Schick Hydro Preview: Canberra Raiders v Sydney Roosters
The Sydney Roosters travel to the nation's capital to face a Raiders side already heavily hit by injuries.
After being soundly beaten by bitter rivals the Rabbitohs in Round 1, the Tricolours will be hoping the absence of both Aidan Sezer and Blake Austin from Canberra's halves will pave the way for their first victory of 2016.
Meanwhile the Raiders will be hoping their big men can show the same grit and determination as they did in their tough victory over the Panthers to make it two straight to start the year.
They'll have to do so with a new look spine, featuring NRL debutant Lachlan Croker, who arrives in the top grade with a proud history, as the nephew of Raiders legend Jason Croker.
At just 19, he’ll be leaning on the experience of fellow half Sam Williams who has also been called into the team, while going up against the game's least experienced playmaking duo of Jackson Hastings (20 NRL games) and Jayden Nikorima (one NRL game).
For the Roosters, Daniel Tupou returns on the wing in place of Joe Burgess, who drops back to an extended bench after scoring twice against the Rabbitohs last weekend.
Watch out Raiders: Once again Blake Ferguson will be looking to heap more pain on his former team, after putting on a dominant display against the Raiders last year. That match didn’t completely go to plan for the former Blues representative, as he was eventually forced from the field with ligament damage to his foot (before being ruled out of action for four months), so he'll be looking to be there until the end this time round.
With the Tricolours missing a number of dominant players for this clash, Ferguson will be called upon to provide much of the attacking force when chiming in from the back. It could spell big danger for the Green Machine.
Watch out Roosters: The Raiders forward pack is stronger and fitter than ever, and they only seem to get better as the game wears on. Against the Panthers the Green Machine forwards forced their opponents to commit three men to a tackle 33 times.
Their bench did most of the damage, running for a whopping 320 metres in the game despite their limited minutes. The Roosters will have to muscle up in the middle of the park to halt their momentum, particularly with the likes of Sia Soliola and Paul Vaughan coming on as super subs.
Key match-up: Sam Williams v Jackson Hastings.
The two dominant halves in this match will have a particularly important role considering the inexperience of their partners. Williams will consider it a great opportunity to force his place in the top grade for the season, after appearing to be squeezed out with the arrival of Sezer from the Titans. Meanwhile, Hastings will relish the chance to get his first victory for the Roosters as the chief playmaker. Whichever skillful number seven takes the playmaking ascendancy will go a long way to determining the outcome of this match.
What are the odds: Raiders: $2.05, $1.77. This is a pretty even betting game with Sportsbet – there’s only slightly more dollars on the Roosters although they’ve been big drifters price-wise since opening at $1.55 before their round one thrashing at the hands of the Rabbitohs. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
History: Played 57; Raiders 25, Roosters 32. Last time these two sides met the Roosters were far too good, dispatching the Raiders 34-6 in Round 4.
Match officials: Referee: Grant Atkins. Assistant Refree: Gavin Reynolds. Touch Judges: Brett Suttor and Belinda Sleeman. Review Officials: Luke Patten & Jason Robinson. Senior RO: Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live coverage from 2.30pm AEDT.
The way we see it: The loss of both halves, and two of their best players puts Canberra well and truly on the back foot for this clash. While they know what they’ll get with Sam Williams, 19-year-old Lachlan Croker could take some time to get used to the pace. However with the Tricolours missing their two best forwards in the form of Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Boyd Cordner, the Raiders will likely have the upper hand in the forwards. And that’s where these early-season games seem to be won and lost. Raiders by four.