On the surface, this match should be an easy victory for the home side... but there’s more to it than meets the eye. Although the Bulldogs are ranked second and the Raiders are ranked 13th, this clash could certainly be viewed as an even contest – on form at least.
Last weekend the Raiders gave the Broncos a massive dose of ‘capital’ punishment – smashing Brisbane 56-0 and all but ending the Broncos’ finals hopes. The Bulldogs, on the other hand, scraped through for an unconvincing victory over the Rabbitohs. But will the in-form Raiders offer tougher opposition? With the likes of Raiders Josh Dugan, Jarrod Croker, Joel Monaghan and Phil Graham being played into top form after last week’s 10-try performance, the answer could well be yes.
Watch out Bulldogs: The Raiders haven’t been in better form this season. Last week halves Terry Campese and Josh McCrone had a field day providing ball to the outside backs. Bulldogs Jamal Idris and Josh Morris had better bring their best defence with them on Saturday – opponents Croker and Monaghan were simply electric against Brisbane. Croker (nine tries, nine line-breaks, six try assists and five line-break assists) has been particularly effective this season after graduating from the Toyota Cup.
Bulldog winger Hazem El Masri (72.7 per cent efficiency) and halfback Brett Kimmorley (76.4 per cent efficiency with an average of 5.1 missed tackles per game) have enjoyed a strong season but defence is not their trump card – the Raiders are aware of this and will be targeting them in the knowledge they can break an attempted tackle one in every four runs.
Campese (six line-breaks and 41 tackle-breaks) will be one player, in particular, who will look to take on the Bulldogs’ defence – his ability to ball-play before the line makes him a great threat when he decides to run the football.
Watch out Raiders: The entire Bulldogs’ line-up appears to have September in their thinking and will bring a ruthless efficiency to this clash – this is a stepping stone and an opportunity to polish their game before finals arrive in five weeks.
The Bulldogs, as well as the league leaders the Dragons, are well ahead of other teams in most statistical categories – that’s why they’re second on the competition table. But it’s not just the numbers that worry Raiders fan – the Bulldogs’ line-up has class from top to bottom.
Fullback Luke Patten is in career-best form and centre Josh Morris (14 tries, 13 line-breaks and 37 tackle-breaks) head the list of ‘hot Dogs’. But they’re just the tip of the iceberg.
Dominant playmaker Kimmorley has reinvigorated his career since arriving at the Bulldogs at the start of the season, in a similar way to incumbent Blues hooker Michael Ennis. Coupled with the youthful arrogance of Idris (seven tries, 54 tackle-breaks and 10 line-breaks) and the tackling proficiency of David Stagg (44.8 tackles per game with just 1.5 misses), and it’s obvious why the Belmore boys are going places in 2009. There’s talent across the park.
Where it will be won: The ‘war’ between the starting sets of props will determine which set of outside backs receives the most room to work – and how often they get the opportunity to post points.
For the Bulldogs, Ben Hannant (137 metres per game with 32 tackle-breaks and 14 offloads) has had a strong season, capped with Queensland Origin selection, and former Raider Michael Hodgson (106 metres per game with 20 tackle-breaks) has ticked all the boxes since his arrival.
Raiders Dane Tilse (97 metres per game with 15 tackle-breaks and 20 offloads) and Scott Logan (86 metres per game with 10 offloads) will be given the task of stopping the in-form Bulldogs bookends.
In the Bulldogs’ recent clash with Parramatta, Eels prop Fuifui Moimoi led from the front with a dominant run from the kick-off. His incisive runs and dominant hitting propelled his team to victory – Tilse and Logan will be looking to take a leaf out of his book.
Whichever props lay the best foundation will create the most space for their talented backs – and the Raiders’ in-form young guns and the Bulldogs’ mix of youth and experience will be hungry for more try-scoring opportunities. With that space, the backs have enough talent to score points and put their team – whether it’s the Bulldogs or Raiders – in a match-winning situation.
The History: Played 53; Bulldogs 30, Raiders 23. Earlier this season the Bulldogs defeated the Raiders 30-20 in the nation’s capital. Last year the spoils were taken by the Raiders, with two big victories over the boys from Sydney, 52-34 and 58-18. But in 2008 the Bulldogs were a completely different side... and this year they mean business!
Conclusion: The Bulldogs and Raiders are near top form but the home side has too much to play for. Expect the Bulldogs, led by their props, to win the battle midfield before shifting the ball wide for their red-hot backs, like Josh Morris and Luke Patten, to take advantage. Take the home side by at least 10.
Match officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Bernard Sutton; Sideline Officials – Jeff Younis & Peter Kirby; Video Referee – Russell Smith
Televised: Fox Sports – Live from 7.30pm.
* Stats: NRL Stats.