Raiders v Panthers: Schick Preview

Schick Hydro Preview: Canberra Raiders v Penrith Panthers
GIO Stadium
Sunday, 2:00pm

Has there been a more important clash so far this season than Sunday's battle in the nation's capital?

The answer is no, with major finals ramifications for the side that doesn't pick up the two competition points. 

It's a simple equation for the Canberra Raiders: win and they remain in the hunt for a finals appearance, but lose and their season is officially over.

For Penrith a win would see them potentially climb as high as fourth pending other results, while a loss could see them drop out of the top eight altogether. 

The importance of winning is only set to intensify for both sides with the 2pm kick-off on Sunday the second-last game of the round – giving each side a better grasp of where they place on the ladder before the game begins.

Ricky Stuart's men will still have Round 14's shock loss between to Penrith planted in their memory banks after a Matt Moylan masterclass in the final three minutes stole an unlikely win in Bathurst, leaving Stuart stunned for words post-game.

Tensions also boiled over in the contest with back-rowers Corey Harawira-Naera and Joseph Tapine sin-binned for a melee in the opening half.

Canberra have named an unchanged 17 after defeating the Warriors in Auckland last weekend with Elliott Whitehead relishing the move to the lock position in recent weeks.

Penrith have suffered a blow with Peter Wallace undergoing minor surgery on a broken hand and ruled out of the clash. Young hooker Sione Katoa replaces the former NSW veteran in the No.9 jersey with Trent Merrin named on the reserves list but unlikely to play.

‌Why the Raiders can win: The Green Machine boasts a healthy record against the Panthers in Canberra and finally we're seeing some consistency to their game in 2017. They like to shift the ball to the edges and rank third in the league in terms of playing down the short sides, with the use of their strong centres in Jarrod Croker and Joseph Leilua. After so much focus on the combination of Leilua and Jordan Rapana in 2016, it is the left side of their attack with Croker and Nick Cotric that is prospering and particularly on the back of a forward pack that has fired in recent weeks. Canberra should have no trouble handling the kicking game of the Panthers having let only 11 tries in this season through the boot of the opposition, compared to the Panthers' 20. 

Why the Panthers can win: They're out to make amends for last year's finals exit and that should provide enough motivation in itself. Penrith haven't been playing their best football but when it comes to games against the Raiders they rise to the occasion. The big test will be the side's last tackle options, which have been a letdown despite Anthony Griffin's outfit winning six on the trot. Penrith's turnaround from their early-season slump is thanks largely to their forward pack that is ranked third in the competition for metres gained. The rotation of props James Tamou (121 metres per game) and Reagan Campbell-Gillard (161 metres per game) has been the key to their success after losing Merrin during the six-week winning period. 

 


The history: Played 71; Raiders 35; Panthers 35; Drawn 1. The teams are level in terms of wins but the Raiders have dominated at home against Penrith recent years, winning nine of their last 12 against the Panthers in Canberra since 2005. Canberra's Kiwi winger Jordan Rapana has scored seven tries in six appearances against the visitors.

What are the odds: This is a fairly even game with Sportsbet seeing good support for both sides to win 1-12. The Panthers have been popular in handicap betting where they're getting the points start, but Raiders winger Nick Cotric is the best backed to score the game's opening try. Latest odds at sportsbet.com.au 

Match officials: Referee: Ashley Klein; Assistant referee: Alan Shortall; Touch judges: Chris Butler and Jeff Younis; Review Officials: Luke Patten and Bernard Sutton.

Televised: Fox League – Live from 2:00pm.

NRL.com predicts: This is as close as it can get this season. Both sides will leave nothing in the tank in order to get over the line. Not only will we tip a close affair, but one with plenty of niggle if things don't go either team's way. Based on the simple fact of playing in Canberra, we're leaning towards the home side to end Penrith's six-game winning streak and add another chapter to the race to the finals. Raiders by 1.