Bulldogs v Raiders Preview

Bulldogs v Raiders
ANZ Stadium
Saturday, 7.30pm

It’s officially over for the Bulldogs this year, with seven wins and 13 losses meaning they will not play a part in September football. This time of year always brings up an interesting predicament for teams – with nothing to play for, all that’s left is pride, which can be just as strong a motivator.

Enter the Raiders, who are in a last-ditch effort to slip into the top eight. With 22 points to their name, they are two wins off the Warriors, who currently sit in eighth place, which means they need to win every game and hope other results go their way if they’re going to make their last month of regular football count.

The Raiders have shown that on their day, they can beat anyone. Having already defeated the top two teams in the competition, including a strong come-from-behind win against the Panthers last week, they’re in a strong position to shake up the competition. While they suffered from a flat spot in attack midway through the season, Josh McCrone has settled into the No.7 jersey and has taken a load off Terry Campese, which allows for a more fluid attack.

The Bulldogs, on the other hand, looked startled every time they found themselves in opposition territory against the Knights, and if scoring many points is necessary to overcome the Raiders, you would think they might have some problems.

A positional switch sees Jamal Idris move back to the pack, with Daniel Rauicava on debut in the centres. Ben Hannant is out injured, with Michael Hodgson shifting from the back row to start at prop.

Watch out Bulldogs: The Raiders are getting troops back on deck, and can certainly throw the ball around. Alan Tongue made his return from a long stint on the sidelines with injury last week, stuck around on the field for only 53 minutes but still managed to make 32 tackles.

With the captaincy back in the hands of Tongue, Terry Campese had one of his stronger games of the past month, carting the ball to the line 14 times, scoring a try, making a line-break and line-break assist as well as setting up a try. With Josh Dugan looming up in support and good speed on the edges of the Canberra attack with Daniel Vidot and Joel Monaghan, the Raiders will throw the ball around and often score length-of-the-field tries. Dugan is a danger particularly to a messy kick-chase, which the Dogs have been guilty of this season.

In addition to the attacking spark, the Raiders have strong players in every facet of their team, especially in their engine room. David Shillington has been going great guns since he moved to Canberra, and Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, Dane Tilse and Scott Logan are handy props who all average the 100-metre mark per match.

The last time the Raiders played the Bulldogs, their forwards were relentless, and kept their team firmly entrenched in the opposition 20. While they couldn’t get the points on that cold Canberra night, the Raiders forwards keep coming, which is a worrying sign for any opposition.

Watch out Raiders: The Bulldogs might be a little bit more organised with Ben Roberts back in the five-eighth position.

Roberts and Brett Kimmorley developed a solid combination over the past couple of years, and Roberts’ work on the left side was sorely missed by Josh Morris when he was sidelined with injury.

The Bulldogs’ season has been marred by ‘what-ifs’ – but when they have been on, and the bounce of the ball has gone their way, the Dogs have shown patches of what they produced in 2009.

Before their capitulation to the Knights, the Bulldogs weren’t travelling too badly, and although Ben Barba did a good job in the halves, his impact from the bench can’t be discounted. If he’s put on the field around tiring forwards, there’s no limit to what he can do.

The Bulldogs also have quite a good defensive line, providing they don’t drop off as they did in the game against the Knights. Jamal Idris and Brett Kimmorley are two of the top one-on-one tacklers in the league, and David Stagg has a staggering (excuse the pun) 94 per cent success rate when tackling.

In the second half of the season, the Dogs have been quite good in defending their line, and frustrated the Raiders out of opportunities the last time they met. They will be looking at having the same effectiveness this time around.

Where it will be won:
In repeat sets. Sustained pressure is naturally integral to every rugby league game, but both of these teams seem to need a lot of ball in their hands before they convert into points this season.

The history: Played 55; Bulldogs 32, Raiders 23. However, the Raiders have the wood over the Dogs at ANZ, winning four of the seven matches there.

Dogs fans will remember when they were belted 58-18 by the Green Machine in Sydney in 2008 – but might take some consolation in knowing that their team has come away from their past three games against the Raiders win a win.

Conclusion:
The rain looks like it’s going to clear up in Sydney before the weekend, which means a better surface for free-flowing, attacking football between the two teams.

The Bulldogs haven’t been able to get their attack to click enough this season, apparent by their position on the ladder, but the Raiders have got it right in patches –  and when their attack sticks, it’s absolutely thrilling to watch.

The Raiders have been better away from home than they generally are in the competition, so the trip to ANZ won’t be too much of a worry. As mentioned, the top eight is still in their sights; with that in mind, the Raiders will probably be able to steal this one.  

Match officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Brett Suttor; Sideline officials – Daniel Eastwood & Adam Gee; Video referee – Russell Smith.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7.30pm.