Raiders v Wests Tigers
It’s been a rough season for both the Raiders and Tigers, with the pair to meet in the nation’s capital on Saturday evening.
It all started promisingly enough.
For the Raiders, the arrival of former champion player Ricky Stuart as head coach was to herald a new era for the Green Machine, and early season wins over the Knights, Rabbitohs and Storm gave Raiders fans hope that a top-eight finish might not be out of the question. But a series of heavy defeats dashed those thoughts, with Canberra more than likely dodging the wooden spoon following last week’s win over the Sharks.
The Tigers also started the season on fire, with five wins from their first seven, including claiming the scalps of the Rabbitohs, Sea Eagles, Cowboys, and Eels. However, a horrific injury toll and off-field dramas has seen them plummet out of finals contention, with the only positive for the remainder of the season being the number of young stars gaining invaluable first grade experience in key positions.
The home team have made just one positional change from the side that defeated the Sharks in Round 24, with Mitch Cornish to make his first start at halfback in the NRL side, and Josh McCrone dropping back to the bench.
Wests Tigers will be pleased to welcome Pat Richards back from injury, as Cory Paterson shifts to the centres. Unfortunately they’ll be without the services of Luke Brooks, with fellow young gun Mitch Moses switching to halfback and Blake Austin moving to five-eighth.
Watch Out Raiders: Aaron Woods has been a massive contributor for the Tigers this season, particularly post-Origin. Since Round 19, he’s averaged 105 run metres and 29 tackles per game, has scored three tries, and has played big minutes. Lining up alongside Woods in the starting front row is mid-season recruit Matt Lodge, who has impressed in his two outings for his new club, last week producing 67 metres, 21 tackles and two offloads. Ricky Stuart believed his middle forwards were key to the Raiders’ last-start win, and they’ll need to contain both Woods and Lodge from the get-go if they’re any chance of back-to-back wins for the first time in 2014.
Watch Out Tigers: With a season-ending injury to Jordan Rapana, and Anthony Milford moving to the halves to cover the absence of Terry Campese, Jack Wighton made the switch to fullback last weekend. With just the one error, he ran for 192 metres and made seven tackle breaks, certainly not terrible for his first game in the No. 1 jersey. The inclusion of Cornish in the starting side will be of interest as well. Afforded only limited time off the bench thus far in 2014, the young half has been handed a starting berth for the first time in his NRL career. The combination between these two could possibly lead the Raiders into 2015 and beyond, and if the Tigers don’t shut them down before they begin to build confidence, they could run the show on Saturday night.
Plays To Watch: The move to five-eighth seems to be helping to increase Anthony Milford’s involvement, with the star recording far more touches than when he was at the back. When he’s not scoring tries, he’s setting them up – and not just from individual brilliance in broken play. Last week he showed a cool head to guide the Raiders home in the second half, with the right choice of play with the Sharks camped on their own try-line. Don’t be surprised to see a deft grubber from this man result in another four points.
On his day, Robbie Farah can make incredible yardage out of dummy-half, having run for over 100 metres in six of his 16 NRL matches this season. It wouldn’t come as a shock to see him take that option more often than not in an attempt to tire the big Canberra pack, having recorded the most dummy-half runs (149) in the NRL this season. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him dive over for a try from dummy-half either, with his last four-pointer coming in Round 20.
Where It Will Be Won: Without the ball – while the Tigers’ squad does contain a few defensive powerhouses (namely Farah and Woods), they are ranked second behind only the Titans for missed tackles for the season with 744, have conceded the most line breaks (128) and points (594) in 2014. The Raiders have been without their tackling machine Shaun Fenson for a number of weeks now, and will also need to aim up in defence as Moses, Austin and Farah lead the Tigers around the park.
The History: Played 27; Raiders 10, Tigers 17. The Tigers have an incredible record against the Raiders, with their only loss to Canberra since 2009 coming in Round 4, 2012. That’s 10 wins out of their last 11 meetings for the joint venture club. Their last clash was back in Round 16 this season at Campbelltown Stadium, with the Tigers prevailing 19-18.
What Are The Odds: It’s not often this season that the Raiders ($1.45) have started such short priced favourites, but Sportsbet is reporting more money for Ricky Stuart’s men in handicap betting, giving away 6.5 points start. Punters have had a little nibble at the Tigers ($2.75) at the big price. Latest Odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match Officials: Referees – Henry Perenara & Adam Gee; Touch Judges – Dan Eastwood & Luke Potter; Video Referees – Steve Clark & Luke Phillips.
Televised: Fox Sports, Live 5.30pm (AEST).
The Way We See It: This isn’t an easy game to tip, with both sides fairly evenly matched. Injuries have ravaged both squads, but those defensive numbers do not make for good reading for the Tigers’ faithful. It will be Milford’s penultimate game in Raiders colours, and he’ll be sure to end his time in Canberra with a bang. That coupled with the home ground advantage has us overlooking the history books and leaning towards tipping the Green Machine... just. Raiders by 4 points.