Raiders v Panthers
It's a five-day turnaround for the Raiders, but at least they are playing at home again after beating the Broncos 30-18 at Canberra Stadium on Monday night. And, let's face it, while a game of football is a game of football, they will play many more torrid games this season than that one.
The win over the Broncos followed a two-game stretch in which the Raiders lost 30-20 to the Sharks and 16-10 to the Sea Eagles. They let themselves down in both those games, making far too many mistakes against the Sharks and giving up a second-half lead against a Sea Eagles side that was on a five-day turnaround after a physical – and overtime – game against the Storm. But the Raiders were always in control against the Broncos, and will go into this game with plenty of confidence.
The Panthers looked headed for a fourth win in a row when they led the Tigers 18-4 approaching halftime at Centrebet Stadium last Sunday, but the Tigers, despite being ripped apart by injury going into the game, got it back to 18-8 by halftime and then scored the only 12 points of the second half to win 20-18.
That should be a lesson for the Panthers, who must realise they have to play for the 80 minutes to win in this competition – no matter who the opponent and how they look on paper. Before that, the Panthers had revived their season with wins over the Storm (12-10), Warriors (62-6) and Dragons (19-0). They can be competitive in this game if they knuckle down, but prop Tim Grant has not been named after missing the loss to the Tigers with a broken hand and that is on top of fellow representative front-rower Sam McKendry already being out for an extended period through injury.
The Raiders have named the same 17-man squad that beat the Broncos.
The Panthers have elevated Josh Mansour from the bench to start in the centres, with Lewis Brown moving from the centres to the second row and Matt Robinson from the second row to the bench. Ryan Simpkins has been added to what is a five-man bench.
Watch Out Raiders: Panthers bench hooker James Segeyaro can come up with an error – he's made 11 this season – but he is an absolute dynamo who can change the course of a game when he takes the field fresh. Segeyaro has five line-breaks, 26 offloads and five tries this season. The Raiders' defence can go to sleep sometimes. If they nod off here, Segeyaro will cause them to have nightmares.
Watch Out Panthers: The Raiders' three-quarter line of Jack Wighton, Jarrod Croker, Blake Ferguson and Edrick Lee have 16 line-breaks and 22 tries between them this season. Needless to say, they are one of the more potent quartets around, and the Raiders play with the overwhelming aim to put them on the outside of defenders. The Panthers' outside backs are going to get a serious workout in defence.
Key Match-Up: Reece Robinson has starred at fullback for the Raiders since Josh Dugan was sacked from the club after Round 1. Robinson has run for over 100 metres in each of his 11 games, including four 150-plus games and one 200-plus game. He has five line-breaks and four tries.
Veteran Wes Naiqama was OK for the Panthers against the Tigers last weekend after being brought in to replace young Matthew Moylan, who was unavailable because a of a second-tier salary cap issue, but he faces a battle to match the contribution Robinson is likely to make.
Where It Will Be Won: The Panthers wilted against the Tigers, who eventually got on top of them in the forwards, and it's a big ask for them to get on top of the big, mean Raiders pack in Canberra – particularly with no Grant or McKendry. But if they aren't at least very competitive in the battle up front they have got no chance of winning, because given just a decent platform the Raiders' backs are capable of carving it up.
The History: Played 61; Panthers 31, Raiders 29, drawn 1. The Panthers have won six of the past 10 clashes. The Raiders have won five of the past seven at this venue, but the two wins by the Panthers have come in the last three clashes there.
Match Officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Adam Gee; Sideline Officials – Adam Reid & Ricky McFarlane; Video referees – Paul Mellor & Matt Rodwell.
NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone or Android smartphone as it's being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week including the Raiders v Panthers clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live, 5.30pm.
The Way We See It: This one is made for the Raiders. The Panthers are much improved recently, but down in the nation's capital, at night and with winter kicking in, it becomes a very difficult assignment – particularly when you're missing several key players. The home side won't be contained for 80 minutes. Raiders by 12 points.
*Statistics: NRL Stats