Roosters v Raiders preview

Sydney Roosters v Canberra Raiders
Allianz Stadium
Sunday 2pm (AEDT)

The Raiders head to Sydney full of confidence after an impressive opening fortnight while their opponents the Roosters are still scratching their heads about their low-intensity drubbing at the hands of the Panthers at home base last Sunday.

Brian Smith’s young charges rode a wave of emotion to clinch their season opener at the death against the Rabbitohs – but their fans were left dumped in a wave of despair after the tricolours conceded three unanswered tries in an insipid performance against Penrith. It wasn’t the start skipper Braith Anasta had planned in his first game for 2012.

Meanwhile the Raiders’ stocks are high after their close (and some would say unlucky) loss to the Storm in Melbourne a fortnight ago and last week’s polished 24-12 win over the Titans on the Gold Coast.

The signs are good or them: Terry Campese (most try assists with three, second for line-break assists with two) has made an immediate impact and is moving freely after missing all of 2011 with injury; Josh Dugan has stamped himself the most devastating runner of the football so far in 2012; and the Raiders’ forwards are showing glimpses of the potential that has them rated among the best in the NRL.  

In a huge boost for the Roosters this week centre Shaun Kenny-Dowall returns after recovering from the torn kidney that kept him sidelined for the opening two rounds. His inclusion sees Mitchell Aubusson revert to the second row, which in turn pushes Boyd Cordner to the bench. Also, Martin Kennedy gets the call up to start at prop with Lama Tasi benched and Daniel Mortimer again named on the extended interchange.

Meanwhile the Raiders have named an unchanged starting line-up although they’ve lost interchange forward Dane Tilse to a rib injury that could keep him off the scene for four weeks. Sam Mataora and Joe Picker are the new faces on Canberra’s extended bench.

Watch Out Roosters: Terry Campese, Josh Dugan and Jarrod Croker are sure to test out Shaun Kenny-Dowall in his first game in 2012 – especially given the Kiwi’s position at right centre is a weak spot for the Roosters. Already the tricolours have conceded the most tries by any side (four) in the region 10 metres in from their right corner post. Adding to the threat is Raiders left centre Croker crossed for a double the last time the teams met (opposite Kenny-Dowall). Croker was sizzling in all facets of play, running 141 metres, adding two line-breaks and making nine tackle-breaks. 

The Raiders’ forwards scored three tries of lovely short balls inside the Roosters’ 10 metre-zone last time they met, with halfback Josh McCrone (then playing at five-eighth) having a field day. Shifted to the No.7 this year McCrone linked with Joel Thompson in similar fashion against the Titans last week. With the Roosters guilty of the most missed tackles so far (averaging 39) they’ll really have to muscle up or the Raiders will run riot.   

Danger Sign: Josh Dugan is set for a benchmark season if his first two weeks’ work is any gauge. The Raiders No. 1 leads all-comers for metres made (averaging 210) and tackle-breaks (total 23). His try last week, when he shrugged off defenders when seemingly collared inside the Titans’ danger zone and then powered over the try line, showed the importance of wrapping him up securely. Braith Anasta and Mitchell Pearce will be looking to kick anywhere but to Dugan.

Watch Out Raiders: The young Roosters’ enthusiastic second-phase play could hurt the Green Machine – the Roosters are making 12 offloads a game while the Raiders are conceding the fourth-most offloads (12.5). In particular Frank-Paul Nuuausala and Mitchell Pearce are the dangers, ranking third and fourth in the NRL overall with seven and six offloads respectively.  

And while the Raiders’ centres will be dangerous, chances are either the Roosters’ Kenny-Dowall or BJ Leilua will have some success of their own. In a worrying trend for the visitors stretching back to July last year, they’ve conceded a try to at least one opposition centre in each of their past nine outings – and on two occasions both opposition centres have scored (for a total of 14 tries). Delving deeper we’ve discovered that throughout their history (51 games), Roosters centres have scored 39 tries.  

Danger Sign: Shaun Kenny-Dowall can get points on the board if he targets his opposite Jarrod Croker. In a mirror reflection of the Raiders’ attacking potency down the left edge the Raiders’ defence on that side of the field have conceded four tries, the most by any team. Croker is averaging three ineffective tackles each game (most by a centre) and has racked up five misses in two games. Last year he missed the most tackles by any centre (70). 

Jared Waerea-Hargreaves v David Shillington: Two passionate props go head to head with Shillington keen to make his mark against his former club. Kiwi representative Waerea-Hargreaves has begun 2012 like a man possessed, with his punishing defence (average 30 tackles) a feature.

Meanwhile Kangaroos representative Shillington was unstoppable last week against the Titans, notching 20 runs for the first time in two seasons, as well as the second-most metres of his career (196). Watch the sparks fly here!  

Where It Will Be Won: If the defences muscle up it could boil down to who gets a better result in the air – the Raiders and the Roosters are among the worst at defusing cross-field bombs, each managing to avoid a blunder just 50 per cent of the time. (Only the Titans and Rabbitohs fare worse.) That makes things a real lottery.  

The History: Played 51; Roosters 28, Raiders 23. The honours are even four games apiece from their past eight clashes although the Roosters have a dominant record at Allianz Stadium, winning 13 of 17 games there. Canberra’s victory over the tricolours last year was their first at Allianz Stadium since 1995. The Raiders will be hoping team-mate Brett White isn’t a hoodoo – he’s won a Round 3 fixture just once in his seven seasons in first grade!

The Last Time They Met: The Raiders carved the chooks up to the tune of 38-12 in a seven-tries-to-two rout at Allianz Stadium in Round 17 last year. Six Raiders players bagged tries, with centre Jarrod Croker snaring a double. The visitors scored on the end of their first set and led 18-12 at halftime – but realistically should have been much further ahead given they had a full nine sets more than the Roosters (who were missing Mitchell Pearce and Nate Myles to Origin duty). That weight of possession and the increased tackling workload paid in the second 40 as the Green Machine piled on 20 unanswered points. Blake Ferguson’s second-half try was a highlight: the winger showed excellent hands to pull in a pass from behind his body, chipped ahead over the defence and got a dream bounce to score. Ferguson was a standout, running 210 metres. Five-eighth Josh McCrone laid on three try assists, with halves partner Sam Williams chiming in with two of his own. The bad news for the Roosters is that the loss was incurred with Josh Dugan sidelined for the Raiders.

Match Officials:
Referees – Steve Lyons & Allan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Steve Carrall & Gavin West; Video Referee – Rod Lawrence. 

The Way We See It: The Roosters were dreadful last week and Brian Smith will be hoping it was just a result of letdown after their thrilling win over the Rabbitohs. But if they don’t rally and get back the attitude they displayed in their season opener, the worries will intensify. Meanwhile the Raiders look sharp and united. Campese is delivering what everyone hoped he would and the team is on the up. 

We expect this to be a big-scoring affair – seven of the past nine games between the sides have been decided by 20 or more points. But the Raiders should be too strong. Canberra by eight points.  

Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Live 2pm.

Statistics: NRL Stats