Steven Ross, North Queensland Correspondent, NRL.com
Raiders v Warriors
Sunday 2pm (local)
It was all looking so good for the Raiders last Monday night. Up by two points after as many minutes, and all before the Rabbitohs had even touched the ball.
But four minutes later the enthusiasm turned to another feeling which has become far more familiar in 2014, as Souths piled on four unanswered tries and harassed the Raiders’ frail edge defence to win 34-18.
Despite that, Ricky Stuart has retained the same 17 for this week’s meeting with the Warriors at GIO Stadium, in keeping with a theme throughout the year which has seen him use only 26 players - the third-lowest number in the NRL.
They'll wear special 'Hulk' jerseys this week too.
The Warriors stumbled their way to defeat against Manly last week, producing clumsy last-tackle plays which ultimately cost them, despite footing it with the premiership leaders for 70 minutes.
A big part of that loss can be put down to the late withdrawal of halfback Shaun Johnson, who worryingly for coach Andrew McFadden and fans aggravated his groin injury at training on Thursday and will sit out a second week in a row.
Back this week though is interchange forward Feleti Mateo, which sees Sione Lousi and rookie Tuimoala Lolohea drop back onto a six-man bench for the Kiwis.
Despite struggling to get over the line last week the Warriors still have the best attack in the competition, and on Sunday face a side who have the worst defence, leaking an average of over four tries per match.
That might suggest the result can only go the way of the visitors, but there are a number of factors, including an awful winning record in Canberra, which go against the Warriors and make this match-up interesting.
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Watch Out Raiders: The Canberra left edge is the worst defensive corridor in the competition and has leaked 28 tries this season, including three in their last outing. Their efforts when retreating are often abysmal, and this week they face one of the competition’s most damaging centres in Konrad Hurrell, a player who makes his living off running at smaller back-tracking defenders. Jarrod Croker was found wanting on several occasions on Monday night, and his reluctance to push up on defence won’t do him any good against the powerful Hurrell and Ngani Laumape.
The Green Machine have shown themselves to be notorious slow starters in 2014, and this week’s opponents come out of the gates faster than any other team in the competition. In their last two games the Raiders have conceded two tries within the opening 10 minutes, while the Warriors have scored a try in the opening 10 in all four of their last matches. Limiting the Warriors’ impact in those early exchanges will be crucial.
Watch Out Warriors: The game is being played in the nation’s capital, a place where the Warriors win just 16 per cent of the time. In 12 games across 19 years the Warriors have headed home in a good mood on only two occasions, the last of which was way back in 2001. Earlier in the season the Warriors broke long losing droughts in Townsville and at their alternative home venue of Eden Park; can they make it three for the year?
The Raiders may sit equal last on the NRL ladder, but they have some points in them and can throw plenty at you on the attacking side of the ball. They have scored more than 12 points in all of their past five games, despite tasting victory only once, and in Jarrod Croker they have the competition’s highest try scorer and a man who averages 91 running metres per game. Slacken off when Canberra have the ball in hand and it can hurt.
Plays To Watch: The side of the field where Croker and Sami Sauiluma will take on the Warriors’ Hurrell and Laumape is bound to be action-packed. All four players are dynamic in attack, with a potent mix of power and speed which has seen them score tries from all over the park this year. They also all have issues in defence, which is a good indication that plenty of opportunities, and ultimately points, will come down that channel.
The support play from both fullbacks will also feature heavily, with Anthony Milford and Sam Tomkins right up there among the most-talented ball handlers in the competition. How these two inject themselves against tiring forward packs will be important, and both their respective teams are at their best when they are heavily involved.
Where It Will Be Won: The Raiders and Warriors can look amazing with the ball in hand, but are guilty of wasting opportunities through impatience and reckless decisions. The team that values the pill the most should be able to build more pressure and get the better of this contest.
Concentration lapses that last for 15-20 minutes have also become near givens for both sides this season and there is no reason why this Sunday should be any different. Limiting the damage in these periods is a must, and it’s a time where discipline in the ruck and getting back the 10 is vital.
The History: Played 31; Raiders 17, Warriors 14. The overall head-to-head record between them may be evenly split, but in games played in Canberra it has been nothing but Raiders for the past 13 years. The Warriors haven’t won in the capital since 2001, when they were victorious by 22-10, and haven’t won at GIO Stadium [formerly Bruce Stadium] since 1997. Canberra have the better recent record between them, having won three of their past five encounters. But the one they lost was a doozy; going down 50-16 earlier this year.
What Are The Odds:
According to Sportsbet, the Warriors ($1.50) are the best backed side in the round. Over 90 per cent of money wagered has gone on the Warriors head to head, despite their less than impressive away record. However, that was before Johnson's withdrawal on Thursday. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referees – Gavin Morris & Gavin Reynolds; Touch Judges – Phil Henderson & Paul Holland; Video Referees – Ashley Klein & Ben Galea.
The Way We See It: The Raiders are in all sorts of bother heading into this game, with six losses in their last seven and weaknesses on both sides of the ball which tend to repeatedly invite their opponents into the game. The Warriors are coming off back-to-back losses, and for a team with fragile confidence levels, a win this weekend is crucial. All of the on-field stats point towards a Warriors victory, but this is a team who are specialists in the area of playing weak Raiders sides back into form. Without Johnson, for us it's Canberra by four in a contest with plenty of points.