Canberra Raiders v Gold Coast Titans
Have you heard?
Those two teams you said – and, admittedly, us here at NRL.com – were going to be battling it out for the wooden spoon back in February are now two of the form teams of the competition and providing representative players by the bucket load.
It may have been a week off for the NRL but the Raiders had 11 members of their senior squad in camp with various representative teams while the Titans also had eight players involved across the weekend.
After somewhat shaky starts both teams have won three of their past four games to sit on eight competition points through eight rounds, the Titans' superior for-and-against courtesy of record-breaking margins in their three-match winning streak elevating them to seventh on the ladder as the Raiders' sit in 10th.
Canberra's representative stars came through their commitments unscathed – and with Blake Austin's reputation enhanced by a three-try performance for City – but the Titans weren't so fortunate.
Greg Bird is looking at either two or eight weeks on the sideline as he challenges a dangerous throw charge while playing for the Kangaroos but Nate Myles, David Mead, Ryan James and James Roberts are all fit to make the trip to Canberra.
Daniel Mortimer has been named on the bench for the Titans in his return from a wrist injury, rookie Kane Elgey holding onto his spot at halfback after an encouraging start to his first grade career.
Raiders coach Ricky Stuart has named an unchanged 17 from the team that accounted for South Sydney with Sisa Waqa and Jordan Rapana both cleared to play.
Watch Out Raiders: When thrust into the top grade following the injury to Daniel Mortimer, the hope for Kane Elgey was that he accelerated his learning for future gains. Instead, he has produced numbers in the halves that exceed both the incumbent New South Wales halves as well as the Kiwi halves that dismantled the Kangaroos on Sunday. In five games he has five try assists and four line-break assists as well as two tries against the Warriors that came from wonderful support play through the middle of the field. While ever his confidence is high, he's a danger to any team.
Watch Out Titans: They will spot his 194-centimetre, 122-kilogram frame from a mile away but restricting the influence of Shannon Boyd when he comes onto the field will be a key concern for the Titans. In their past two victories the Raiders have had to fight back from significant deficits and in both cases Boyd has been a driving force. In scoring tries at critical times against both the Tigers and Rabbitohs, Boyd has shown that close to the line he is next to impossible to stop, his effort against the Rabbitohs to bump off Glenn Stewart and carry three across the line was George Burgess-esque. Now in his second year in the top grade, Boyd's learning quickly how damaging he can be.
Key Match-up: Blake Austin v Aidan Sezer. They may be Canberra's halves pairing in 2016 but the opportunity to get one over their future teammate is one that neither player will want to miss. In his first year at Canberra Austin has put himself in the running for 'buy of the season' with his energy at five-eighth producing six line-breaks, three tries, four try assists and three line-break assists for the 'Green Machine'. Sezer's role at the Titans has been a more calming influence on rookie halfback Elgey, the pair combining to guide Gold Coast to four wins from their five matches together. Headed to Canberra on a three-year deal from next season, Sezer's influence will be less noticeable than Austin's on Saturday but by no means less important.
History: Played 15; Raiders 6; Titans 9. The Raiders may be last-start winners against the Titans but it had been slim pickings for the six games prior to that with just one further victory on the Gold Coast in 2012. And a visit to the nation's capital holds no fear for the Gold Coasters; they have won their past three games there and the Raiders are yet to record a win on home soil this season.
Did You Know? In two games playing for the Raiders against the Titans in 2007 William Zillman scored in both fixtures, including a try in the 56-10 rout in Round 18 where the Raiders had 10 individual try-scorers. Since moving to the Titans in 2009, Zillman has scored three tries in 10 clashes with Canberra but boasts a 7-3 winning record.
What Are The Odds? Raiders $1.73 v Titans $2.10. Money is running 2:1 on the Raiders with Sportsbet and 50 per cent of the hold in margin betting is with Canberra 13+. Titans centre James Roberts is as popular as ever in the first try-scorer market. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Grant Atkins. Assistant Referee: Gavin Badger. Touch Judges: Phil Henderson and Tim Roby. Video Referees: Ashley Klein and Ben Galea.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 3pm
How We See It: A good start can turn into something slightly more significant for the winner of this contest between two teams defying the critics and playing an exciting brand of football in the process. Road trips haven't fazed the Titans this year and the Raiders have struggled at home but it would be hard to imagine they could start the year with four losses at GIO Stadium. Canberra's City-Country contingent will have all returned in high spirits and the loss of Bird is a significant one for the Titans. Raiders by eight points.