asked about his young pivot. “It’s only going to get better.”

Knights never in the contest

Newcastle, after being one of the form teams for the second half of 2023, are expected to again be playoff contenders and potential top-four threats.

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But they will just be making up the numbers if they play too often like their opening performance.

Of course this was just one game and they are hoping to have influential hooker Jayden Brailey back from a hamstring injury next Saturday when they head north to the tropics to face the Cowboys.

Newcastle coach Adam O’Brien stuck by incumbent duo Jackson Hastings and Tyson Gamble as his starting halves ahead of off-season recruits Jack Cogger and Will Pryce so he has options if he would like to shake up his line-up early in the season.

“I thought we started OK, especially defensively,” O’Brien said.

“Our game lacked any sort of grit. We were impatient. It felt like we wanted the highlight reel. The other mob, they scored four tries on the last play, they were scrappy tries but that’s what they wanted.

“They came here wanting to get into a scrap and I don’t reckon we did and we got a lesson on what wins the first month of footy, that’s high completions and working hard all the way through to the back end of the set and not looking for the easy way out.”

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O’Brien was not concerned about a contentious disallowed try to Tyson Frizell and said they had much bigger problems than whingeing about the refs.

Young shoulders on Ponga’s head

Newcastle looked like a team short of a gallop in the early stages, kicking out on the full twice and coming up with some basic handling errors.

They conceded a crusher tackle penalty on their line for Canberra to open the scoring and Jamal Fogarty also kicked accurately for Zac Hosking to fly high in his first match as a Raider for an 8-0 lead after 26 minutes.

The Green Machine managed to power over the line despite being down to 12 after Hudson Young was marched for 10 minutes. 

Knights star Kalyn Ponga cut through the defence in the middle of the field to send Tyson Gamble away for a try which was called back due to an obstruction. 

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Young had time to pull out of the hit on Ponga after he passed to Gamble and although the raucous McDonald Jones Stadium crowd of 22,378 were calling for him to be sent off after sending their fullback flying, the sin bin was the right call.

“If we’re going to start sin-binning people for that, we’re going to be playing a lot of games with 12,” Stuart said. “If that is a sin bin offence and then that is a week off (suspended), it’s got to be consistent every week, every game. But it won’t be.”

Young will at worst cop a minor charge from the match review committee, Knights prop Leo Thompson should be right for his early crusher tackle but Raiders forward Emre Guler is likely to get a week or two for a hi-drop tackle.

Newcastle cashed in on their advantage just before Young returned to the fray when Frizell crashed through the stretched edge defence where his opposing second-rower would have been. 

Canberra regained the momentum eight minutes into the second half when Danny Levi scooted over from dummy-half to give the visitors a thoroughly deserved 14-6 advantage.

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Time and again the Knights had a chance to hit back but let themselves down with poor options and worse handling.

The Raiders all but sealed their boilover result in the 64th minute when a Fogarty bomb was claimed by Matt Timoko while three Knights stood idly by and the centre offloaded for Xavier Savage to touch down in the corner for a 14-point lead.

There was no way back for the Knights 10 minutes from full-time when an Adam Elliott knock-on led to Strange and Timoko combining well to give Jordan Rapana a saloon passage to the stripe.

A consolation try to Hastings in the closing stages reduced the margin but did little to restore sheen to the Knights’ lacklustre display as Young barged over in the final minute to heap more misery on the home side.

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