Canberra coach Ricky Stuart is wary of the threat Newcastle poses to his perfect NRL start, which would be the best in 15 years if the Raiders win on Sunday.
Not since 2005 have the Raiders won their first four games, while the Knights are also undefeated to start the season after last week’s dramatic draw with Penrith.
A tough showing against the Panthers under adversity showed Stuart the Knights have developed a new fortitude under coach Adam O’Brien.
“You can see that they’re playing for each other, which is a good sign and it’s going to be a very tough game,” Stuart said on Friday.
The premiership favourites are fresh off a big win over Melbourne and are set to host the Knights at Campbelltown Stadium for their first “home” game of the restarted season.
To get there, the Raiders will fly from Canberra to Bankstown on a chartered plane and take a bus from the airport to the stadium, followed by a bus home after the game.
It’s a travel routine the Raiders will have to endure until at least round nine.
“We’ve just got to get on with it each week and do what we possibly can to make it as comfortable as possible,” Stuart said.
Coming off a bruising draw with the Panthers the Knights’ big men are expected to back up after playing massive minutes last Sunday while star fullback Kalyn Ponga will rejoin the side after serving a suspension.
New signing Andrew McCullough will play his first game in Knights colours since joining from Brisbane.
Halfback Mitchell Pearce needs to pass all of the concussion protocols to be cleared to play after lasting less than five minutes against the Panthers with a heavy knock.
Should Pearce be given the green light, Stuart knows what to expect from the State of Origin star.
“I’ve had a lot to do with Mitch. He’s a good bloke but he’s also a very good football player,” Stuart said.
“He rallies a team around him.
“He would very much be enjoying this period at the moment when they’re winning games of football because it gets you on a high and he’ll be certainly on a high ready to play this week.
“He’s full of energy Mitch. He likes to lay the team on his back and be the leader and he’s very good at that, when he’s on the front foot and playing at you, he’s a very dominant half.”
*STATS THAT MATTER*
* Besides 2005, the Raiders have started at 4-0 on two other occasions, 1995 and 2003, making the finals on both occasions.
* The Knights have gone undefeated through four matches in six seasons, going 4-0 in 1995, 1998, 2002 and 2015, while in 1991 they started with two wins and two draws and in 1992 they had three wins and a draw.
* The Raiders have conceded exactly six points in all three games this season and including last year’s finals, have not conceded over 14 points in their past six games. The Raiders’ 18 points conceded is their fewest through the first three games in club history.