Schick Hydro Preview: Canberra Raiders v Brisbane Broncos
With their team sitting one win outside the top eight, Canberra fans are waiting to see signs of the Raiders outfit that fell just short of a grand final berth in 2016 – but time is ticking on Ricky Stuart's men.
After having lost six games by six points or less in 2017, it is a question of what could have been for Canberra who have the roster on paper to be a serious premiership threat.
It is vital they start winning and there is no better opportunity than a match-up with the Brisbane Broncos during the State of Origin period.
Often a period where Wayne Bennett's men struggle, Brisbane have managed to so far stay afloat, sitting in the top four after a gritty six-point win over the South Sydney Rabbitohs in their last start.
But that came at a cost, with star five-eighth Anthony Milford suffering a shoulder injury that will rule him out for at least six weeks.
Benji Marshall will replace him in the No.6 jersey for this clash, with Ben Hunt being recalled to the bench after a brief stint in reserve grade.
The Raiders are at full strength, with Shannon Boyd returning at prop and Luke Bateman shifting to the bench.
Why the Raiders can win: It is advantage Canberra heading into this match, with the Raiders having only one player who will be forced to back-up after Origin. That man is Josh Papalii and if he continues with his season average of 150 run metres per game then he is sure to be a handful for Brisbane's defence. The Broncos have three stars that are set to play on Saturday after donning the maroon of Queensland, with Matt Gillett, Josh McGuire and Darius Boyd all expected to board the flight to Canberra. Brisbane's away record has been somewhat of an issue this season, winning only three matches from a possible seven. Canberra is a tough place to visit and the Raiders will be confident they can make this record even worse for the Broncos come Saturday night.
Why the Broncos can win: Newly promoted five-eighth Marshall brings more than just flashy footwork and superb passing to the position; he also has an almost perfect record against Canberra. The New Zealand international boasts 16 wins from 17 matches against the Raiders and he has been a part of history in the process. Marshall helped his former club St George Illawarra break a 14-year hoodoo at GIO Stadium in 2014, putting on a clinic to secure the Dragons' first victory at the venue since the year 2000. The 32-year-old has been solid in his first season at the Broncos, but he must lift to another gear in the absence of Milford. Marshall averages 123 run metres over his two recent 80-minute performances and Brisbane will need much of the same while Milford sits on the sidelines.
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Try Assists, All Run Metres, Tackles, Tackle Breaks.
The history: Played 48; Raiders 19; Broncos 28; Drawn 1. Brisbane have won four straight against Canberra, with two of these victories taking place in the nation's capital. Matches between these two sides are normally low-scoring affairs, with nine of the past 12 clashes failing to break 40 points. Points were again at a premium when the teams met in Round 4. It took a Jordan Kahu field goal to separate the two sides, giving the Broncos a 13-12 win. Brisbane fullback Darius Boyd has four tries in two games against the Raiders.
What are the odds: Sportsbet reports three times the money on Canberra head-to-head, but punters are sticking to Raider 1-12 rather than 13+. Jordan Rapana is as popular as ever in the first try-scorer market, but Joey Leilua has also been well supported. Sixty per cent of the money in line betting is with the Broncos with the points start. Latest odds at sportsbet.com.au
Match officials: Referee: Henry Perenara; Assistant Referee: Dave Munro; Touch Judges: Dave Ryan & Russell Turner; Review Official: Jared Maxwell; Senior RO: Luke Patten.
Televised: Fox League – Live coverage from 5:00pm.
NRL.com predicts: Although Marshall's record cannot be ignored; a cold night in Canberra during the Origin period has us at NRL.com leaning towards the Raiders. It is sure to be a tight affair and points will be hard to come by, but Canberra should do enough to finally win a close one. Raiders by four.