Schick Hydro Preview: Canberra Raiders v Warriors
Saturday, 3.00pm (AEST)
Following their second golden point loss in three games, the Warriors head to Canberra to face a Raiders side sure to be refreshed after enjoying a bye last week.
The Men of League Round clash at GIO Stadium features two teams in good form, with the Raiders enjoying a three-game winning streak which has them in fifth, and the Warriors having won four of their last six to sit eighth.
The Raiders' efforts will be boosted by the return of Queensland enforcer Josh Papalii, along with Luke Bateman on the interchange.
Those additions see Clay Priest and Kurt Baptiste make way.
After a 15-14 loss to Manly in golden point the Warriors have an Origin star of their own returning, with prop Jacob Lillyman back after missing last week through injury.
He is a straight swap for Charlie Gubb who is facing a lengthy suspension for a shoulder charge.
Utility Tuimoala Lolohea remains on the bench despite his lack of game time last week – two minutes after coming on in golden point – being widely criticised.
Watch out Raiders: Lapses in defensive attention remain a big issue for the Raiders, despite their standing on the ladder. Against the Knights in Round 17 Canberra leaked four tries in the space of 12 minutes, and in general they are leaking too many points right now. Only once in their last four games have they held at team to fewer than 22 points.
The Warriors' performances over the past two months have been of a high quality. They have lost two games in that period, but both by a single point in extra time. You have to go back to Round 11 – coincidentally when the Raiders were also their opponents – to find the last time coach Andrew McFadden's outfit lost a match by more than a point.
Watch out Warriors: The Kiwi side's record in Canberra isn't anything to write home about, having left with only four wins from 14 trips there. Making this week's clash even more daunting for them is the fact that the Raiders have been strong at home in 2016, with seven wins from nine games. Home ground advantage could be a huge factor this Saturday.
If it's true that you are only as good as your last performance, then the Raiders are red hot right now. In Round 18 they took it to the defending-champion Cowboys – who admittedly were without their Origin stars – in a 26-12 win which featured some impressive team numbers for Canberra. A completion rate of 87 per cent, 1719 running meters and only five errors on that day show the Raiders are firing on all cylinders.
Key match-up: Joseph Leilua v Solomone Kata. Two powerhouse centres who are simply lethal close to the line. Leilua is enjoying arguably his best season as a first-grade player, averaging 3.2 offloads per game to rank second in the competition in that stat, while also smashing his way to 124.1 metres per game on average. Kata meanwhile is the Warriors' leading try-scorer with 10, and has run for over 100 metres in each of his last seven matches.
The history: Played 35; Raiders 18, Warriors 17. Canberra tasted success when they met the Warriors earlier this year, breaking a prior five-game losing streak in the process. Clashes between them have tended to be one-sided affairs, with the winning margin being 33 points or more in five of the last six.
What are the odds: Three times as many bets have been placed on Canberra in Sportsbet's head-to-head market. The Warriors seem to have a habit of going to golden point this year, which would explain why we've seen more money on the draw after 80 minutes than any other game this year. Latest odds at sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Gerard Sutton. Assistant Referee: Chris James. Touch Judges: Brett Suttor and Jon Stone. Review Officials: Ben Galea and Jason Robinson. Senior RO: Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live coverage from 2.30pm (AEST).
How we see it: Based on recent form this one should be an absolute thriller in the Australian capital, with plenty on the line as Canberra push for a top-four spot and the Warriors try to retain their place in the eight. The battle in the middle between two quality forward packs will be a feature, but home-ground advantage might make all the difference in this one. Raiders by four.