Raiders v Wests Tigers Preview

Raiders v Wests Tigers
Canberra Stadium
Friday 7.45pm

They really are bad and mean, this Green Machine.

With the help of a monster forward pack and impressive five-eighth, plus some exciting outside backs and a superstar fullback in the making, the Raiders are the form side of the NRL and are in the middle of a potential fairytale.

Their opponents, the Wests Tigers, are battered, bruised and a little annoyed about having to make a trip to the nation’s capital despite finishing third and only losing in golden point after 100 minutes.

But both sides are desperate to win – they have to be – as there is no tomorrow from this point. A win and you survive, a loss and the year is over.

The Raiders come into the contest having now won nine of their past 10 and six in a row, the only team in the NRL to have such a hot streak this season.

Having taken care of Penrith in Penrith they now get the benefit of a sold-out home crowd and know a win here puts them just one game away from a grand final.
 
They have named the same squad but have added two extra players in captain Alan Tongue and Danny Galea. Tongue will be a certainty should he fully shake off his calf problem, with young hooker Travis Waddell likely to miss out.

The Wests Tigers’ preparation has been tough – actually tough is an understatement. They played the heart-breaking 100-minute epic with the Roosters so fatigue and mentality come into play.

They also have injury concerns left, right and centre – although we hear Benji Marshall, the biggest concern, will suit up and play on Friday night.

The named side has a few changes from the Roosters match. Mitch Brown moves from fullback to centre and Sean Meaney gets a call-up at fullback, with Geoff Daniela injured.

Bryce Gibbs has been named back on the bench with Todd Payten to start at prop and Liam Fulton to start in the second row.

An extended bench has been named with the new faces being Daniel Fitzhenry, Mark Flanagan, Chris Lawrence and Sam Latu.

Blake Ayshford sent a scare through the camp with illness earlier this week but reports suggest he still might take his place.

Watch out Raiders:
The Wests Tigers are coming hard to the left, against your right-side defence, just like they did against the Roosters last weekend. In the opening exchanges of the match last week the Wests Tigers went hard at the left fringes and sideline and should have scored four more times than they actually did.

Gareth Ellis had the ball dislodged over the line, he was held up and he was called back after Marshall punched Mitchell Pearce at the play-the-ball. Then Ayshford also was held up over the line on the left side. Eventually Lote Tuqiri was able to grab points after numerous raids.

The Raiders have a distinct weakness in their right-side defenders (left-side attack for opposition), so the Tigers will load up again. The Raiders leaked 27 tries on the left edge this regular season, ranking them second worst there and only in front of the Cowboys. If the Green Machine boys can’t become more cohesive in defence, or scramble as well as the Roosters did, they could be leaking more points than they can score.

Watch out Wests Tigers: Last week we pinpointed Terry Campese as the danger man for the Panthers and we turned out to be spot-on (yeah we know, not exactly rocket science considering his recent form).

He terrorised the Panthers with hard running on the edges; long, crisp passing; an impressive kicking game; and of course his scoring ability. Once again he becomes the man the Wests Tigers must contain.
 
With Marshall under a fitness cloud and Robert Lui sporting a small frame, Campese will look to find them in defence and try to trample them.

If they aren’t worried about Campo, they need to worry about fullback Josh Dugan. The kid can crack the line from nowhere, with what looks like limited effort. In 21 matches during the regular season Dugan averaged 158 metres gained, he made 18 line-breaks (four from kick returns), created eight line-break assists, scored 13 tries, provided nine try assists and broke 172 tackles! The kick-chase from the Tigers must be first class.

Where it will be won: Defence is the key in this clash. We know both teams can score from anywhere, at any time, so it will come down to the committed effort in defence to limit the opposition.

This means both one-on-one tackles, try savers, scramble – all defence needs to be spot on.

During the regular season the Raiders tackled effectively 85.3 per cent of the time while the Wests Tigers managed a little better at 86 per cent effective. The Raiders missed 871 tackles this season, the Tigers 750. This works out to be just over 36 a game for the Raiders and just over 31 a game for the Tigers.

The Raiders made more dominant tackles however, courtesy of their huge pack, with 488 for the year, while the Tigers had just 379. Canberra has managed 107 try savers, the Wests Tigers 88.

The weak links for the Raiders might well be Bronson Harrison (68 missed tackles in regular season, 86.8 per cent effective) and Test prop David Shillington (77 misses, 77.8 per cent effective) or perhaps the centres Joel Monaghan and Jarrod Croker who work off about 75 per cent effective.

For the Wests Tigers, Marshall is still a target (66 misses, 71.7 per cent effective) as is Keith Galloway (82.6 per cent) and Lui (78.8 per cent). Lui and Marshall are targeted for being small, also to wear them out, while Galloway can be slow to move laterally on occasions after effort on effort.

The history: Played 20; Raiders 9, Wests Tigers 11. The Wests Tigers have won five of the past six between these two clubs, including the past four in a row. Two of those victories have come in season 2010.
In their last meeting the Tigers prevailed 18-8 at Leichhardt Oval and earlier in the season they came from well behind to swamp the Raiders 35-22 in Canberra. In 11 matches at Canberra Stadium the Raiders lead 6-5.

Conclusion: The Raiders have all the momentum and the home ground advantage, making them an attractive bet, but the Wests Tigers won’t lie down. If Marshall isn’t able to play to his potential the side will struggle but if he can fire, then they can easily defeat the Raiders and throw a spanner in the works of the 2010 Green Machine once and for all.

The hype this week should boost the Raiders, but they must make sure it doesn’t distract them from the job at hand. The Tigers have reason to be aggrieved but they must let it go and use this new underdog status in their favour. A bit of siege mentality could see them come out firing. They’re a much better chance than the $2.45 the bookies are offering!

Match officials: Referees – Tony Archer & Jared Maxwell; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Jeff Younis; Video Ref – Bill Harrigan.

Televised: Channel Nine – Live from 7.30pm; Fox Sports – Delayed 10.30pm.