Two clubs down on troops and desperate for a change of fortune. The Bulldogs and Raiders sit 14th and 15th on the ladder, only above the hapless Eels. Neither club has helped their cause with late fade-outs gifting very winnable matches to the opposition. Canberra lost their opening three games of the season despite leading all three inside the final ten minutes. For Canterbury, their most recent match saw them let Souths back in to snatch a last-minute victory in a game they had otherwise controlled. Come Thursday, neither club will care how they win - all that will matter is whether they come away with the two-points. It's 'win at all costs' as we enter Round 5 of the tightest premiership race in years.
This matchup sees apprentice take on master as Bulldogs coach Dean Pay goes up against the man he was assistant to for five years. Raiders coach Stuart has been at several NRL clubs over his 16-year coaching career and much of that time has seen Pay serve as his understudy. Pay was an assistant coach at Parramatta in 2013 with Stuart and most recently followed him to Canberra where he was an assistant until his appointment at the Bulldogs last year. With the Bulldogs sinking to a 1-3 record to start the season, Pay hasn't had the introduction to head coach he would have hoped for. The equation gets no easier here against a Raiders side desperate to record their first win of the season.
2017 - Round 9 - Bulldogs 16 def. Raider 10 at ANZ Stadium
2016 - Round 12 - Raiders 32 def. Bulldogs 12 at GIO Stadium
2016 - Round 5 - Raiders 22 def. Bulldogs 8 at Belmore Sports Ground
2015 - Round 11 - Bulldogs 41 def. Raiders 34 at GIO Stadium
2014 - Round 15 - Bulldogs 22 def. Raiders 14 at GIO Stadium
Canberra is a notoriously difficult ground to play and win at - especially in the bitter cold of winter. Remarkably though, the Bulldogs hold a slender advantage in the nation's capital with 13 wins at GIO Stadium to the Raiders 10. These two met only once last season, with the Bulldogs securing a 16-10 win in a tightly fought and rain affected affair in Sydney.
|1|| Jack Wighton||Moses Mbye|
|2|| Nick Cotric||Brett Morris|
|3||Jarrod Croker (C)||Josh Morris|
|4||Joseph Leilua||Will Hopoate|
|5||Jordan Rapana||Marcelo Montoya|
|6||Aidan Sezer||Jeremy Marshall-King|
|7||Sam Williams||Kieran Foran|
|8||Iosia Soliola||Aaron Woods|
|9||Siliva Havili||Michael Lichaa|
|10||Junior Paulo||David Klemmer|
|11||Joseph Tapine||Josh Jackson (C)|
|12||Elliott Whitehead||Raymond Faitala-Mariner|
|13||Luke Bateman||Adam Elliott|
|14||Ata Hingano||Fa'amanu Brown|
|15||Shannon Boyd||Danny Fualalo|
|16||Dunamis Lui||Francis Tualalo|
|17||Liam Knight||Kerrod Holland|
|18||Jack Murchie||Greg Eastwood|
|19||Michael Oldfield||Asipeli Fine|
|20||Blake Austin||John Olive|
|21||Josh Papalii||Rhyse Martin|
The facts that matter
Something is desperately wrong at the Raiders. After a 0-4 start to the season, and with rumblings that halves Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer want out, the Raiders could only put on a united front for so long. That united front came crashing down after last weekend's 32-16 loss to the Sea Eagles, where coach Ricky Stuart publically called out his players - labelling them an embarrassment to the Raiders jersey. That performance has not gone unpunished with big-man Josh Papalii this week joining Blake Austin in reserve grade. Stuart has been around long enough to know how to get the best out of his players and he'll be banking on a public spray firing his troops up for a do or die clash on Thursday evening.
If Stuart was already irate with his Raiders, then he won't have been at all pleased with the timing of fresh reports linking fullback Jack Wighton to an alleged pre-season misdemeanour. It's another unwelcome distraction for a Raiders side which has in recent years struggled with expectation. The Raiders couldn't be further from the dizzying heights they reached only two seasons ago when finishing one game short of a grand final appearance. Losing Josh Hodgson has proved a monumental blow to their chances this year and club staff will be sweating on their star hooker remaining on track for a scheduled June return. If not, it could be a very long year for suffering Raiders fans.
The Bulldogs did everything in their power to lose last weekend's Good Friday classic against the Bunnies. Up by six points with only 10 minutes remaining, the Dogs wilted as Souths came home strong, scoring two late tries to wrap up a remarkable come from behind win. The Bulldog's cause wasn't helped when Moses Mbye was taken from the field after a sickening head clash in the fifth minute. Mbye is named to start this week however he remains a touch and go proposition as the club monitors his recovery throughout the week.
If the Bulldogs are any chance of righting their early season form, they'll need Mbye on the park. Since shifting to fullback, the diminutive number one has been the Bulldogs best and is one of a select few players that looks like sparking the Blue and White's attack. The Dogs were much maligned for their attacking play last season, averaging just 15 points per game. Unfortunately, the additions of Dean Pay, Kieran Foran and Aaron Woods look to have done little to improve their struggles. So far this season, the Bulldogs sit on an average of 16.5 points a game and as much as the Raiders have struggled in the opening rounds; they are not a side short of points. The Canberra club sits in the top five sides for line breaks, tackle breaks and tries this season so the Bulldogs will need a resolute defence to claim the two points here. If it becomes a free-flowing game, don't expect the Dogs to outpoint the Raiders.
We're getting dangerously close to desperation stakes for these two sides. It may only be Round 5 but whoever comes out of this game as the loser can just about rule a line through themselves for Season 2018. The equation is especially dire for the Raiders should they lose on Thursday night. Only four clubs in premiership history have ever made the finals after a 0-5 start to the season.
Both sides are down on confidence and down on form making this even tougher to pick a winner. The Raiders play has been so erratic this season, it's difficult to know which side will turn up. Ricky Stuart will hope his public condemnation will spark the Raiders into action this week and with a boisterous home crowd on Thursday, that rev up may just be enough to see them home in this one. Raiders by 10 points.
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