Canberra Raiders v Sydney Roosters
It’s a much-used cliché we know but it’s definitely do-or-die time for the Jekyll-and-Hyde Raiders in the nation’s capital on Saturday, with victory over the even more enigmatic Roosters essential if Canberra are to remain relevant in this year’s premiership.
The Green Machine kept their season on life support with a 20-10 win over lowly Penrith last Sunday; however, the scratchy effort – they missed 54 tackles throughout – would hardly have the top sides quaking in their boots. It was a far cry from their 28-12 win over the Broncos a fortnight ago, or their 36-4 win over the Sharks in Round 20 – but importantly where there’s life, there’s hope.
Meanwhile the Roosters became the latest victims of the resurgent Eels last Saturday, although their 36-22 loss was as much about their taking their foot of the gas as it was about Parramatta rallying. The tricolours looked like running away with the contest when they scored two quick tries shortly after halftime to grab the lead, but frustratingly they relaxed to let Chris Sandow engineer the home side’s comeback.
The lacklustre performance was worlds away from the dedication and flair they exhibited when destroying the Dragons the week before – something under-the-pump coach Brian Smith would be drilling home to his charges at training this week.
Mitchell Aubusson could be their lucky charm this week – he’s chasing his 50th career victory in his 111th game. Tellingly he has sung the team song five times from six games against the Green Machine, including twice from three games in Canberra.
The Raiders will be boosted by the return of prop Dane Tilse this week; his inclusion pushes Steve Mataora to the bench.
Meanwhile Brian Smith has made just the one change to the Roosters’ line-up, with Jack Bosden to start in the second row and Brad Takairangi benched. Nafe Seluini and Lama Tasi are the new faces on their bench.
Watch Out Raiders: Roosters offloads could put the Raiders to the sword – the tricolours rank third for second-phase play, averaging 12 offloads per game. Meanwhile Canberra rank rock bottom for conceding offloads, coincidentally leaking 12 a game. The biggest threats will be posed by forwards Frank-Paul Nuuausala (29) and Brad Takairangi (23).
If the Raiders don’t work for each other in defence on their left-hand side of the field they could very well be planning their end-of-season holiday after this weekend. Canberra have been clueless there on occasions, leaking a mammoth 45 tries to oppositions down this edge region.
Danger Sign: Any time the Roosters work their way into the Raiders’ 10-metre zone – Canberra have conceded more tries from inside 10 metres than any team (58). Wrapping up a threatening runner close to the line has been tough for them – they’ve conceded five tries to an offload from close range (fourth most).
Watch Out Roosters: Josh McCrone is an understated playmaker who will leave his mark if given time to think and room to move. McCrone has provided 17 line-break assists and 13 try assists to date.
The Raiders’ back three of Josh Dugan, Reece Robinson and Sandor Earl needs to be contained. Dugan is good for 141 metres a match, while wingers Robinson and Earl each plough out 127 metres every 80 minutes. Throw in centre Blake Ferguson’s 125 metres a match and 95 tackle busts, plus Jarrod Croker’s try-scoring feats, and the Raiders are a lethal proposition out wide.
The tricolours have been their own worst enemies at times this season – it’s no surprise to see they’re the worst side in the comp for making errors, with a whopping 11.6 on average. They won’t get much of a leg-up from their opponent this week – Canberra are the most disciplined with the ball in hand, registering just nine errors a game.
The Roosters’ forwards need to muscle up and dominate up front if they’re a chance here – they have struggled for territory all year, making the fewest metres of all teams each week. There’s upside for them though: they also limit oppositions to the fewest metres made against them each game. If they can pound out a territorial dominance early they can keep the pressure on.
Danger Sign: If Josh McCrone gets the radar right on his attacking kicks it could pay off big time. The Roosters have conceded 21 tries to kicks, the third most to date. Meanwhile Canberra have scored 22 tries off the boot (second most). McCrone came up with two try assists dropping the Steeden onto his foot against the Panthers last week.
Jarrod Croker v Shaun Kenny-Dowall: This head-to-head battle between left centre Croker and right centre Kenny-Dowall may decide the outcome. Croker has been in devastating form in attack in 2012, scoring 16 tries (equal most by a centre) and punching through defences on 14 occasions (eighth most by any player). He will be tough to contain when given space within 30 metres of the Roosters’ line. Meanwhile the chooks play their best footy when Kenny-Dowall is on the boil – something that’s been a little infrequent in 2012. If the Kiwi can dig deep and show aggression when running the football he could create migraines for Croker who can still be patchy with his defensive reads. SK-D has tallied 61 tackle busts and 17 offloads from his 14 games.
Where It Will Be Won: Going on with the job after halftime. Both teams have struggled to get back into contests after trailing at halftime, so the scoreline at oranges could indicate who is heading for the win. The Roosters have won just one of 12 games after trailing at halftime in 2012. Meanwhile the Raiders have fared only marginally better with two wins after trailing at the break in 11 matches.
The History: Played 52; Roosters 29, Raiders 23. The Roosters have won five of the past eight clashes, although the Raiders hold a 9-6 advantage at Canberra Stadium. Neither side has ever held the other scoreless.
The Last Time They Met: The Roosters downed the Raiders 14-8 in a lacklustre meeting at Allianz Stadium in Round 3.
The Raiders looked on song when Shaun Berrigan (7th minute) and Jarrod Croker (16th minute) scored to open up a commanding 8-nil lead before Roosters skipper Braith Anasta crossed five minutes before halftime to bridge the gap to just two points at oranges.
Roosters interchange Daniel Mortimer crossed on the hour after some good lead-up work from Shaun Kenny-Dowall down the right edge, with Anasta’s conversion securing the home side a 12-8 lead. A penalty goal with two minutes remaining rounded out the scoring.
Powerful running (six line-breaks) and prolific second phase (19 offloads) was the key for the Roosters, who otherwise struggled to build pressure throughout the afternoon – they registered a woeful 53 per cent completions rate and staggering 21 errors.
Meanwhile falling of the tackles that mattered cruelled the Raiders’ chances – they missed 38 overall. They were also dealt a body blow when they lost fullback Josh Dugan to injury just 14 minutes after kick-off.
Anthony Minichiello (202 metres) and BJ Leilua (five offloads) were the tri-colours’ best players, while Blake Ferguson (153 metres and seven tackle busts) kept the Raiders in the hunt.
Match Officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Ricky MacFarlane & Nick Beashel; Video Referee – Paul Mellor.
The Way We See It: Given the rollercoaster form lines of each side in 2012 you certainly wouldn’t want to stake your life on predicting the winner of this match. However, at home, and still with a glimmer of hope about making the semi-finals, it has to be the Raiders. Canberra by eight points.
Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Live 5.30pm.
• Statistics: NRL Stats