This Sunday blockbuster in the nation’s capital should give us a greater insight into just how well the Raiders will fare in 2009.
Known as a side who battles away but wins the majority of home games, Canberra face a huge test in the resurgent Bulldogs.
Only an interchange breach and subsequent loss of competition points is between the Bulldogs and the top of the NRL ladder (they are officially third now) while the Raiders are only four competition points behind, but 11 ladder rungs down in 14th.
In the opening six rounds the Raiders played just two home games, splitting them with a loss to the Roosters and a win against the Cowboys.
Now they start a run which includes three home games in four matches, and should they want to climb the competition standings, they’ll need to take advantage.
The Bulldogs have only won one of their past four away games in the day, while the Raiders have won six of their past seven home games in daylight.
The home side comes into the contest following a close 16-10 loss to the Gold Coast with a forced change to their line-up. Halfback Marc Herbert is out, which paves the way for youngster Josh McCrone to hit the NRL scene. Fellow young gun Travis Waddell has been named at hooker, which sees Alan Tongue move back to lock and Josh Miller join the bench. Also, Shaun Fensom is out, with Dane Tilse and Nigel Plum slated to be part of a five-man bench.
For the Bulldogs, bad boy Jamal Idris has earned a reprieve thanks to an injury to Josh Morris while David Stagg returns from illness at lock, pushing Greg Eastwood to the bench. Matt Utai misses out.
After hammering Parramatta last weekend the Bulldogs have already equalled the amount of wins they managed for their entire 2008 wooden spoon season; to date they have scored more points than any other side.
Watch out Raiders: The form of Bulldogs prop Ben Hannant has been brilliant and he must be contained. Against Parramatta the Queensland Origin representative had 13 runs, 40 tackles and a try assist and so far the new recruit has improved on his 2008 averages in minutes played (56.7), runs (14.5), metres (119.3) and tackles (32.8).
The Canberra side is making more yards as a unit compared to the Bulldogs but the difference is negligible… unless Hannant, as the dominant ’Dogs forward, is kept well below his average. Should the Green Machine limit the former Roosters and Broncos prop significantly, they could go a long way to winning the battle for field position.
Watch out Bulldogs: Buoyed by the knowledge he has made the preliminary New South Wales squad, look for Raiders five-eighth Terry Campese to dominate.
Campese is looking to erase an embarrassing finish to the Titans match, where he managed to air swing an attempted drop-goal late in the game, the error allowing the Gold Coast to mount a final challenge and eventual try to clinch victory.
Campese’s kicking game has been first class so far this year; he is averaging 368 metres gained from the boot and is also providing try-scoring opportunities at will. He has nine try assists for the year, is running for 70 metres a match, and has two line breaks, six line-break assists, a try, plus 12 tackle breaks and eight offloads.
Where it will be won: Goal line defence. If the Bulldogs have shown a weakness this year it has been goal line defence, while the Raiders haven’t been great in the area for a few seasons now.
Both sides have allowed 11 tries to be scored against them from 0-10 metres, with only the Roosters and Sharks (12 each) faring worse. If they are to stay in front in this contest they will need to muscle up and communicate much better when scrambling off their line.
In terms of scoring tries from close range the Bulldogs have grabbed 11 and the Raiders eight so both have shown they can penetrate from close.
Canberra should keep an eye on Michael Ennis from dummy-half in this danger zone, while the same can be said for the Bulldogs regarding Raiders skipper Alan Tongue.
The History: Played 52; Raiders 23, Bulldogs 29. The Bulldogs might have the overall record but the Raiders have won 10 of 15 games at Canberra Stadium and they also won both clashes last season.
Conclusion: The Bulldogs come into this match in red-hot form and as such might be the team to tip. But the Raiders are usually a 12-point better team at home, giving them a real chance.
They love playing at home in the daytime as they can use their all-out attack and if they get off to a flyer the Bulldogs might not know how to react.
The loss of Josh Morris for the Bulldogs is a significant one, although Jamal Idris is a more than handy replacement. There are legitimate reasons to tip either side in this one so just go with the team that gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling.
Match officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Chris James; Sideline Officials – Gavin Atkins & Jeff Younis; Video Ref – Phil Cooley.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 2pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.