Raiders v Dragons: Schick Preview

Schick Hydro Preview: Canberra Raiders v St George Illawarra Dragons
GIO Stadium
Friday 7.50pm

Teams often talk about honesty sessions, so it's only fair that we do the same.

Let's go back in time – five months to be exact – when we were all doing our pre-season predictions. Plenty of us had the Raiders in our top two while most people had the Dragons missing the finals. 

There are still eight rounds remaining, but most of us look like fools. 

The Raiders are languishing in 11th spot on the Telstra Premiership ladder and are three wins outside the top eight despite making the preliminary finals in 2016. It's a baffling fall from grace that no one can explain.

There is still time for them to make a late rally, but it's a worrying sign when you need a calculator to work out their play-off chances. 

It's a different story for the Red V who, despite a mid-season stumble, sit in seventh spot and are just three wins away from reaching 28 points; the figure most people believe will be enough to secure a spot in the post-season. 

They've managed just one win from their past four starts – a come-from-behind victory over the Knights – which has given the sceptics plenty of ammunition to suggest they are headed for a late-season collapse.  

There's no better time to prove a point than the present, and both sides will be desperate for a win just two days after the State of Origin decider. 

Raiders back-rower Josh Papalii has been named and Josh Hodgson is also expected to return from injury in the No.9 jersey, pushing Kurt Baptiste to the bench and Scott Sorensen out of the 21-man squad. 

The Dragons have taken a more cautious approach with Tyson Frizell (ribs) not named to back-up from Origin. Blues teammate Josh Dugan has been named on an extended bench and is joined by former Raider Paul Vaughan who is a chance to return from injury. Josh McCrone reclaims the No.7 jersey with Kurt Mann shifting to the wing, but we could see a backline reshuffle if Dugan starts at fullback. 

Why the Raiders can win: It hasn't been a happy hunting ground for them in 2017 but GIO Stadium should be a huge advantage for the Green Machine when they face a Dragons side that has won just four matches at the venue from 15 attempts. The Red V won their first two matches in the nation's capital and have won their past two as well, but that only masks an 11-game losing streak in Canberra that many tipsters will find hard to ignore. 

Why the Dragons can win: Much has been made about Canberra's imposing forward pack, but it's the Dragons' middle men who have enjoyed a better start to 2017. The likes of Russell Packer, Leeson Ah Mau, Jack de Belin and Paul Vaughan have been able to get their side rolling through the middle, allowing Gareth Widdop and their speedy outside backs to exploit the open expanses. The Dragons average 1658.3 metres per game (second in the NRL) while Ricky Stuart's men manage 1511.8 (14th). Paul McGregor's side have also scored eight tries through the middle third of the field compared to Canberra's five, and they've only conceded five while the Raiders have allowed 10 through the guts of their defence. 

 


The history: Played 27; Raiders 16; Dragons 10; Drawn 1. The Dragons have won four on the trot against Canberra including last year's freakish golden point finish in semi-darkness, but the Raiders had won 15 of 16 matches before this mini streak. 

What are the odds: Nearly twice the money has been put on the Raiders with Sportsbet. Canberra 1-12 is the most popular winning margin and the only real backing seen for the Dragons has been in handicap betting, where they’re receiving the points start. Latest odds at sportsbet.com.au.

Match officials: Referee: Grant Atkins. Assist referee: Chris Sutton. Sideline officials: Jeff Younis and Rohan Best. 

Televised: Channel Nine – Live coverage from 7:30pm. Fox Sports 2 – Live coverage from 7:50pm.

NRL.com predicts: With games against the Storm and Sharks in the next few weeks, Friday night's clash looms as a do-or-die scenario for the Raiders. Some people have already put a red line through them but we're giving the Green Machine one more chance to keep their season alive against a Dragons side that is starting to get the wobbles at the worst possible time. Raiders by 8.