Stuart expects RCG to play
Raiders coach Ricky Stuart expects Penrith enforcer Reagan Campbell-Gillard to suit up against his side as Canberra's finals aspirations hang by a fingernail.
The NSW Origin forward hasn't played since breaking his jaw in round 15 but has been named on the Panthers' extended bench.
Close losses throughout the season mean the Green Machine's hopes of playing beyond round 25 now rest in the hands of other teams. Canberra is three wins outside the top eight but has a superior points differential than the three teams (Tigers, Warriors, Broncos) above them.
Standing in their way on Sunday is one of the many sides that have helped consign season 2018 as the year of 'What ifs' for the Raiders.
A Nathan Cleary field goal in the 78th minute in round 14 was another opportunity lost for Canberra, who have yet to beat a top eight side this season.
Stuart expects Campbell-Gillard to start despite the prop giving himself until the end of Penrith's captain's run to decide if his surgically repaired broken jaw can withstand his first game in seven weeks.
"I think he'll play and it's a good time for Penrith to get him back with some football before the semis," Stuart said.
"From our point of view, we worry about our prep and performance first, but you've got to also understand what's happening with your opposition and we've watched a lot of Penrith this week, they're a good team and very dangerous with the football."
Penrith's quest for a top four spot has stalled since Campbell-Gillard was forced to the sidelines, losing five straight before last week's comeback win over Manly.
That figure could have been worse were it not for Penrith's late-game heroics in the 28-24 defeat of the Sea Eagles.
After the Raiders' one-point loss earlier in the season against Penrith, Stuart knows if his side can get on top, they cannot surrender momentum in the clash against Anthony Griffin's men.
"The last three encounters have been very close, the last game here we let them back in it at GIO [Stadium] and it's those types of games that have proven very costly," he said.
"It was one of those games when we had a genuinely good lead and we succumb to them coming home [strongly] as they did against Manly.
"They've shown last week how potent they can be with the football and there's been a lot of talk with how they need to start and I'm sure they'll start more aggressive this week."
Helping Canberra's cause in trying to pull off an upset is the return from injury of prop Shannon Boyd (calf) and five-eighth Aidan Sezer (hamstring).
The pair's return will allow Sia Soliola to return to his preferred middle of the field role after he was forced to play in the centres last week against Melbourne.
Penrith playmaker James Maloney has admitted he probably should have rested last weekend as he continues to recover from a gruelling Holden State of Origin series.
Stuart has also recognised signs of fatigue from one his rep stars, opting to rest Josh Papalii for three days in the lead-up to Sunday's game.
"He's playing big minutes in the middle and he has to at the moment because we're a little bit short in numbers at the moment with injuries," Stuart said.
"Boydy coming back will help him but Josh is mature enough to come and talk to me and I'll always listen to my players especially when their bodies are talking to them in regard to their fatigue levels."