Sydney Roosters v Canberra Raiders
Sunday, 2pm (AEDT)
Ricky Stuart brings his Raiders to Sydney for a shot at redemption against a Roosters team looking to entrench themselves as a top-two team in the NRL Telstra Premiership.
Both sides have received a shot in the arm ahead of this one with Sam Moa and Shaun Fensom being cleared of crusher tackle offenses at the NRL judiciary on Wednesday night.
The Green Machine will be further boosted by the return of star fullback Jack Wighton, who played brilliantly in the first two rounds and is back in the side earlier than expected having recovered from a fractured eye socket.
His comeback pushes Jordan Rapana back out to the wing, with Bill Tupou dropping back to NSW Cup along with Josh McCrone. Glenn Buttriss replaces McCrone on the bench.
In other personnel changes Dane Tilse and Fensom come in to the starting tem in place of Shannon Boyd and Paul Vaughan, who return to the bench.
Coach Trent Robinson has named an unchanged Roosters side with Willie Manu and Lagi Setu filling out an extended bench.
Both these teams have had interesting roads to this Sunday's meeting at Allianz.
Carrying huge expectation in 2015, the Roosters bounced back from their Round 2 loss to South Sydney before seeing off a well-drilled Panthers outfit last week.
Meanwhile, with some astute purchases over the off-season the Raiders exceeded the expectations of some with a solid start to the season.
They beat the Sharks in an impressive opening round performance before conceding two losses in increasingly disappointing circumstances.
Last Sunday's defeat to the Dragons was especially inadequate for Stuart's men, considering they faltered from 18-0 up against a team that had scored just eight points in their two previous games.
This match will also feature a few former Raiders coming up against their old teammates and ex-premiership-winning Roosters coach Ricky Stuart.
Blake Ferguson is the most notable of the pack, it will be intriguing to see the treatment the boys in green give him considering the circumstances in which he departed the club in 2013.
Watch Out Raiders: They may well have enough trouble on their hands in the opening exchanges but the battle in the middle won't be getting any easier for the Raiders pack as the game wears on. The Roosters bench was outstanding against the Panthers on Monday night. They'll be looking to continue their good form with another potent display against the men from Canberra. Dylan Napa was especially effective for the Roosters, pulling off some huge hits including a beauty on James Segeyaro that destroyed the special effects microphone the Panthers hooker was wearing for Fox Sports' Sterlo program. The Raiders will be well advised to steer clear of him in this one.
Watch Out Roosters: Raiders five-eighth Blake Austin has looked dangerous running the ball so far this year. He was a nemesis for the Dragons' defensive line early on last weekend and could cause similar problems on Sunday if the Roosters give him any space. However that would depend on the Raiders forwards winning the arm wrestle in the middle against a super-aggressive Chooks pack. We won't put that past the Green Machine who should come out firing after last week's disappointment to give club stalwart Dane Tilse a belated 200th-game celebration.
Key Match-Up: Blake Ferguson v Jarrod Croker. Croker bleeds green and is a perfect reflection of the culture of the Raiders team he has been chosen to lead. On the other side of the field Ferguson was in many ways his antithesis when he partnered Croker in the centres for the Green Machine. A flashy character on and off the pitch, it will be intriguing to see how Ferguson plays against his ex-teammates and vice-versa. If it's anything like his performance against the Panthers the Raiders should be shaking in their boots. Ferguson had two tries, three line-breaks, seven tackle breaks and 178 metres in a breakout performance that wound back the clock to his 2013 Origin year. Meanwhile Croker, who was one of the top try-scorers in the NRL last year, has had a solid start to 2015 with two line breaks and six tackle breaks against the Dragons.
History: Played 56; Roosters 31, Raiders 25. The last time they met was in Round 12 last year where the Roosters had an easy night against the Raiders, winning 26-12. Stuart said the difference between the two sides was a couple of errors at the back but in reality the Roosters took the foot off the pedal to give the Raiders a respectable score-line. They went up 18-0 early with some well-worked backline movements and never looked like losing from there.
What Are The Odds: Roosters ($1.18) v Raiders ($4.90). Hardly any support for Ricky Stuart's Raiders in the betting, with 95 per cent of all money placed in the head-to-head market going with the Roosters. The $1.72 on offer for the Roosters to win 13+ has been snapped up quickly. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Adam Devcich. Assistant referee: Gavin Reynolds. Touch judges: Rick MacFarlane & Adam Reid. Video referees: Ashley Klein & Ben Galea.
Televised: Fox Sports, Live 5:30pm (AEDT)
The Way We See It: It's hard to go past the Roosters in this one. They have superstar talent right across the park. With Blake Ferguson finding form they're a frightening prospect for the Raiders. On the other hand it's in times like these that the Green Machine have been known to play out of their skins and prove the doubters wrong. They'll go hard at the Roosters early but won't have enough in the tank to hang in their against a Tricolours team that threatens to improve as the match wears on. Roosters by 14.