Wests Tigers v Raiders
Campbelltown Sports Stadium
Saturday, 5.30pm (AEST)
Depending on where you stand on hoodoos, witch doctors, or even the traditional touch wood – no matter which you way you look at it, the Wests Tigers are to Canberra what Canberra are to St George Illawarra.
It may not be as protracted as the Raiders' 11-year spell on the Dragons, but the Wests Tigers' 9-1 hex over the Green Machine since 2008 has certainly been stirred from a similar potion.
If poor form and bad luck wasn't hard enough for the Canberrans to contend with ahead of their trip up the Hume Highway on Saturday, they'll also have to overcome one of their most lopsided records against a current NRL side in recent history.
And if you're going off last week's 22-14 loss to the Bulldogs on their own home turf, yet another defeat that showed a whole lot of effort but not a lot of reward, their losing run isn't likely to end this week.
Coach Ricky Stuart's experiment of using his best weapon in Anthony Milford off the bench backfired with a subpar performance from Reece Robinson, who has been dropped from the Round 16 squad altogether. Milford reverts to his role at the back, while impact forward Paul Vaughan makes his return on the bench.
The Tigers, meanwhile, probably spent last weekend still licking their wounds from the vengeful 32-10 bruiser they suffered against the Rabbitohs a fortnight ago.
But they'll contend that spearheads Robbie Farah and Aaron Woods weren't around for South Sydney's return serve, two Origin-calibre players that they hope can push them back into the top eight by the end of the weekend.
Tigers forward Dene Halatau (concussion) becomes yet another casualty to their growing list of head knocks, and comes alongside news of second-rower Liam Fulton considering his future after his fourth concussion in 2014.
Watch Out Wests Tigers: For all the criticism the Raiders have copped over their horror season, prop David Shillington was one of the few players who certainly earned his paycheck last week. The former Queensland enforcer turned in arguably his best outing of the year, running a season-high 180 metres with five offloads to put his team on the front foot. No coincidence that his exit in the first half coincided with Canberra losing the ascendency.
Watch Out Raiders: The Tigers get to their desired areas of the field through their league-best 300 dummy-half runs – and over a third of them come from their talismanic hooker Robbie Farah. But on the opposite side of the ball, the Tigers have also been forced into a league-low 13 line drop-outs, meaning their spring-like line-speed is doing a great job of pressuring opposition kickers.
Plays To Watch: Teams need no reminding that while ever NSW hooker Robbie Farah stands behind the ruck, opposition markers and 'V' defenders need – no, must – be on their toes. However Mick Potter's faith in utility Blake Austin can't be overlooked, either. The first-year Tiger asserted himself quickly and often when inserted into the fray against the Rabbitohs, and crossed for a momentum-changing try from near-range.
Canberra found plenty of success going left early against the Bulldogs, breaking the line twice against the Bulldogs via two face balls from Terry Campese to centre Jarrod Croker. The Tigers should prepare for an early onslaught down that corridor, where Braith Anasta and Chris Lawrence defend.
Where It Will Be Won: It may not be where it will be won as opposed to where it can be lost. The Raiders can't afford to go tit-for-tat against a Tigers side brimming with attacking talent. First and foremost, Stuart's men need to fix their defence, which is leaking a league-worst 26.6 points and 5.6 line breaks a game. Unless there's an attitude change in that area, they won't stand a chance.
What Are The Odds: It appears hardly anyone wants to back the Raiders in this one, with money running 10:1 in favour of the Tigers at Sportsbet.com.au with their price wound in from $1.36 to $1.25. Raiders have blown like the 'Megablizzard' from $3.05 to $4.00. Punters are all over the Bunnies at -5.5 as well.
The History: Played 28; Wests Tigers 16, Canberra 10, drawn 2. Interesting fact No. 1: That one Raiders victory since 2008, when Jarrod Croker personally tallied 18 points, did come in Campbelltown. Interesting fact No. 2: Of the 10 current teams in the NRL the Tigers have played at least 24 games against since merging in 2000, the 485 points they've conceded to the Raiders is the second lowest.
Match Officials: Referees – Matt Cecchin & Gavin Reynolds; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Dave Ryan; Video Referees – Steve Clark & Luke Phillips.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 5.30pm (AEST).
The Way We See It: The cold confines of south-west Sydney should be akin to a summer vacation for the wintry Canberrans, but what won't be a walk in the park will be a forward pack engineered by one of the best in the business. We can see an in-form Robbie Farah and his band of enthusiastic big men tearing apart a Green Machine that is severely down on confidence and down on luck. Tigers by at least two tries.
* Statistics: Champion Data