Raiders v Bulldogs Preview

Raiders v Bulldogs
Canberra Stadium
Monday 7pm (AEST)

Here at NRL.com we always promote responsible gambling, but if you’ve got some spare dosh, we suggest putting it on someone to kick a field goal on Monday night. That’s because in the past five games the Bulldogs have appeared in, at least one team has recorded a field goal.

Meanwhile, the battle between the biggest under-achievers of the year and the inconsistent Green Machine from Canberra, looms as an exciting game of footy. Why? Put simply, because both teams are desperate.
 
The ’Dogs are on a six-game losing streak, including a 25-24 heartbreaker against the Titans in their “home game” at Suncorp last Friday. The frustrating thing for under-fire coach Kevin Moore is that they’ve been in the contest for most of them. But there’s hope for this match. Moore has given into demands for whiz-kid Ben Barba to start the game, and everyone will see whether the dynamo can put on an 80-minute performance. Mickey Paea and Dene Halatau have also been given call-ups following their stints in the NSW Cup.

Meanwhile the Raiders also lost a close one at Leichhardt last Sunday, conceding two tries in the final five minutes to ruefully hand the Tigers two precious competition points. It leaves them in 11th spot with just one win from their past five games. A win here keeps them in finals contention, but a loss could see them drift further away from the eight.

Unimpressed with the form of Josh McCrone, Furner has swapped the halfback for utility Adam Mogg for this match, while don’t be surprised if superstar Josh Dugan makes an early return from injury.

Watch out Raiders: Considering the way they’re playing, it’s hard to find any massive bright spots for the ’Dogs so far, so we’ll go with the re-introduction of Barba into the starting 13. We’ll even go as far as to say the livewire playmaker has the ability to resurrect his team’s season, or at least have them in contention for a spot.

With four try assists, 11 offloads and a team-high nine tries against his name already, expect a more mature Barba to dazzle the Raiders on Monday night.

Watch out Bulldogs: A total of 21 of Canberra’s 38 tries this year have been scored on their right edge, where second-rower-cum-centre Joel Thompson has proved a menace. The giant centre has averaged almost 100 metres a match, while leading the team in line-breaks (15), and tries (eight), and he is second in tackle busts (58).

His combination with Daniel Vidot (six tries and 115 metres a game) is the biggest threat for the ’Dogs this weekend.

Where it will be won: Support play and cover defence. Where sides are ranked in these two categories mirrors the attitude of the teams.

The statistic for half-breaks is an interesting one because despite their lowly positions, both Canterbury-Bankstown (37) and Canberra (34) are first and second respectively in half-breaks. This means that the opportunities are there… they’re just not taking them.

But then there’s the cover defence, where the Raiders rank first in try saves (71) and tackle saves (109). The Bulldogs, on the other hand, join the likes of the Warriors and Knights at the bottom end of the list with 33 and 53 respectively.

If the ’Dogs, buoyed by the Barba’s elevation to the starting side and the return of Paea and Halatau, can rise to the occasion, this match has the potential to be a thriller because both teams possess some real attacking weapons.

The history:
Played 54; Canberra 23, Canterbury-Bankstown 31. Even in their last meeting at ANZ Stadium late last year there was a field goal! Brett Kimmorley kicked a vital field goal that gave the buffer the ’Dogs needed for a 23-20 finish.

The blue and whites have won the past two encounters, and two of their past three, in the nation’s capital.

Conclusion: There’s no disputing Kevin Moore’s unit is down on confidence, but against a Dugan-less Raiders team, Canterbury-Bankstown are a show here.

If the superstar fullback makes a surprise return, we’d back the home team, but if not, then look for Brett Kimmorley to again pilot a one-pointer through the posts for another marginal victory.
 
Match officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Chris James; Sideline officials – Luke Potter & Russell Turner; Video Referee – Bill Harrigan.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm (AEST).