Returning Best sparks Knights to beat Raiders

It's the adjective you least want to have applied to yourself during the COVID pandemic but the "infectious" energy of Bradman Best has sparked new life into Newcastle's NRL finals hopes.

After back-to-back defeats left their 2021 top eight hopes in jeopardy, Best returned from an ankle injury to play a key role in the Knights' 34-24 NRL over Canberra on Sunday.

In a match that had to be rescheduled from Saturday and played behind closed doors at Suncorp Stadium, 19-year-old Best scored one and set up two more as the Knights moved to 10th on the ladder, joining the Raiders, St George Illawarra and Cronulla on 18 points.

Best's left-side combination with winger Enari Tuala terrorised the Raiders throughout, with Tuala going on to score the first hat-trick of his NRL career.

"He's only a young, young man starting out on his journey so it's hard to keep putting a lot of pressure on him but they certainly love playing with him," Knights' coach Adam O'Brien said of Best

"His energy's infectious within the group ... he's so committed to the sport.

"He wants to compete all the time so that's infectious for us."

Another key player for the Knights was star fullback Kalyn Ponga, who also set up two tries and scored one in the crucial victory.

The Knights were up 34-12 when O"Brien gave Ponga an early mark, taking him off the field for the final 10 minutes, a decision he felt played a role in Canberra scoring two late tries but one he felt obliged to make with a four-day turnaround looming before Thursday's clash with Brisbane.

"I was mindful of him and the Saifiti boys. I knew that there were four days (between games)," O'Brien said.

"I thought at the end that the game was in the bag, which probably led to some of that defence."

Disappointed Raiders coach Ricky Stuart refused to blame the 24-hours of uncertainty before the match for the result.

After three straight wins had catapulted the Green Machine back into the finals race, a start where the Raiders were 18-0 down inside 21 minutes had been pivotal.

"We didn't start anywhere near where the way we had to. We lost all our momentum through our start to the game and that sucked a lot of juice out of us and we just looked very flat then," Stuart said.

"We weren't a shade of the team that we have been over the last two or three performances and that's the disappointing part of it because that wasn't us today.

"Certainly the disruption that went on yesterday has no bearing on how we performed today at all."

Stuart's team also ended the match with three players on report - Elliott Whitehead, Josh Papalii and Iosia Soliola - in a tough afternoon for the Green Machine.

The only highlight for Canberra was captain Jarrod Croker passing Johnathan Thurston to become the third-highest points-scorer in first-grade rugby league history with his four conversions.

Defeat leaves the Raiders outside the eight on differential heading into next weekend's crucial clash with the Dragons.