Raiders v Wests Tigers
This is it for the Raiders. That’s right, in Round 8, not even two months into the season, we are calling this the make-or-break game for the Green Machine.
With just one win followed by six straight defeats the Raiders are dead last on the ladder and while they are essentially just two wins away from the eighth-placed Wests Tigers who they match up against here, another loss would make it near impossible to mount a late charge.
Recent NRL seasons suggest you need to win at least half of your games to be a chance at finals football. The Raiders need 11 more wins from 17 games, which is doable but difficult. If it drops to 11 from 16 it’s starting to get very hard indeed and something we don’t expect will happen.
So they have to find a way to win against a Wests Tigers outfit that is injury-hit and struggling for consistency.
The visitors were outclassed by the Darren Lockyer-inspired Broncos last weekend, leaving them with a 3-4 record and barely in the top eight thanks to percentages.
They too are feeling a sense of desperation, but not on the same level… yet.
The Raiders have rushed Matt Orford back at halfback, meaning young Sam Williams makes way. Their only other personnel change is Shaun Fensom has been named to start at lock with Josh Miller reverting to the bench.
For the Wests Tigers, Wade McKinnon is due back at fullback, which moves Tim Moltzen to the centres, Mitch Brown to the wing and Beau Ryan to the bench.
In a blow, English enforcer Gareth Ellis is out, with Liam Fulton to start in the second row, while Alan Schirnack comes onto the bench for Sean Meaney.
Watch Out Raiders: The Green Machine need to find a way to muscle up big time in defence this week to limit the field position of the Tigers. So far this season the Tigers have scored a massive 18 of their 24 tries from within 10 metres of the goal line; that’s the most in the NRL from close range. In other words, 75 per cent of their tries have come when they get in prime field position.
What makes this doubly disturbing for the Raiders is they have leaked 18 tries from this distance, the most by any team in the competition. Their goal-line defence needs to be better or conversely they need to keep opposition teams away from attacking the line.
Danger Sign: While Benji Marshall is the main attacking man, watch for Robert Lui to have a crack from close range. His two tries this year have both been from close.
Watch Out Wests Tigers: You can bet the Raiders will be using the boot as an attacking weapon. Despite being last on the ladder, the Raiders do lead the league in one stat – that is in scoring tries from kicks. They currently have scored 11 four-pointers from the boot, compared to just two from the Wests Tigers.
The Tigers have conceded just five tries from kicks – a reasonably low number; however they are having big problems defusing kicks, leading to multiple repeat sets for opposition teams. Only Cronulla have a worse kick defusal rate. The Wests Tigers are failing to cleanly grab 38 per cent of kicks – simply not good enough for a first grade team.
The breakdown reads: 31 per cent of grubbers have troubled them; 37 per cent of bombs have done likewise; while a massive 54 per cent of cross-field bombs have not been handled cleanly. Danger Sign: Josh McCrone is the man to watch for the Wests Tigers. He has six try assists from kicks so far this year and only one from other means.
Plays To Watch: Benji being Benji; Josh Dugan (on show for both Country and Origin, we suspect) making some tearaway kick-returns; Matt Orford taking charge (one can only hope…); Wade McKinnon making a break up the middle from an offload.
Where It Will Be Won: Patience. The two sides aren’t getting as much luck during games as they would perhaps like but they say you make your own luck and the saying is pretty much true. Composure and building pressure are key components to rugby league these days and while both of these teams love to try to score off every play, it will be the side that takes the time to build up possession and break down the opposition’s spirit with repeated waves of attack that will triumph.
The Raiders will be desperate – but they need to control the desperation and put it into a solid game plan.
Meanwhile the Wests Tigers often get restless and want to show everyone their bag of tricks – but they need to get into good position to do so first, or risk errors and giving the Raiders a sniff of confidence.
The History: Played 22; Raiders 9, Wests Tigers 13. The Wests Tigers have managed six wins in a row against the Raiders, including a 34-24 win earlier this season at Campbelltown. Benji Marshall has yet to be beaten by the Green Machine. The results at Canberra Stadium are shared six each, although the last time the Raiders beat the Tigers was in 2008.
A whopping 15 of the 22 matches have been decided by single figures.
Conclusion: Who will be the more composed? The Wests Tigers have shown an ability to score points when they get good field position so if they can play smart football this is a game they should win. The Raiders just haven’t been able to put together 80 minutes since the opening weekend. They are certainly a team capable of winning here but after somehow bombing a 12-0 half-time lead against the Knights last week, how can you tip them with confidence? You can’t. Back the Wests Tigers.
Match Officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Gerard Sutton; Touch Judges – Steve Carrall & Grant Atkins; Video Ref – Pat Reynolds.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 2pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.
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