If you'd written the preview for this game 3 weeks ago, I dare say it would look a lot different. The opening two rounds have thrown up some surprises, with the performances of the Raiders and the Warriors making footy tipping a nightmare. Who'd have thought the Raiders would start the season with 2 losses to the Titans and Knights; both 30-28, no less. Also, who'd have thought the Warriors would start 2018 with 2 wins, after convincing victories over the Rabbitohs and the Titans.
Yet, here we are.
That doesn't necessarily make this an easy game to predict, mind you. The Raiders, while having little to show for their efforts, have put together periods of impressive attacking football, and at home you'd always give them a chance of righting the ship and belatedly getting their season going.
The Warriors are no sure thing themselves, with a rich history of squandering talented rosters and being downright frustrating in their consistent inconsistencies. It's true they have looked sharp this season, but it's also true that both of their opponents have been well below their best so far.
This suddenly shapes as an intriguing battle on a Saturday afternoon in Australia's capital.
13.08.2017 - Raiders won 36-16
15.04.217 - Raiders won 20-8
23.07.2016 - Raiders won 26-22 (Golden Point)
21.05.2016 - Raiders won 38-12
27.06.2015 - Warriors won 30-8
The Raiders have taken the chocolates in the last 4 matches against the Warriors, with 3 of them being convincing victories. You have to go back to 2015 until you see a Warriors win in this matchup. Stephen Kearney would do well to instruct his players to ignore the recent history and focus more on their current form.
|Canberra Raiders||New Zealand Warriors|
|1||Jack Wighton||Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (c)|
|2||Nick Cotric||David Fusitua|
|3||Jarrod Croker (c)||Peta Hiku|
|4||Joseph Leilua||Solomone Kata|
|5||Jordan Rapana||Ken Maumalo|
|6||Aidan Sezer||Blake Green|
|7||Sam Williams||Shaun Johnson|
|8||Iosia Soliola||James Gavet|
|9||Siliva Havili||Isaac Luke|
|10||Shannon Boyd||Adam Blair|
|11||Josh Papalii||Leivaha Pulu|
|12||Elliott Whitehead||Tohu Harris|
|13||Luke Bateman||Ligi Sao|
|14||Blake Austin||Jazz Tevaga|
|15||Junior Paulo||Agnatius Paasi|
|16||Dunamis Lui||Sam Lisone|
|17||Liam Knight||Bunty Afoa|
|18||Joseph Tapine||Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad|
|19||Ata Hingano||Anthony Gelling|
|20||Michael Oldfield||Chris Satae|
|21||Royce Hunt||Mason Lino|
The Facts That Matter
Coach Ricky Stuart will be most displeased that his side have lost two games to open the season, particularly from the position they were in against the Titans. After 2017 was littered with games where they lost by narrow margins, they've followed suit in 2018, losing their first two games by 2 points. The positive in that is that they're not far off winning, and not far off being undefeated (if you don't mind stretching the narrative just a little).
You can't help but feel like Josh Hodgson would have been the difference in those opening fixtures. He's a world-class hooker that provides the team with 40 tackles in the middle and some spark in attack, not to mention the direction he gives the side. Try as they undoubtedly have, Havili and Sezer have not provided the same service.
In fact, their entire spine is providing headaches. Austin has been relegated to the bench with Sezer taking his place at five-eighth, while Sam Williams has quite provided the stability that Stuart undoubtedly wanted from him. Williams and Sezer must take control of the team's kicking game and lead the Raiders into good field position, because what they have got it strike power out wide. Wighton, Cotric, Croker, Leilua, Rapana; those 5 names have points all over them, but it is important that the Raiders are able to lay a platform to allow these men to excel.
New Zealand Warriors
The Warriors will mourn the loss of Isaiah Papali'i, who excelled before succumbing to a knee injury that should sideline him for more than a month. With Mannering still unavailable, it gives Pulu a starting spot and the Warriors will finally unleash Agnatius Paasi from the bench; a very exciting prospect considering some of his form in recent seasons with the Titans.
Something that has been rather uncharacteristic about how the Warriors have played so far this season is that their defence appears to be in great order. Stephen Kearney would expect that these standards do not drop, particularly against a Raiders side well known for their blistering attack.
The Warriors spine, unlike the Raiders, is firing on all cylinders at the moment, with Blake Green appearing to give Shaun Johnson and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck the freedom to use their incredible running games more often; a fact the Raiders big men will surely dread!
With absolutely no conviction whatsoever, this writer will predict a Warriors win by 8, because they have good cohesion in their spine, while the Raiders are still tinkering to find their best, stop-gap solution.