Raiders v Warriors
GIO Stadium, Canberra
Saturday 6.30pm (ACT)
The blissful innocence of the pre-season is over.
After one game there’s no hiding from the fact that a new era might well be upon the Canberra Raiders under Ricky Stuart, while across the ditch in New Zealand another sluggish start to an NRL campaign has the usual questions and criticisms being thrown around in regards to the Warriors.
Spurred on by strong showings from new acquisitions Sisa Waqa, Sia Soliola and Frank-Paul Nuuausala, the Raiders were able to grind out a tough 24-20 win against the Sharks in a heated Round 1 clash.
Canberra have maintained the same 17 from that game, with fullback Jack Wighton avoiding a suspension for a striking charge after taking an early guilty plea mid-week.
The Warriors on the other hand have had plenty of changes, with the backline revamped from the one which took the field last Saturday. Centre Konrad Hurrell is out injured and fullback Sam Tomkins looks set to return from a hamstring complaint which kept him out of the Newcastle game.
That sees the impressive Tuimoala Lolohea slot into the right centre position where he will team up with veteran utility back Jonathan Wright, who makes his club debut on the wing.
Coach Andrew McFadden was blunt in his assessment of the 24-14 loss to the Knights, admitting his side ‘blew it’ after leading 14-6 with less than 25 minutes to go.
He also didn’t hold back in his critique of star halfback Shaun Johnson, a move which former coaches say doesn’t tend to go down well with the Golden Boot winner; there will be plenty of interest in the way he responds this Sunday at GIO Stadium.
Neither side backed away from confrontation last week, and don’t be surprised if the likes of Josh Papalii and Nuuausala try and make a statement against the experienced Warriors’ pack early on.
Watch out Raiders: Sam Tomkins is slated to return from injury and his presence brings some much needed variety to an attack which went flat when the game was on the line against Newcastle. Last year the English custodian laid on 13 try-assists and broke 108 tackles, more than anyone else at the club. If he is declared fit to play the Warriors will challenge the Raiders more often in more places with ball in hand.
The Kiwi side’s rookies were standout performers in a losing team last week, bringing a potent mix of fearlessness and enthusiasm to the game. Playing at fullback Tuimoala Lolohea ran for the second-most metres in the match  and clocked up 67 NRL Fantasy points in his fourth first-grade game. Debutant props Albert Vete and Sam Lisone were also strong off the bench, running for 125 and 92 metres respectively.
Watch out Warriors: Last week Wighton gave the Raiders the kind of impact from the fullback position which they haven’t had since Josh Dugan left the club two years ago. The Indigenous All Stars representative ran for 176 metres, broke the line twice, had a try-assist and crossed for two himself. And all that despite spending 10 minutes in the bin.
Notoriously slow starters, over the past five years the Warriors have won a game in the first two rounds just twice in that period. Only one of those was away from home [Parramatta Stadium, 2012], and given that the Warriors come off a tough road trip to Newcastle, into a venue at GIO Stadium where they rarely win, it doesn’t look promising for Kiwi side this weekend.
Key Match-Up: Back-rowers Sia Soliola and Ryan Hoffman played their first games for their new clubs in the opening round, standing out among the best on field. Both played 80 minutes, with Hoffman enjoying a stellar day on the ball, running for 129 metres, breaking the line twice and crossing for a try late in the first half. Soliola was named at prop in the Canberra side but played most of the game on the left edge, making 38 tackles and hitting the ball up a team-high 15 times.
The History: Played 32; Raiders 17, Warriors 15.
The overall head-to-head record is creeping closer to an even split, but in recent history it’s been nothing but Warriors, with three consecutive victories by 50 points or more over the Green Machine. A loss for Canberra this week will make it their longest ever losing streak against the Kiwi outfit, surpassing the three-straight defeats suffered over the 2003-04 seasons.
What Are The Odds: Raiders $2.07, Warriors $1.76. The bookies have the Warriors in as favourites despite their abysmal winning record in Canberra, and the fact that the home side come off a tough win against the Sharkies last week. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Did You Know: The Warriors have tasted victory in Canberra only once in the last 14 years, with their 54-18 win in the capital city late last season being there first since 2001. In 13 games over 20 years at GIO Stadium [formerly Bruce Stadium], the Warriors have won just 23 per cent of the time. It is second only to WIN Stadium as the Warriors’ worst away venue.
Match Officials: Referee: Adam Devcich. Assistant Referee: David Munro. Touch Judges: Phil Henderson and Clayton Sharpe. Video Referees: Steve Clark and Luke Phillips.
Televised: Sky Sport – Live 8pm NZT. Fox Sports 1 - 6:30pm AEDT.
The Way We See It: Neither team was overly convincing last-up – the Raiders completed at 70 per cent and missed 20 tackles while the Warriors were even worse with 68 per cent and 30 misses. The only real difference was that in the last 20 minutes Canberra stood up and outlasted their opponents, starting the year with two points in the bank, while the Warriors wilted under the pressure and cost themselves a valuable away win. Given their history at the venue and the ability of their opponents this week it’s hard to see the Warriors getting a win. Expect Canberra’s classy outside backs in Wighton, Waqa and captain Jarrod Croker to get the better of the makeshift New Zealand backline. Raiders by 14.