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Wests Tigers v Canberra Raiders
Campbelltown Sports Ground
Saturday 7.30pm

It wasn’t long ago when these two sides met in sudden-death finals football and produced a cracking match.

History shows the Wests Tigers defied the odds and beat the Raiders in Canberra before falling just short against the Dragons – a result that still burns the Green Machine.

As far as the start to this year goes, one team comes in off a loss, the other off a win – but both teams feel they have plenty to prove this Saturday night at Campbelltown. 

The Wests Tigers did enough to get a result last weekend against the Warriors, prevailing 20-12 for their first win of the year, but they were far from impressive. 

The Raiders backed up a great Round 1 victory over the Sharks with a dismal 20-4 loss to the Broncos, giving them plenty of motivation to prove they really are the competition dark horses many have predicted. 

It all adds up to two teams determined to get their seasons well and truly on track – making it an intriguing match worthy of your patronage. 

The home-side Tigers make their first trip to Campbelltown this year sitting just outside the top eight by percentages in ninth spot. They have retained the same 17 players who disposed of the Warriors at Leichhardt Oval but Todd Payten will start in the second row for his 250th first grade match, sending Alan Schirnack back to the bench. 

As for the Raiders, who sit in fifth place on the ladder at this early stage of the year, they to have retained last week’s squad. 

But Brett White, James Stuart and Reece Robinson have been named as extra reserves at this stage, with White a huge chance of playing. 

Centre Jarrod Croker is in some doubt with a corked leg.
Once again there are whispers fullback Josh Dugan could return for the Green Machine, although they have proven false in the opening two rounds. 

Watch Out Wests Tigers: The Raiders’ video review has spotted a small chink in the Wests Tigers armour to exploit. Young prop Andrew Fifita is still having a few minor problems adjusting to defence in the big time and the Canberra boys are sure to test him out. 

So far this season Fifita has been ineffective in defence just over 20 per cent of the time, despite having missed just five tackles. It is his nine ineffective tackles, where he has come in late or offered no value, where the Raiders see an edge.

Often in these situations the player has to get away and back in the defensive line as the two marker positions will be assumed by effective defenders. The Raiders will look to catch Fifita offside and draw penalties their way. 

Danger Sign: If you notice Fifita making two or three tackles in a row you can be sure the sting is on. 

Watch Out Raiders: The Wests Tigers have once again come out as a second-phase football team prepared to let a little razzle dazzle infiltrate their style. Already they have 35 offloads for the year, the most by any team, as they buck the trend of trying to play ‘boring’, methodical football and instead back their skills. Back-rower Chris Heighington leads the way with seven offloads, while halves Robert Lui and Benji Marshall have four each, as does centre Blake Ayshford. Danger Sign: If the Wests Tigers players start getting their arms free in contact, it won’t be long before an offload creates a break and potentially a try. With 70 support runs notched up in two games it is only a matter of time before one of those players pushing up is rewarded. 

Plays To Watch: Raiders cross-field bombs to Utai, Benji stepping back in against the grain, Payten standing in tackles looking to offload and the Schirnack brothers producing something from backyard footy!

Where It Will Be Won: The early grind. Both of these teams love to attack – and there is no doubt they will entertain us with plenty of it – but the platform set in the early stages will be the key here. 

The sides need to get in to the groove of the game, get some field position and then unleash the goods. This means a good kicking game is essential and while the Raiders kicked well in Round 1, they were pretty terrible in Round 2. So far only 16.7 per cent of their long kicks have found space – they are kicking directly to their opponents who are on the front foot for the start of almost every set of six. Conversely, the Wests Tigers have found space 66.7 per cent of the time – a significant difference – allowing their kick-chase to get downfield and dominate the first two tackles of the set, and keeping them away from defending their line too often. 

The responsibility falls on the likes of Matt Orford and Benji Marshall to compose their teams early, and the team who does it effectively will probably go on to score multiple tries. 

The History: Played 21; Wests Tigers 12, Raiders 9. The Wests Tigers have now notched five straight wins over the Raiders, including three victories last year – the last of which was in the finals. As far as match-ups at Campbelltown Sports Ground go, the home side has an 80 per cent success rate against Canberra, having won four of five matches.  

Conclusion: They have yet to play to their potential but the Wests Tigers get the lean here, thanks to home-field advantage and the recent history between the clubs. But if Dugan comes in late the Raiders will look much tougher. Expect a fair few tries but also a few errors as both teams still work off some pre-season rust.

Match Officials: Referees – Jason Robinson & Chris James; Sideline Officials – Gavin West & Daniel Eastwood; Video Ref – Steve Clark. 

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7.30pm

* Statistics: NRL Stats.

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