Raiders v Cowboys preview

Raiders v Cowboys
Canberra Stadium
Sunday, 2pm

The Raiders are on fire at home this season, where they have won six out of six against the Dragons, Roosters, Warriors, Knights, Broncos and Panthers. It is on the road where they have had their problems, winning just one out of nine. That one win was against the Storm, which sums up the Raiders. They are unpredictable. Last season? They were having trouble winning at home...

The Raiders will obviously very much appreciate going home for this game, after losing back-to-back away games against the Tigers (17-12) and Rabbitohs (32-2) in the past two rounds. They led 12-6 against the Tigers, so that was one that got away, but against the Rabbitohs they were taught a lesson of where you have to be at if you want to be regarded as a serious contender.

The Cowboys have had plenty of problems this season as well, so much so that there has been a lot of speculation about the future of their coach, Neil Henry. But he has survived in the past, and he continues to survive, for now at least. After losing five straight, the Cowboys have recovered to a degree, with wins over the Dragons (22-16) and Sharks (24-4) at their past two starts.

But the Dragons have struggled this season, while the Sharks had several key players out. This will be a severe test for the Cowboys, who have had their own problems in trying to win on the road in recent years. It is the middle of winter now, so the cold conditions that suit the Raiders at home, and which those travelling Queensland teams don’t like, are kicking in.

Jack Wighton moves from centre to wing for the Raiders, with winger Sandor Earl out. Joel Thompson switches from second row to centre. Joel Edwards goes from the bench to second row. Jarrad Kennedy, Shaun Berrigan, Jake Foster and Dimitri Pelo have been added to what is a seven-man bench. 

The Cowboys have made no changes to their starting side, but Ashton Sims (suspended) is gone from the bench. Ricky Thorby and Jason Taumalolo have been added to what is a five-man interchange.

Watch Out Raiders: Johnathan Thurston was always scheming in the Cowboys’ win over the Sharks, and if the Cowboys are going to get the cash here he will have to be at least an eight out of 10. The Raiders have got to be extra wary of him, because he’ll know he has to produce a big one for the Cowboys to win.

Watch Out Cowboys: Raiders fullback Reece Robinson ran the ball for just 77 metres against the Rabbitohs, who did a great job of squeezing him out of the game. It was the first time this season he had run for under 100 metres. He is going to be pumped up to cut loose in this one.

Plays To Watch: The game against the Rabbitohs was only the second one this season in which Raiders second-rower Josh Papalii didn’t have either an offload or a line-break. He loves running wide on the right at Canberra Stadium. Look for him to bounce back with a big impact here. Cowboys wingers Ashley Graham and Antonio Winterstein know they have to always be ready for Thurston’s bullet-like cut-out passes or accurate kicks. Graham has seven tries this season and Winterstein 10, so they are finishing off well.

Key Match-Up: Raiders halfback Josh McCrone and his Cowboys opposite, Robert Lui, both need to do more than they have done recently. McCrone often excels at Canberra Stadium. The pressure is on Lui to take some of the heat off Thurston in the playmaking department.

Where It Will Be Won: It might surprise people to learn that the backline the Cowboys have named for this match have scored 35 tries this season, compared to just 18 for the Raiders’ backline. Obviously, Blake Ferguson and Edrick Lee being out hurts the Raiders, but they still have enough potential tryscorers if they get the opportunities. It’s going to come down to which team can create the best chances out wide – and whether the Cowboys can stop Robinson from cutting them up with a couple of those great breaks he is capable of making down the middle.

The History: Played 31; Raiders 18, Cowboys 13. The Cowboys have won eight of the past 10 clashes, including each of the last two at this venue.

Match Officials: Referees – Jason Robinson & Gavin Morris; Sideline Officials – Michael Wise & Brenden Wood; Video Referees – Chris Ward & Luke Patten.

NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone, iPad or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week, including the Raiders v Cowboys clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live, 2pm.

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The Way We See It: The fact the Cowboys have a good recent record against the Raiders, including at Canberra Stadium, is something that should be considered. This game should at least be close, but the Raiders have a great record at home this year and for a confidence team like them that should mean a lot. Raiders by six points.