Ben Blaschke, NRL.com
Raiders v Bulldogs
As the finals approach and so many games take on extra significance, few come with so much riding on them as this one.
With Canterbury currently fifth but just two points clear of ninth-placed Canberra, seasons can be won and lost on encounters such as these. And there is no doubt that both sides have a lot to prove.
The Raiders have now lost two games in a row to slip just outside of the eight but while they put in a solid performance in their 28-22 loss to competition leaders the Roosters last week, it is the 68-4 thrashing they copped at the hands of Melbourne in their last home outing that will be weighing heavily on their minds.
Canberra had won 12 in a row on home soil to that point but the thud with which they came crashing back to earth will have stung greatly and they will be keen to make amends to the Raiders faithful.
That won’t be easy given another tumultuous week for the Green Machine. On the field they have suffered a significant blow with captain Terry Campese ruled out with an eye injury while off the field there have been significant distractions with Anthony Milford requesting a release and reports Blake Ferguson is set to do the same.
Milford has long been known to be homesick and wants to be closer to his ill father in Queensland, while Ferguson is believed to want to return to Sydney to be closer to his uncle Anthony Mundine, who has taken a significant interest in helping the wayward star get his life back on track.
Not surprisingly, the Raiders are reluctant to agree to release either given the fact they’ve been burned before through the likes of Todd Carney and Josh Dugan, but either way the distraction won’t have helped ahead of this week’s clash.
Ironically, Canterbury is experiencing a similar dilemma with star fullback Ben Barba formally requesting a release to return to Queensland to be near his kids.
Barba’s off-field troubles have also been well-documented and although he appears to be on the right track in that regard, the Bulldogs don’t want to see him go given how influential he is. His absence was certainly notable as Canterbury fell to a surprise 26-16 loss to the Gold Coast last week.
The Bulldogs need Barba at the club and on the field but as they await his return from injury they also need a win this week to maintain their position on the Telstra Premiership ladder. For both sides, a loss this week could prove catastrophic.
Campese’s absence will see either Sam Williams come into the side at halfback with Josh McCrone moving to five-eighth or Anthony Milford move back into the halves with Reece Robinson coming into the fullback role. Tackling machine Shaun Fensom has also been ruled out. His position will be taken by Joel Edwards, with Jake Foster coming onto the bench.
Canterbury have named Sam Perrett at fullback in Barba’s absence while the absence of Greg Eastwood and Sam Kasiano through injury has also seen the forwards shuffled with Dale Finucane and Tony Williams coming into the starting side in the back row and James Graham in the front row. Tim Browne, Marty Taupau and Lachlan Burr have all been named on the bench.
Canberra have beaten the Bulldogs twice in the same year only once in the past decade (2008) – although they have averaged 29.3 points against them in the past five years.
Watch Out Raiders: Canterbury will be looking for their two blonde-haired front-rowers to make a big impact this week given that they rank as the club’s most prolific metre-eaters this season. The Bulldogs’ props are their strength, with James Graham averaging 126 metres per game this season and Aiden Tolman 121.
Watch Out Bulldogs: Canberra’s right edge is lethal and Canterbury will need to defend well on that side to negate the threat. It all starts with back-rower Josh Papalii who boasts 66 tackle-breaks and an average 114 metres per game in 2013 while on his outside Blake Ferguson has quickly settled back into the NRL after scoring two tries, making four line-breaks and 159 metres against the Roosters last week.
Plays To Watch: The Raiders will look to get some early ball to Anthony Milford in one-on-one situations because he is lethal when able to put some footwork on his opposite number. Watch for the Bulldogs to use their big men as battering rams close to the try line. They love throwing short flat balls and inside balls to their forwards on the fly.
Key Match-Up: Blake Ferguson v Josh Morris. Teammates for NSW in Game One of this year’s State of Origin series, Blake Ferguson and Josh Morris will be keen to score a points victory in this key match-up. Ferguson is one of the most dangerous attacking players in the game while Morris’ speed and ability to beat his man are his great assets.
Where It Will Be Won: In the middle, where Canberra boast one of the biggest packs in the NRL and will be looking to dominate their opponents. In fact, with Ben Barba missing, the forward battle becomes even more crucial because without their main strike weapon they need to dominate in the middle to create opportunities.
The History: Played 59; Bulldogs 33, Raiders 26. The Bulldogs have won 12 of their past 16 away games.
Match Officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Gavin Reynolds; Sideline Officials – Grant Atkins & Adam Reid; Video Referees – Steve Clark & Matt Rodwell.
NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone, iPad or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week, including the Raiders v Bulldogs clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 3pm.
The Way We See It: A huge match for both sides should see both throw everything at one another, however the Bulldogs’ loss to the Gold Coast last week was concerning. Without Ben Barba they lack the attacking spark that took them to the decider last year while the return of Blake Ferguson for Canberra last week provided them with another weapon. Back on home soil and with a point to prove after their last home outing, the Raiders should be able to get the job done here. Raiders by 10 points.
*Statistics: NRL Stats