Knights lose Pearce for Raiders clash

Newcastle have suffered a big blow with Mitchell Pearce ruled out of their clash against Canberra.
Newcastle have suffered a big blow with Mitchell Pearce ruled out of their clash against Canberra.

Newcastle have copped a massive blow with Mitchell Pearce ruled out of their clash with Canberra as the seven-team race for the last two finals spots heats up.

Pearce was hoping to return from a hamstring injury against the Raiders on Saturday at Suncorp Stadium, but failed to get through training on Friday.

That leaves the Knights with Phoenix Crossloand and Jake Clifford in the halves, after the former was hooked after 58 minutes in last week's loss to the Sydney Roosters.

Kalyn Ponga has at least got through the week unscathed for the Knights after a sternum concern, while Bradman Best is also back.

"Mitch won't get up for the game. He went through some more training this morning to the side of the team," coach Adam O'Brien said.

"He just hasn't ticked all the boxes to make us comfortable for him to play this weekend.

"The two young guys have trained with the team and ran the team the whole week. They have taken charge.

"I'm quite satisfied with the level of training we have done around that area."

Saturday's game is the first of eight match ups that are effectively four-point games in the run home to the finals, with the Raiders and Knights separated by just one win.

Under-performers and inconsistent for the majority of the year, the Knights have the easiest run home of all seven teams with no games against the competition's top-six sides.

They also face a battling Brisbane side twice as well as last-placed Canterbury, leaving their fate very much in their own hands.

"We're not talking about the finals," O'Brien insisted.

"All we have talked about is being committed to a full 80-minute performance.

"We have been really patchy. We don't need to invent a style. We just need to play to our capabilities."

Outside of the Knights, the Wests Tigers are the other team with an easier run with three games also against the bottom three sides in the final six rounds.

Eighth-placed St George Illawarra have it the hardest, with two games against South Sydney as well as dates with Penrith and the Roosters.

Canberra can also expect a tough time with matches against Melbourne, Manly and the Roosters to come.

NRL GAMES TO DECIDE TOP EIGHT

Ladder (before round 20):

7. Cronulla (18)

8. St George Illawarra (18)

9. Canberra (18)

10. Gold Coast 16)

11. Newcastle (16)

12. Wests Tigers (14)

13. North Queensland (14)

Round 20:

Newcastle v Canberra

Round 21:

Canberra v St George Illawarra

Gold Coast v North Queensland

Round 22:

North Queensland v Wests Tigers

Cronulla v Newcastle

Round 23:

Wests Tigers v Cronulla

Round 24:

Newcastle v Gold Coast

St George Illawarra v North Queensland

Australian Associated Press