Raiders v Roosters
The Raiders are sitting exactly where they deserve to be on the competition table after four rounds – in last place. They are the same as seven other teams in that they have one win from four games, but their points-for-and-against differential is worse than all of those sides. But it's more than just the figures. There are obviously other teams whose form is particularly disappointing – the Eels immediately spring to mind – but the Jekyll-and-Hyde Canberra unit have enough playing talent to suggest they shouldn't be struggling anywhere near as much as they are.
The Raiders thought they had turned the corner with their 30-17 win over the Dragons in Round 3, but last weekend they slipped back to lose 28-12 on the road against the Knights. Admittedly, the Knights are proving very hard to beat at home this season – they have already won three from three there, and all by big margins – but the Raiders went through to the second week of the finals last season. They should be doing better than what they are.
The Roosters are sitting in sixth place, and that is at least where they deserve to be. They are on six points, the same as the Sea Eagles, Titans and Knights, but have an inferior points differential to each of those teams. Some people would suggest the Roosters would deserve to be sitting even higher, but it doesn't really matter at this early stage of the season. If they keep going the way they are, then over a long season they will challenge for a place in the top half of the final eight.
The Roosters smashed a hapless Eels team 50-0 on Monday night. Normally, you would consider a six-day turnaround that also involves travel and an overnight stay as a bit of a disadvantage, but the Roosters certainly didn't look like they hurt themselves in that game. They should be okay to meet the Raiders. The one advantage the Raiders have got, based on what we've seen from them over the first four rounds, is that they are playing at home. It is where they scored their only win so far.
In roster changes, Blake Ferguson’s cheekbone fracture sees Jack Wighton shifted to centre for the Raiders, with Edrick Lee coming onto the wing. Joel Thompson will start at lock, with Joel Edwards reverting the bench, while Matt McIlwrick joins the interchange at the expense of the dumped Shaun Berrigan. Anthony Milford has been added as 18th man.
In the Roosters camp, Boyd Cordner will start at lock for the injured Frank-Paul Nuuausala (knee ligaments), with Mitch Aubusson promoted from the bench to slot into the second row. Aidan Guerra and Luke O’Donnell are the new faces on their five-man interchange – it will be interesting to see whether coach Trent Robinson calls on O’Donnell this week after his one-game lay-off for disciplinary reasons.
Watch Out Raiders: Did someone mention Sonny Bill Williams? He's warming up to a big one for the Roosters. In the first three rounds, he concentrated on playing himself back into league and getting the basics right. Against the Eels, he started getting the offload going. He ran the ball seven times and offloaded on four of those occasions. If you're not going to wrap up SBW, you're asking him to carve you up.
Watch Out Roosters: Reece Robinson obviously wasn't the destroyer for the Raiders against the Knights that he was against the Dragons, but he still ran the ball for 159 metres. So he was trying to put himself in the game. Against the Dragons, he was on fire, scoring two tries and setting up another. He has got the ability to create space for himself with the combination of a feint and blinding acceleration.
Plays To Watch: Roosters winger Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is now quickly making a name for himself. It took him a while to actually start scoring tries – he didn't get any in his six games last year, or his first three this year – but he got off the mark with a bang when he scored three against the Eels. The Roosters love kicking to his wing, because he's great in the air.
Key Match-Up: It's got to be in the halves, where Maloney and Mitchell Pearce will go in for the Roosters against Raiders pair Josh McCrone and Sam Williams.
Maloney and Pearce are a new combination, but they are working it out well. Maloney is starting to run more now. He came up with 84 metres and two line-breaks against the Broncos, and backed that up with 55 metres against the Eels in a game where he just had to set up the players outside him.
McCrone pushes himself hard to make something happen, but sometimes too hard. He came up with three errors against the Knights. McCrone (three line-break assists, two try assists) is the senior partner in the Raiders' halves, and really needs to control this game for them.
Where It Will Be Won: The Roosters have got it going on all over the place at the moment. If they just break even in the forward battle they are going to beat most teams. Currently they rank 10th for metres gained each week (with 1308) while Canberra rank 13th (with 1255). The Raiders are going to have to get on top in the forwards or they can forget about the two competition points, even playing at home.
The History: Played 53; Roosters 29, Raiders 24. The ledger is four games apiece from the past eight clashes – although the Raiders hold a 10-6 advantage at Canberra Stadium. Neither side has ever held the other scoreless.
Match Officials: Referees – Matt Cecchin & Luke Phillips; Sideline Officials – Jeff Younis & Brenden Wood; Video Referees – Ashley Klein & Reece Williams.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – live, 6.30pm.
The Way We See It: You must always be wary of the Raiders at home, particularly at night when there might be that added nip in the air. If it's raining, they will feel even more at home. But the Roosters are playing with discipline, and are equipped to come away from this trip with a win. Roosters by six points.
*Statistics: NRL Stats.