Raiders v Bulldogs
Canberra Stadium
Friday 7.45pm

Wait… what? The Raiders did what? They actually went down to Melbourne and beat the Storm after losing eight in a row before that? Well – more power to them, as we are amongst the large group who have written them off for season 2011. But maybe, just maybe, there is some fight in the group yet.

Now though, they must back it up and pick off a streak of wins – because they still sit dead last, six competition points from eighth place! And while they get to return home, this week they face a side that last week played well enough to beat any side in the NRL – except the Dragons.

The Bulldogs played some inspired football against the reigning premiers but ultimately fell just short in an epic battle. They have now lost two in a row, one either side of a bye, but will take plenty of confidence forward into this clash. They currently sit in seventh on the ladder and know a win is the only way they can be certain of staying in the top eight.

Origin is upon us so the Raiders will be without fullback Josh Dugan who has been called up to debut for the Blues. Youngster Nathan Massey will take his place in the lime green.

For Canterbury, hooker Michael Ennis is on state duty giving Josh Reynolds a shot at dummy-half. In other changes Bryson Goodwin comes onto the wing for Michael Lett and Sam Kasiano will start at prop, pushing Greg Eastwood to the reserves list.

Watch Out Raiders: Perhaps last week was a sign for the Bulldogs’ faithful in regards to Frank Pritchard hitting his straps. The man was a tower of strength in a beaten side against the Dragons, running for 151 metres, adding 21 tackles, two offloads and a tackle-break. As far as weapons to watch out for, he is certainly one.

But perhaps the real ‘AK47’ of the blue-and-white line-up is fullback Ben Barba. He leads the NRL in tries scored with nine and is equal first for line-breaks with 12. His 48 tackle-breaks this season rank him equal seventh. It’s a shame this isn’t a match-up with Dugan – the type of one-on-one battle we will look forward to in future.

Danger Sign: Watch for the Bulldogs to involve Barba from inside their own half. They’ve scored nine tries from over halfway, the most in the NRL, and Barba is a big contributor.

Watch Out Bulldogs: The Raiders might have lost their ace in Dugan but they also have an attacking machine gun in their backline. Winger Blake Ferguson has been an inspired buy for the Raiders. He is just one try behind Barba on the NRL list with eight; he also has 48 tackle-breaks to be equal seventh. But perhaps just as impressively he also has 10 try saves, the equal most in the competition. The Raiders will direct a lot of the attack his way looking for some individual brilliance to finish off any half chance.

Danger Sign: The key to Ferguson doing well is his inside men in Bronson Harrison and Joel Thompson. If they drag in defenders, and they will, it’s only a matter of time before the former Shark gets space. Then… look out.

Plays To Watch: ‘Cranky’ Frankie Pritchard on the left edge; Sam Williams having a crack himself; Alan Tongue scooting from close range; Jamal Idris proving he was unlucky to be named just 18th man for NSW.

Where It Will Be Won: This match is going to come down to whoever defends the goal line with more vigour. Defence is the cornerstone to any victory but defending one’s tryline is where commitment, communication and attitude are pivotal.

The Raiders have had the worst goal-line defence all season, conceding 27 tries from inside 10 metres. The Bulldogs, despite a much healthier ladder position, have been equal third-worst in this area, letting 19 past them. When their backs are against the wall (or the tryline, so to speak), these teams need to dig deeper. The Raiders have scored 13 close-range tries this season, the Bulldogs 14.

The History: Played 56; Raiders 24, Bulldogs 32. The Bulldogs have prevailed in three of the past four matches but it was the Raiders that won most recently. At Canberra Stadium the Raiders hold a 10-7 advantage over Canterbury but have lost two straight at the ground in the past two seasons.

Canberra are averaging just 18 points per game at home – their worst return on record – while the Dogs have averaged 28 points on this patch of turf since 2001.

If you want a statistic to counter-balance this – Canberra have won the past five times the week after facing the Melbourne Storm.

Conclusion: It is hard to consider backing the Raiders, despite a nice win in Melbourne last week. They still have issues and without Dugan it will be tough.

But the Bulldogs lose plenty without Ennis and it could have a serious effect on their flow. Josh Reynolds has huge shoes to fill and if he and the others can’t substitute adequately they might just end up in the doghouse.

Canterbury should still get it done – but don’t be surprised by another upset win to the home side.

Match Officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Chris James; Touch Judges – Paul Holland & Luke Potter; Video Ref – Tim Mander.

Televised: Channel Nine – Live from 7.30pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.

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