Raiders v Tigers preview

Canberra Raiders v Wests Tigers
Canberra Stadium
Saturday 5.30pm

Chances are video of the Raiders’ stunning second-half comeback to down the Tigers 30-16 in Round 4 will be on an endless loop in the change rooms prior to the Green Machine running out for this crucial return bout with the gold-and-blacks.

Their clubbing of this week’s opponent was one of the few highlights in the Raiders’ calendar to date and, given their latest uncompetitive display when being dominated by the Rabbitohs last Friday, they desperately need to revisit that form if they are to stay in contention for the top eight.

In mitigation, they fell to the bunnies without fullback Josh Dugan and winger Blake Ferguson who were axed for breaching the club’s alcohol policy – but unlike Penrith who have responded to their management’s harsh calls, the Raiders never looked like raising a notch. The 36-18 defeat, the fourth in their past five games, relegates them to 13th place on the ladder – but incredibly just one win outside of semi-finals contention.

Coach David Furner has sprung a huge surprise this week, naming Dugan at five-eighth and Ferguson in the centres. This sees Reece Robinson, who was such a force in their Round 4 win, to retain the No.1 jersey.

Meanwhile the yin-and-yang Tigers have now strung together five wins to follow a five-loss streak that threatened to see them disappear off the premiership radar even with just a quarter of the season complete. They’ve accounted for the Panthers, Eels, Titans, Warriors and Cowboys (last Sunday) to sit seventh on the ladder, the lowest-ranked of three teams on that rung.

That said, the past month flatters them a little: two of those wins were by one point and one other by just two points, so their storyline could have read entirely differently given a few different bounces of the ball.    

In a significant reshuffle, Raiders coach Furner has named Blake Ferguson in the centres, with Joel Thompson reverting to the second Row and Bronson Harrison shifting to the bench. Dugan’s shock appointment in the No.6 sees Josh McCrone move back to halfback, with Sam Williams shunted to the NSW Cup. Sam Mataora has been named 18th man.

Meanwhile the Tigers have just one change this week: Liam Fulton returns from injury to take his place in the second row, with Matt Bell benched.

It’s a milestone week for Tiger Keith Galloway, who plays his 150th NRL game, and Raider Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, who suits up for his 100th.

Should the Raiders win it will be the first time they’ve notched back-to-back successes since 2010.  

Watch Out Raiders: Canberra will be hoping the Tigers’ running game hasn’t turned the corner given the ease with which they made ground against the Cowboys – prior to their Round 12 clash they ranked dead last for territory each week (1231 metres) but came out energised to compile a season-high 1656 metres. It was the Raiders who dominated territory against a lethargic Tigers unit back in Round 4 but if the visitors repeat their enthusiasm this week in the nation’s capital it could be a long evening for the Raiders’ defence who have conceded the fourth-most metres to all oppositions.

The Raiders’ left-side defence continues to leak like a sieve: they’ve let through 29 tries so far, including three last week, compared to just 10 in total on the other side of the field. Jarrod Croker and Edrick Lee need to muscle up or Benji Marshall, Beau Ryan and Matt Utai will run wild.

Last week it was Souths’ Issac Luke doing the damage against them from dummy-half (15 runs) – this week the Raiders need to watch Robbie Farah, who made 13 runs from dummy-half to continually unsettle the Cowboys’ defensive line.

If it’s a close contest the Raiders won’t want to give Benji Marshall any latitude with his goal-kicking – he’s booted his past 15 straight, including 21 of his past 22 attempts.

Danger Sign: Marshall is a different player to the one who had minimal impact when running the ball just three times last time these sides met (see below). Marshall ran 21 times in the No.7 last week against the Cowboys, scoring a try, setting up two others and making two line-breaks. He ranks second in the NRL for try assists (16) and you can bet he’ll fancy his chances taking on the Raiders from close range on the right of the ruck.    

Watch Out Wests Tigers: While the Tigers appear to have rediscovered their attacking mojo they can’t afford any complacency in defence – they still rank second worst for missed tackles (33 a game).

