Canberra Raiders v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
Sunday, May 24, 4pm
The Raiders and the Bulldogs meet in the first Origin-affected round of the season on Sunday afternoon in Canberra.
While the Green Machine will be completely unaffected by representative selection, following the omission of Josh Papalii from the Maroons team, the Dogs are missing four stars. Josh Morris, Trent Hodkinson, Josh Jackson and David Klemmer have all been called in to Laurie Daley's Blues camp for next Wednesday's Origin One.
Tim Lafai has been named to return from injury in the centres (although he may still be in some doubt) while Chase Stanley will fill the other centre position. Lafai's expected return from injury comes at the perfect time for a Dogs backline that has been stretched almost to breaking point by the absence of Morris.
Moses Mbye, a valuable utility player, moves into the halves to partner Reynolds while Tony Williams is promoted to the starting side. Sam Kasiano and Tim Browne will see game time from the bench, while Des Hasler will select two from Lloyd Perrett, Antonio Kaufusi, Danny Fualalo and Herman Ese'ese to round out the remaining bench spots.
While the Raiders will be disappointed to have missed out on any State of Origin selections, they'll embrace the opportunity to bring an almost full-strength team into this match against a (still) powerful Canterbury-Bankstown team.
They've named the exact same side that went down valiantly to the impressive Dragons last week. Halfback Sam Williams remains on the sidelines with a lung injury (but may be a late inclusion if he passes a fitness test) with Mitch Cornish again named to start. Meanwhile, former rep star David Shillington will be looking for an improved performance after gaining some match fitness in his first game back from injury last week.
Watch Out Raiders: The Bulldogs are without key forwards Jackson and Klemmer but will still bring a fearsome pack into Sunday's games. With names like Graham, Pritchard, Eastwood, Williams and Kasiano in the middle for Canterbury, the Green Machine forwards will have to muscle up to stop the Dogs rolling down the field. Despite copping a nasty head knock last week, James Graham in particular will be looking to stamp his name on this one in the absence of other team leaders. The whole Raiders defensive line will have to be moving up as a unit when the big Englishman gets his hand on the ball, as he often utilises his skillful passing game to make options around him more dangerous when attacking the line.
Watch Out Bulldogs: Jarrod Croker and Sisa Waqa will make a big impact in the centres after struggling at times last week. They'll be matched up against two opponents in Tim Lafai and Chase Stanley who are severely lacking NRL game time in recent weeks. Croker was frustrated with his own form after the Raiders' last start loss to the Dragons and will be sure to step his game up back on home soil. Meanwhile Waqa has shown at times this season that he can be one of the most dangerous backs in the NRL with ball in hand. He's also been a bit out of touch in recent weeks but expect him blow off the cobwebs once again on Sunday.
Key Match-Up: Blake Austin v Josh Reynolds: Two energetic five-eighths whose playing styles are eerily similar. Both are rangy, ball-running types who possess a tremendous step and love to take the line on. And both show tenacity in defence. Reynolds has been found guilty of trying a bit too hard in recent weeks, which has put him off his natural game, while Austin's season was reaching meteoric heights before a slightly less inspiring showing against the Dragons last week. Reynolds will be out to show Laurie Daley that he made the wrong decision in omitting him from the State of Origin team with a big performance against one of the form playmakers of the competition.
The History: Played 61; Canberra 26, Canterbury-Bankstown 35. The Bulldogs won the last encounter between these two sides 22-14 on frosty night in Canberra last year. Drury Low scored a double for the Dogs while the Raiders failed to adequately celebrate their 20-year premiership reunion.
What Are The Odds: Raiders $1.65; Bulldogs $2.25. Canberra at home seem to be the punters' pick in this one. Raiders 1-12 is the most favoured option with Sportsbet although there's been a bit of money for the Bulldogs with the start. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match Officials: Referee – Ashley Klein; Assistant Referee – a Henry Perenara; Touch Judges – Jeff Younis & Peter Gough; Video Referees – Steve Chiddy & Daniel Irvine.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live, 4pm
The Way We See It: You'd be forgiven for thinking the Bulldogs will come into this one with a weak pack given their notable losses to State of Origin this week, but you'd also be very wrong. Round 11 demonstrates more than ever before the incredible depth Des Hasler has at his disposal in Belmore. The Raiders' big boppers may still struggle to create an advantage in the middle of the park, but they shouldn't have as much of an issue out wide on Sunday afternoon. For a very rare time in recent Green Machine history, their big plus in the match-up will be their combinations out wide against disrupted Dogs backline. Croker and Graham to star; Raiders to win by 8.