Canberra Raiders v Warriors
The patched-up Raiders take on the punched-up Warriors on the short rebound after being lassoed and dragged through the dirt by the Cowboys at home last Monday night.
Given a good sniff of victory after their stirring win over the Wests Tigers in Round 4, Canberra never looked likely against North Queensland. Their chances essentially expired when prop Brett White and second-rower Joel Thompson joined their already crowded 2012 casualty ward with just 20 minutes showing on the clock, leaving them with a halved interchange for the second time in three weeks.
The Raiders trailed just 6-nil at that stage but tries to Ashley Graham either side of the halftime break sounded their death knell.
The defeat sees them drop from seventh to ninth on the ladder and they’ve now lost both games at Canberra Stadium. They’ll be desperate to open their account at home this week, given they have tough road trips to Brisbane and Brookvale over the next three weeks.
Meanwhile the 11th-placed Warriors will be hoping to shake off the funk that enveloped them last weekend, when they were ambushed by an ultra-energetic Roosters outfit. The Warriors looked a shadow of their brilliant best, struggling to make even 1000 metres in territory, committing 14 errors, completing just 63 per cent of their sets and missing 35 tackles (more on that later).
In Raiders personnel changes this week Dane Tilse will start at prop for the injured Brett White, with Joe Picker promoted to the starting line-up replacing Joel Thompson. Jarrad Kennedy and Mark Nicholls are the news faces on the interchange.
Meanwhile Warriors coach Brian McClennan has named an unchanged line-up, with Krisnan Inu joining the extended interchange in jersey No.18.
Points watch: it’s exactly 12 years since the Warriors last failed to register more than nine points in a game. Raiders be warned!
Watch Out Raiders: David Furner better have found a cure to the Raiders’ left-side defence that has haemorrhaged 11 tries so far – including four last Monday – compared to just two on their right side. Those statistics would have the coach in no doubt where the Warriors will be heading on Sunday – even though they prefer to target Manu Vatuvei’s left wing, where they’ve crossed for 11 tries compared to five on the right. The temptation for ‘easy’ points will be too great.
While we’re not ruling out a win by the injury-ravaged Raiders, even a narrow loss would be satisfactory given the congested points differentials on the ladder. As we saw last year, a spot in the top eight can all boil down to making sure your losses aren’t blowouts. Currently the Raiders head five teams on four points – with just 12 differential points separating them from the 13th-placed Sea Eagles.
Danger Sign: The pedestrian-looking Warriors may look to revive their flagging second-phase play, which has taken a back seat in their game plans in 2012. The once-prolific Warriors now make the second-fewest offloads in the NRL (just eight a game). However, given the Raiders concede the fourth-most offloads each week don’t be surprised if Feleti Mateo, Manu Vatuvei, Ben Matulino and Shaun Johnson look to keep the plays going.
Watch Out Warriors: Two words: missed tackles. The Warriors’ brittle defence isn’t doing them any favours – they are missing the most tackles each week (a staggering 40) and consequently they are always on the back pedal. In fact, they now concede the second-most metres to all sides every week (1430), with just the Eels less resilient. Shaun Johnson can be a liability – he missed eight tackles last week. Could the youngster be suffering fatigue just weeks into the second year of his career?
Danger Sign: The Warriors have leaked a whopping 10 tries to line-breaks – the most by any team. Meanwhile the Raiders have scored a good nine tries from clean busts, the second most behind the Bulldogs. Raiders’ left centre Jarrod Croker (five line-breaks, third most) will like those odds and will trouble the Warriors’ right-side defence, while Shaun Berrigan and Blake Ferguson will take heart from the fact the Warriors have conceded 11 tries on their left edge – almost double the tries on their right (six).
Blake Ferguson v Manu Vatuvei: Two free-running wingers go head to head, with their individual match-up sure to have a say in the outcome.
Raiders winger Ferguson is in fine form, averaging 140 metres a game plus 24 tackle busts (second most by any winger); he made 161 metres and a game-high seven tackle busts against the Cowboys and 192 metres two weeks ago against the Tigers.
The Warriors need more from Manu Vatuvei, and here ‘The Beast’ gets his chance. When these sides last met Vatuvei dominated, running 153 metres, making two line-breaks and six tackle busts. He can add to his tally of four line-breaks and 21 tackle busts.
Where It Will Be Won: Improvement in attack and defence. These sides are so evenly matched it is likely the winner will be the side that shows a better effort in both facets of the game. Currently the Warriors average four tries each week, exactly one more than the Raiders – but the Green Machine concede three tries a week to the Warriors’ four.
The History: Played 26; Raiders 14, Warriors 12. The honours are even four wins apiece over the past eight games. But the Raiders hold a commanding advantage at home winning eight of the nine games the sides have contested in the nation’s capital.
The Last Time They Met: The Warriors beat the Raiders 29-10 at Mt Smart Stadium in Round 21 last year but not before the Green Machine gave them some early headaches. The home side raced to an 8-nil lead after just 15 minutes but Canberra rallied to cross for two tries of their own to snatch a 10-8 lead at the break. However, the Raiders’ handling let them down in the second stanza, and they lost control of the contest with a miserable 55 per cent completion rate. The Warriors took advantage of the glut of possession to cross for four unanswered tries.
Five-eighth James Maloney engineered two try assists and back-rower Feleti Mateo set up a try and ran for 137 metres. Fullback Kevin Locke was unstoppable, with 187 metres.
The Raiders were best served by Josh Dugan, who ran for 140 metres and contributed a try assist, while David Shillington made a huge 147 metres off the bench. Unfortunately neither of those players will be suiting up for the Raiders this weekend… unless ‘Shillo’ makes a surprise early return from injury.
Match Officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Dan Eastwood & Peter Gough; Video Referee – Paul Mellor.
The Way We See It: This could be a season-defining game for both these struggling sides. On paper the injury-depleted Raiders look to have the job ahead, with their left-side defence sure to be put under the microscope again by one of the better attacking units of recent years. But the Warriors need to recapture some of their former form, as the Green Machine is still capable of pulling off a gutsy win to open their account at home. The heart says Raiders but the head says Warriors… by eight points.
Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Live 2pm.
• Statistics: NRL Stats