Raiders v Titans preview

Canberra Raiders v Gold Coast Titans
Canberra Stadium
Sunday, 2pm

If desperation is any indication, the clash of these clubs – with their finals campaigns on life support – should be a thriller.

Sitting in 11th position on the NRL ladder, the Raiders have breathed life into their 2012 season following unexpected back-to-back victories over the Dragons and Storm. Somehow, despite just three wins in their opening nine matches, the Green Machine remain in playoff contention, just two points outside the top-eight cutoff. (Canberra, however, haven’t won three straight games since the 2010 Finals Series.)

The Titans, meanwhile, appeared to have overcome a two-and-seven start to 2012 when they recorded three wins on the trot against the Bulldogs, Knights and Cowboys in Rounds 10-13… but since then have played ordinary football. Last start’s loss against the Warriors, though, could be forgiven seeing they were without the services of star forwards Luke Bailey, Greg Bird and Nate Myles. They too, however, are just outside the playoff band, in 13th place with 16 points. And a win here would see the Titans leapfrog the Raiders on the ladder on for-and-against differential.

The Raiders have made only one addition to the side that beat the Storm, with Sam Mataora added to a five-man bench line-up following his recovery from a back injury.

The Titans have named former Rabbitohs hooker Beau Falloon to make his club debut, while forwards Luke Bailey (ribs) and Nate Myles (sternum) have also been named to return from injury.

Centre Dominique Peyroux has been promoted from the interchange bench to centre in place of the injured Beau Champion, who will have surgery on his injured ankle. Winger Steve Michaels comes in for David Mead, who will miss the match after returning to PNG for his father’s funeral.

Watch Out Raiders: The Titans have a surprisingly decent away record in 2012. In eight matches away from the Gold Coast strip, they have won four matches, upsets against the Cowboys (Round 1), the Sea Eagles (Round 7), the Bulldogs (Round 10) and the Knights (Round 12). If the Raiders enter this clash expecting to win, Cartwright’s charges could well pull off an upset in the nation’s capital.

Danger Sign: Aidan Sezer continues to shine for his new club… and the good news for Titans fans is his form and confidence levels are sure to rise even further. In his rookie NRL season, the former Bulldog has proven a star in the making at stand-off – not only does he possess an excellent all-round kicking game, but his running and passing games are also on the improve. He might have only created a total of eight try and line-break assists so far this season, but with three of those in the past two matches, it’s obvious the East Hills junior is slowly but surely revealing the full number of tricks in his bag.

Watch Out Titans: The Raiders are proving to be the league’s deadliest side when given open space. Canberra are the most-threatening team in the NRL off a line-break – they’ve scored a whopping 30 tries after they’ve crashed, sliced or diced through their opponents’ defensive line. With elusive speedsters like Blake Ferguson, new signing Sandor Earl and rookie sensation Edrick Lee in the Raiders’ line-up, the Gold Coast will need to prevent the breaks in the first place.

Danger Sign: Is there a more ominous message for the Titans other than beating two of the competition’s toughest defensive sides in the Dragons and Storm? The Raiders enter this match in hot form and with confidence at a season high – new signing Earl even told Canberra media that his team is almost “unbeatable” if they control the ball. Their backs are in particularly menacing moods – last week Lee scored a hat-trick, Ferguson set up two tries and ran for 143 metres, and stand-in fullback Reece Robinson also shone with 187 metres and two try assists. Robinson bagged his second hat-trick with the winner against the Dragons a fortnight ago and throughout his career has scored 14 of his 24 tries Canberra Stadium. When replacing Josh Dugan he averages 164 metres per game – the most by any Raiders fullback in NRL history! 

Travis Waddell v Matt Srama: With two of the most exciting young backlines in the competition, the decision-making and service of the hookers could very well decide the outcome of this match. Both No.9s are still proving themselves at NRL level – Srama’s in just his second season of top-grade football while Waddell, after an inconsistent career thus far, will no doubt still be upset about the long-term rumours that linked Manly hooker Matt Ballin to the club. Each has a huge role to play in this game – when and if they chance their arm and scoot from dummy-half when everyone expects them to pass, especially in their own half, could prove hugely influential.

Where It Will Be Won: The past three games between the Raiders and Gold Coast at Canberra Stadium have been decided by a total of 11 points – it’d be a brave punter to tip against anything but another tight tussle. The kicking game emerges as a huge factor for both sides – the Raiders relish theirs while the Titans, on the other hand, really struggle. The Raiders love kicking long and short for their tall, athletic outside backs – expect them to kick even more in this match.

Gold Coast manage to defuse just 69 per cent of all kicks (or 85 of the total of 123 kicks), the equal lowest in the NRL. For the Titans to spring an upset, they’ll need to reverse this worrying trend.

The History: Played 11; Titans 6, Raiders 5. At Canberra Stadium, the odds are heavily stacked in the home team’s favour, with the Raiders winners on four out of the five meetings. The past eight meetings of the teams on all grounds, however, are spilt four matches apiece.

Last Time They Met: The Raiders caused an upset on the Gold Coast in Round 2 earlier this season, beating the Titans 24-12. The away team entered the match battered, bruised and heartbroken following an ultra-tight loss the week prior against the Storm, but the Raiders’ pain was put on the back-burner following a committed team performance at Skilled Park.

Despite being level at 12-all at the break, Canberra always seemed like the team likely to crack their opponents, with John Cartwright’s men consistently failing to build pressure on the back of poor handling and discipline.

It was the Raiders’ backs that caused the point-scoring damage, with Jarrod Croker (two), Josh Dugan and Joel Thompson all crossing for tries. Rookie winger Jake Wighton was particularly influential and athletic on debut, threatening with the ball in hand and setting up one try in his first NRL match. Dugan (169 metres) and prop David Shillington (196 metres) were too tough to handle for the home side.

Match Officials: Referees – Steve Lyons & Gavin Reynolds; Sideline Officials – Dan Eastwood & Dave Ryan; Video Referee – Rod Lawrence

The Way We See It: It’s really hard to see the home side getting beaten in this match – particularly with their recent good form, their deadly line-breaking backline and their dominance in the air. That being said, the Titans really love being written off. With the omission of Titans forward Greg Bird, the home side should get the two points. Raiders by eight.

Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Live 2pm.

*Statistics: NRL Stats