Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart has accused his team of ‘playing like children’ in their 34-18 loss to the Newcastle Knights at Campbelltown Stadium on Sunday 7 June.
The Raiders were off from the start with Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad making an uncharacteristic mistake off a high ball and the Knights pounced, with young-gun Bradman Best scoring his first try of the match in just the second minute.
It didn’t get much better for the Raiders with Jack Wighton dropping the ball under no pressure on the last tackle which led to a Kalyn Ponga special as he strolled through some poor defence to make it 10-0 after 20 minutes.
The Raiders hit back through Wighton who took a spectacular leaping mark off a George Williams kick in the 30th minute.
The momentum was short lived however, when Wighton gave away a penalty try to Enari Tuala in the 38th minute to give the Knights a deserved 16-6 lead at half time.
The second half started like the first finished with former Raider Edrick Lee crossing over in both the 44th and 50th minutes to extend the Knights lead to 28-6.
The Raiders hit back with a try to Nick Cotric coming after another pinpoint Williams kick in the 52nd minute.
In the highlight of the match for Canberra, Josh Papalii shrugged off numerous Knights tacklers to score a solo try in the 57th minute to breathe some life into the contest.
However, the comeback wasn’t to be after a poor pass from Williams was dropped by Siliva Havili and left an open line for Best to score his second and put the finishing touches on a comprehensive 34-16 win.
Emotions boiled over after the Best try as both teams came together in a little fracas that saw Joe Tapine go toe to toe with David Klemmer.
The loss is a reality check for the Raiders, who had been talked up all week as premiership favourites after a dominant win in Melbourne.
The Raiders had only conceded three tries in their first three games of the season but let in six tries against the Knights, which clearly frustrated Stuart.
“Defensively tonight we were the worst we have defended for two years. It was a very, very poor showing of commitment in defence and it is not just the edges I am talking about, or the right edge – it all starts in the middle, and we played like children tonight,” Stuart said.
The right edge of the Raiders defence was under siege all night from Kalyn Ponga in particular, who starred in his return, scoring a try and setting up another two.
In more bad news for the Raiders, Jack Wighton failed to return from a HIA in the 64th minute after a head clash with a Knights player trying to stop Wighton from chasing his own kick, which Stuart says has become common practice this season.
“Jack’s been getting taken out of play after he kicks quite often,” Stuart said. “Because he is known as a very good kick chaser, after he kicks he gets pulled and tugged off the ball. That was a lazy play but it was an accident.
“I don’t think there was any malice in it, I am pretty sure the players involved in it wouldn’t have meant to hurt Jack … but you can’t take a kicker out of play.”
The Raiders are hopeful Wighton will be available for next Saturday night’s match against Wests Tigers at Campbelltown Stadium.
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