Raiders v Warriors
Will Terry Campese make his long-awaited return from injury for Canberra on Saturday night? That’s the burning question heading into this intriguing Heritage Round clash as the Jekyll-and-Hyde Raiders look to claw to within striking distance of the top eight while the Warriors will be desperate to avoid possible sole possession of the bottom rung of the Telstra Premiership ladder.
The scoreline was the same for both teams in their games last weekend, but there was only joy for one. The Warriors lost 24-22 to South Sydney at Mt Smart Stadium on Sunday, and in the early evening game on the same day the Raiders beat Sydney Roosters 24-22 at Canberra Stadium. Both the Raiders and the Warriors came from well behind to make a game of it in those matches, but the Raiders timed their run better. They finally hit the lead with just a couple of minutes to go, while the Warriors hit the front midway through the second half. That gave the Rabbitohs plenty of time to raise another effort and win, which they did.
The result was obviously disappointing for the Warriors, but particularly so because they badly need wins. They opened the season with three straight losses – to the Eels (40-10), the Roosters (16-14) and the Sharks (28-4) – before finally getting off the mark with a 20-18 win over the Cowboys. They weren't able to make it back-to-back wins, but there was plenty of reason to be enthusiastic about their performance. After falling behind 18-6, the Warriors came up with several devastating attacking raids that resulted in three tries and a 20-18 lead over the Rabbitohs. Previously, the Warriors had fallen 12-0 behind against the Cowboys, but managed to get in front and stay there that time.
What the Warriors need to do now is start playing for 80 minutes. If they don't do it in Canberra, they can't hope to win, because while the Raiders have got their own defensive frailties they are among the most dangerous attacking teams in the competition.
The Raiders have lost all three of their away games, against Penrith (32-10), Gold Coast (36-0) and Newcastle (28-12), and won both of their home games, against St George Illawarra (30-17) and the Rabbitohs. That is typical Raiders form, and it will ensure they start clear favourites in this Men of League Heritage Round match at home.
Canberra coach David Furner has named playmaker Campese in an extended squad in jersey No.18; should he take the field either Josh McCrone or Sam Williams will drop back to the bench, with the former slotting in at No.7 if the latter hits the pine. Anthony Milford would probably make way on the bench.
Meanwhile Warriors mentor Matt Elliott has made just the one change to his 17, with Jacob Lillyman returning from a week’s injury lay-off to replace Sebastine Ikahihifo on the interchange. Ben Henry will wear jersey No.18.
Watch Out Raiders: After losing their last eight matches of last season, and their first three this season, the Warriors are in recovery mode – and that means livewire halfback Shaun Johnson is improving. We're still waiting to see him return to his best, but it may not be far away. Johnson can make tries or score them – he's bagged 20 in 43 games so far.
Watch Out Warriors: The Raiders are renowned for fielding huge forward packs, and when those packs fire they are too often too big and too strong for the opposition at home. Prop David Shillington is pressing for a Test spot. He led the way in the win over the Roosters with 15 runs for 159 metres during his 54 minutes on the field. The Warriors have got to match him.
Plays To Watch: Reece Robinson coming out of the backfield is a threat every time for the Raiders, and if the Warriors are having one of their indifferent days in defence he will carve them up. Robinson is averaging 132 metres and has made 21 tackle busts, the seventh most by any player.
Young centre Konrad Hurrell has scored a try in each of his last three games for the Warriors. Last season, he scored 12 in 17 games. He's a big threat, the way he hits on to the ball at speed.
Key Match-Up: Josh Papalii, for the home side, and Feleti Mateo, for the visitors, are anything but dull second-rowers. They can each make things happen in attack. Papalii is so hard to tackle, and has made three line-breaks this season. After leading all players for offloads in 2012 (with 61), Mateo has come up with 14 offloads so far. It is natural to expect both to have an impact in what is a potentially open game.
Where It Will Be Won: When you've got two teams with plenty of attacking spark, what happens out of dummy-half to try to get things moving will have a big bearing on the result. And here we've got the old and the young – 32-year-old Nathan Friend for the Warriors and 22-year-old Matt McIlwrick for the Raiders. McIlwrick has to hold his nerve here.
The History: Played 28; Raiders 16, Warriors 12. The Raiders have won five of the past nine clashes between the sides and they hold a commanding advantage at home, winning nine of the 10 games the sides have contested in the nation’s capital.
Match Officials: Referees – Adam Devcich & Chris James; Sideline Officials – Jason Walsh & Peter Gough. Video referees – Paul Mellor & Reece Williams.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live, 7.30pm.
The Way We See It: Neither of these teams are rock solid anywhere, but it's a lot easier to trust the Raiders at home than it is the Warriors on the road – especially given their standout record against the Warriors in Canberra. We've seen the Warriors play well at home and then not back it up on the road too many times. Raiders by 12 points.