Back in the fold this week ‘bad boys’ Josh Dugan and Blake Ferguson will be seeking to redeem themselves in the eyes of both management and their team-mates. And they’ll be encouraged to run at every opportunity, given the Green Machine’s stats the last time they played the Tigers: in Round 4 the Raiders made 1654 metres – with their back three and centres combining for a record 908 metres!   

The Tigers need to be wary of Josh McCrone chipping ahead for supports – the Raiders have utilised the chip kick on 11 occasions (second most).

Jarrod Croker will test out the nerve of Beau Ryan and Matt Utai. Croker has scored seven tries and made eight line-breaks down the left edge (second most by any centre). Back in March he posted career-best numbers in metres gained (241) and tackle-breaks (12) along with a record amount of points by any Raider against the Tigers (18).

Danger Sign: With Brett Stewart’s grip on the NSW jersey not exactly firm Josh Dugan will be making every run count this weekend with selectors set to announce the squad for Game Two on Sunday night. Even though he’s playing five-eighth this week, a strong showing could catapult him back into Origin calculations. He has just three line-breaks to date but you can guarantee he’ll be upping his involvement here. He is making 152 metres plus six tackle busts every game (second-highest average in the NRL).

David Shillington v Aaron Woods: A mouth-watering battle between an entrenched Queensland Origin star and a rookie on the periphery of a call-up for the Blues for Game Two. Shillington has been a rock up front for the Raiders, averaging 131 metres with 16 hit-ups in 53 minutes every game. He has great strength in the tackle and is always a danger of initiating some second-phase play, with 14 offloads so far (third most by any front-rower). Meanwhile Woods has compiled an impressive 2012 resume, adding 133 metres a match from 15 hit-ups with 34 tackles in an average 58 minutes. But he showed he’s capable of much more, with a Paul Gallen-like effort against the Cowboys last week: 212 metres from 21 hit-ups with 36 tackles and two offloads in 66 minutes.

Where It Will Be Won: Minimising the damage of the big plays. The Tigers rank alongside the cellar-dwelling Eels for conceding the most line-breaks (5.5 per game) with Raiders the third worst (5.2). The Tigers may have secured the competition points last week but the Cowboys still busted them open for six line-breaks. Meanwhile the Raiders haemorrhaged 11 line-breaks to the Rabbitohs; a repeat will gift the hungry Tigers, who are warming in attack, a huge score.

The History: Played 24; Wests Tigers 14, Raiders 10. The Wests Tigers boast an imposing record, winning eight of the past 11 games. Their Round 4 defeat was the first time they’d fallen to the Raiders in eight meetings. The Tigers hold a 7-6 advantage at Canberra Stadium and have not lost at the venue since 2008.

The Last Time They Met: The Raiders upset the Tigers 30-16 at Campbelltown Stadium in Round 4.

The Wests Tigers, missing Robbie Farah to suspension, led 12-10 at halftime before a hat-trick of tries to the visitors from the 46th to 68th minutes set up a stunning comeback win.

The Raiders, who were under-strength themselves with Josh Dugan sidelined with injury, found themselves on the wrong side of the scoreboard after 40 minutes despite dominating the attack – they made five first-half line-breaks to their opponents’ one.

However, seven additional line busts in the second half were too much for the Tigers’ defence to manage, with the home side crumpling to an embarrassing 34 missed tackles after the break.  

Terry Campese starred for the Raiders with a try and two try assists, while centre Jarrod Croker scored two tries and made three line-breaks.

Incredibly, Tigers’ stand-in captain Benji Marshall made just three runs (from 43 receives) for a total of eight metres on the evening.

Match Officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Phil Haines; Sideline Officials – Luke Potter & Jason Walsh; Video Referee – Phil Cooley.

The Way We See It: If this game were being played at Leichhardt we’d be jumping straight into the Tigers’ camp. But in Canberra and with their backs to the wall we’re expecting the Raiders to come out firing. The Tigers still have a tendency to drift in and out of games and will need to be focused here or they run the risk of seeing their winning streak severed. However, the weakness in the Raiders’ left-side defence is so great we’re not sure even a committed 80 minutes will be enough. Tigers by six points.      

Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Live 5.30pm.

•    Statistics: NRL Stats