Raiders v Dragons
Do you believe in hoodoos? We certainly didn’t, but when it comes to the Raiders and Dragons in the NRL, we’ve started to change our mind.
The last time the Dragons won in Canberra was Round 22, 2000.
Sydney was building towards what would be a successful Olympics, Gladiator and Mission: Impossible II were wowing moviegoers, and Anastacia’s smash hit 'I’m Outta Love' topped the ARIA charts.
In the NRL, Mal Meninga was Raiders coach, Laurie Daley was his skipper, and former Canberra coach David Furner was still kicking goals and starting for the Green Machine in the second row. Luke Bailey featured in that game for the Red V, and is the only remaining player from the era still plying his trade in the NRL.
Of course, 2014 is a much different time. The Raiders currently sit in 15th position on the ladder, ahead of the Sharks and the dreaded wooden spoon only courtesy of points differential, while the Dragons in 11th are still a chance of making the finals, but can’t afford to drop any more points on the run home.
Canberra coach Ricky Stuart has named an unchanged 17, while the Dragons will be without Adam Quinlan. Gerard Beale reverts to fullback, with Peter Mata’utia called into the centres. Trent Merrin starts at lock, and Tyson Frizell has also been included on a six-man bench.
Watch Out Raiders: The Dragons’ starting second row of former Raider Joel Thompson and wrecking ball Leeson Ah Mau have been playing longer minutes of late, with both getting through the full 80 in their past two starts. Their workloads have increased in turn, with both statistically amongst the Dragons’ best over the past few rounds. In Round 22, they combined for 71 tackles, eight tackle breaks and 205 metres. They’ll be keen to test Canberra’s edge defence, which has been lacking at times throughout 2014.
Watch Out Dragons: Playing in his first NRL game since 2008, Jordan Rapana made a fairly solid debut against the Eels in Round 22, making 141 metres and breaking 10 tackles. While not directly involved in any scoring plays, you can expect his involvement to increase this weekend as he begins to build combinations with Anthony Milford, Josh McCrone and Glen Buttriss. It’s easy to forget how spectacular he was during his brief stint at the Titans, and with the Canberra No. 1 jersey very much up for grabs in 2015, Rapana will be keen to stake his claim with a strong showing over the final month of the competition.
Plays To Watch: Edrick Lee was a welcome inclusion last week for a squad ravaged by injury. The young winger stands at 197cm tall, and provides McCrone with the perfect aerial target on the left flank. He turned provider for Croker last week, plucking the ball out of the air and flinging it inside to his centre. Look for the Raiders to pepper his side of the field, as he comes up against Jason Nightingale.
Benji Marshall didn’t have the greatest of outings against the Panthers last week, and will need to be at his best if St George Illawarra are to prevail here. On his day, he can put virtually anyone through a hole, but with a lethal attacking weapon in Josh Dugan running off his shoulder on the Dragons’ right-side, points are sure to follow.
Where It Will Be Won: The middle. With so much talk about the Dragons’ deficiencies up front, you’d expect the giant Raiders pack would have the advantage here, but season-ending injuries to Shaun Fensom and David Shillington have evened the scales. Trent Merrin and Mike Cooper are hardly pushovers, and Frizell’s return would only bolster their chances. Captain Brett White will need another big showing if the Raiders are to win this key battle.
The History: Played 23; Raiders 16, Dragons 6, draw 1. Remember that hoodoo? Since 2002, the Dragons have only beaten the Raiders once at any venue, with a 58-16 win in Wollongong in 2007. Other than that, it’s been all the way of the Green Machine.
What Are The Odds: There’s almost twice the money with the Raiders ($2.45) in the head-to-head market, with the Dragons still favourites at $1.55. Canberra 1-12 is the popular margin. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match Officials: Referees – Adam Devcich & Grant Atkins; Touch Judges – Adam Reid & Chris Sutton; Video Referees – Steve Chiddy & Steve Folkes.
Televised: Fox Sports, Live, 3pm (AEST).
The Way We See It: On form, the Dragons should probably win here. With their season on the line, and a coach wanting to press his case further for the permanent role in 2015 and beyond, you’d think the Red V will be primed for this one. But how many times have we thought that in the past? It’s hard to argue with Canberra’s impressive record over the Dragons. Many have thought the streak would end in previous years, and we’re not about to call it here. Raiders by two points.