Raiders v Wests Tigers Preview

Raiders v Wests Tigers
Canberra Stadium
Sunday 3pm

It might be only Round 4 but the Canberra Raiders need to make a statement in this game if they are to be considered finals material in 2010.

Although the side beat the Broncos in Round 2, they had ordinary losses to Penrith and the Gold Coast either side. They need to prove they are the real deal.

Considering they are already languishing in 14th spot on the ladder and come up against a Wests Tigers unit who were brilliant in a 23-12 disposal of Parramatta last weekend, pushing them up to fifth, the challenge won’t be easy.

But thankfully for the Green Machine and their army of loyal fans, the side is much better at home and as such should be right in this contest.

Last weekend’s 24-4 loss to the Titans claimed replacement hooker Travis Waddell, who has a broken jaw; he’ll be replaced by the return of enforcer Tom Learoyd-Lahrs. Otherwise the side is the same.

For the Wests Tigers, this game represents a chance to prove they possess something they haven’t had for half a decade – consistency. The side showed plenty of ticker and razzle-dazzle in Round 1 to come from behind against Manly, but then they folded cheaply the following week to the Roosters.

Last weekend’s tough victory against the Eels was the type of performance coach Tim Sheens wants more of, and to prove it wasn’t another flash in the pan win they need to aim up in the nation’s capital.

Jason Cayless is out of the side, with Liam Fulton named to return and Junior Moors added as an 18th man at this stage.

Watch out Raiders: When you defuse just 14 per cent of bombs you have to expect opposition teams will try to make rain with high kicks and as such the Wests Tigers’ kickers will be launching the ball to the heavens.

Considering the Raiders are also only successfully defusing 40 per cent of cross-field kicks it could be a long afternoon for the back three in lime green jerseys.

The Wests Tigers are second in the NRL at this early stage in tries from kicks, having posted four from the boot this season – more reason to expect an aerial assault.

Last week Lote Tuqiri bagged a double, while Blake Ayshford scored one. All were from dribbles behind the defensive line.

Watch out Wests Tigers: One kid worth watching out for is rookie back-rower Shaun Fensom. He might not be the flashiest player to wear the Raiders jersey but he is proving to be an impressive addition to the Canberra line-up.

Averaging 71 metres gained is reasonable going for a kid – especially when you consider he is basically a defensive player. In defence he really shines, currently leading the NRL with 141 tackles (he has missed just three), which works out at 47 a match! But not content to just tackle people, Fensom is fourth in the NRL at dominant tackles, with 13 already thus far.

Where it will be won: Quality amongst the quantity. Each side has three or four forwards capable of playing long minutes but it is the quality of performance coming from these individuals, while under fatigue, which will make or break this game.

For the home-side Raiders, Bronson Harrison is the 80-minute man and if he can pop his trademark offloads and build up his metres throughout the contest, the Raiders are a chance.

The 80-minute man for the Wests Tigers is captain and hooker Robbie Farah. The Tigers’ leader is a proven, quality performer and if he directs play as expertly as he can, the Raiders are in trouble.

Other ‘quantity’ performers for the Raiders are Joe Picker (average 72 minutes a match this year), Fensom (69 minutes) and Alan Tongue (63.7 minutes). This trio cannot afford to drop intensity or the likes of Farah and Benji Marshall will pounce.

The Wests Tigers’ other long-minutes men are Chris Heighington (75.3 minutes), Gareth Ellis (73 minutes) and Liam Fulton (68 minutes), with the former two being the main reason the Tigers crushed the Eels last weekend.

The History: Played 18; Raiders 9, Wests Tigers 9. These two sides can’t be split over the 18-match history, with nine wins apiece, but at Canberra Stadium the Raiders have a slight 6-4 advantage.

The Wests Tigers have won five of the past eight games, including both encounters last season. The last time the teams came together in Canberra produced a 25-4 Wests Tigers triumph, the biggest margin between the two sides in their history. But usually there is less than a converted try in it.  

Conclusion: Form says Wests Tigers – but you can never discount the Raiders at home. Canberra just have a knack for winning in the nation’s capital and the Wests Tigers are a pillar of inconsistency rather than consistency.

There has been a lot of talk out of the black and gold camp suggesting they are striving to build the elusive consistency, so here is their chance to prove it. Tigers it is, just.

Match officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Brett Suttor; Sideline Officials – Jeff Younis & Luke Potter; Video Ref – Tim Mander.

Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 4pm; Fox Sports – Delayed 7.30pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.