Wests Tigers v Canberra Raiders
These may not be your father's Raiders or Tigers, but that doesn't mean there won't be a dash of the old school when the rival clubs meet on Sunday afternoon.
For starters – and we might be getting a little overzealous about this – the 70 per cent chance of rainfall on Sunday afternoon could generate flashbacks to those mudbaths of yesteryear. And you'd be surprised to know the Leichhardt locals are still into that kind of thing.
Secondly, even back in the '90s, the bouts between rival halfbacks Jason Taylor and Ricky Stuart were compelling affairs. One was a point-scoring wizard while the other was a tactical one.
Now the two icons with plenty to prove in the coaching box – and a cascade of promising juniors to do it with – are right in the thick of their respective club's rebuilding phases, where the kids are many but the wins are few.
And thirdly, while former Tiger Blake Austin and his bleached goatee isn't exactly from the '80s, there's nothing like an ex-flame wanting to flaunt the new (green) figure they've got – especially now that he's worn the same number on the back for six games running.
It all makes for an intriguing showdown at the picturesque venue between two sides that, after their no-show at the finals last year, want to remain relevant for as long as they can in 2015.
The Tigers threw it away in the first half over of their 32-22 defeat in Auckland, giving up three tries in 17 minutes to ensure the Warriors kicked on well into the night for Manu Vatuvei's 200th.
Taylor named an unchanged 17 on Tuesday, adding hooker Joel Luani to an extended bench.
The Raiders, meanwhile, coughed out a doughnut in the second half of their 14-10 loss against Melbourne. They completed more sets and committed fewer errors than the Storm, but struck out in the final 55 minutes and came up empty-handed.
Stuart also stuck with the same line-up, despite Shaun Fensom leaving the field last week. Jordan Rapana returns from suspension as 18th man.
Watch Out Tigers: He doesn't come on until about the 20th-minute mark, but Raiders forward Paul Vaughan has quietly become one of their most valuable big men. The third-year pro is averaging 162 metres a game, putting him in the same breath as fellow metre-eaters Paul Gallen (216 per game), Aaron Woods (216), Jesse Bromwich (173), Trent Merrin (172) and Jason Taumalolo (172).
Watch Out Raiders: Tigers fullback James Tedesco is in red hot form. He drew singles along his statline last week for tries, try assists, offloads, line breaks, and line break assists in an effective outing against the Warriors last week. The only multiple stat he recorded was in tackle breaks, where his team-high six for the match took him to a competition-high 38 on the season. The next best? Dane Gagai, Jamal Idris and Josh Dugan on 26. That's elite-level company, too.
Key Match-Up: Jason Taylor v Ricky Stuart. Two former champion halfbacks go head to head in an intriguing battle up in the grandstands. The Tigers are forging a new identity under the tutelage of Taylor, who is slowly extracting the endless amount of potential out of the prodigious Concord Kids. Meanwhile the Raiders have already shown improvement over the first six weeks in Ricky Stuart's second year in charge, most notably with some striking efforts from Austin and under-rated hooker Josh Hodgson.
The History: Played 28; Wests Tigers 17, Raiders 11. No other NRL club has suffered more defeats at the hands of the joint venture club than the Raiders, who have gone down 17 times since the Wests Tigers were formed in 2000. In fact, the Concord-based club have dominated their counterparts for the past six seasons, winning 10 of their past 12 clashes.
What Are The Odds: Tigers $1.42 v Raiders $2.85. Sportsbet has been inundated by punters wishing to take the Tigers to win conceding 7.5 points. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee – Henry Perenara; Assistant Referee – Gavin Reynolds; Touch Judges – Chris Sutton & Anthony Eliott; Video Referees – Matt Ceccin & Luke Patten.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 2:00pm (AEST), Delayed 6:00pm (AEST).
The Way We See It: The sides are evenly-matched on form, but we just can't see how the Raiders are going to stop in-form Leichhardt boy Aaron Woods on his home turf for the first time this year, and possibly second-last time ever. His output alone could be the difference against a Raiders pack that doesn't quite match-up to the Tigers' one. Tigers by eight.