In Opposition – Barrow : Semi Final On Field September 21, 2017 Newcastle Thunder head for the Cumbrian coast on Sunday when they face Barrow Raiders in the Kingstone Press League 1 play-off semi-final as a strong end to the Super 8 phase of the competition saw them secure a spot in the end of year push for promotion. Following a tricky start to their post-split fixtures, where competitive performances yielded little reward, Jason Payne’s side rounded out that phase of the competition with solid wins over Keighley, Doncaster and York. It was a surge that allowed them to overhaul both the Cougars and the Dons and end the season fifth and meet their main targets for the season. And while it sets up the tantalising prospect of being just two wins from a return to the Championship, for the first time since 2009, it is a massive endeavour that sees the North East team fully aware of the status as underdogs. Barrow and Thunder have met twice already in 2017, with both fixtures at Kingston Park Stadium and both fixtures going the way of the visitors. The first clash between the clubs came on Good Friday and after a competitive start, Thunder found themselves with a mountain to climb as a pumped-up Raiders side ran riot, following a red card for Jack Aldous on 27 minutes. Ending in a 6-50 loss, it was a score-line that the Raiders deserved as they put in a ruthless performance to take full advantage of playing over half the game with a man up. Meeting again in the Super 8s, it was a Saturday night thriller in the North East, in which Thunder fought back from a clinical first-half demonstration from Barrow that had allowed them to assume a 6-30 lead with half an hour to go. In arguably their best performance of the season Thunder seized the momentum from the Raiders, reducing the deficit to just two points with four minutes to go and although a match-clinching score eluded them, it was a good demonstration of what the team is capable of. Excluding the Toronto Wolfpack, Barrow have been the form side in Kingstone Press League 1 in 2017. Winning 18 out of 22 games they have been a potent attack threat, scoring an average of 33 points a game. As with Thunder, two of their losses came at the hands of the Canadian behemoth that is the Wolfpack, but in the Raiders case, both fixtures were played on North American soil. Their only other defeat came in the final round of the first phase of the season and away to Whitehaven, meaning Paul Creary’s side have enjoyed an unbeaten season at home in the competition. Though the game poses a formidable challenge and will see the Raiders as heavy pre-match favourites, Thunder will take some heart from August’s Super 8 game, and their last visit to Craven Park, which ended in a thrilling 24 – 24 draw. One way or another, Saturday promises to serve up an exciting encounter. Players to Watch Jarrad Stack – Australian second row Stack is a new addition into the Raiders ranks for 2017, having made the switch to Craven Park following an eight year stint at Workington. Closing in on 200 career appearances and having scored over 67 tries, he has proven to be a key part of the Raiders success so far this season. Lewis Charnock – Former st Helens half back Charnock has proved to be a tough and dynamic addition to the Raiders squad after joining the club last winter. Just 22, he brings Super League experience and has been a key points scorer, with 14 tries and 114 goals in his 28 appearances for the year. Jamie Dallimore – Scrum half Dallimore is enjoying a strong second season at Craven Park and will head into this weekend’s game filled with confidence, after being at the root of the Raiders win over Doncaster last weekend. A vastly experienced player with over 130 career, he will be a key figure for Barrow.