It's the annual 'Ricky Stuart Cup' as the Canberra Raiders tackle the Parramatta Eels at GIO Stadium on Saturday night.
After famously telling a host of players at Parramatta they would not be required through a Powerpoint Presentation before he departed the club himself, Eels fans have not forgotten and like to remind Stuart of their opinion of him. Fortunately for the Raiders coach, this is a home game for the Green Machine so it might be a slightly less frosty reception.
The Raiders finally broke their duck for the season last weekend against a disappointing Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs. Despite finishing the game with only 13 players, Canberra hung on to walk away with the win.
The Eels are yet to register a win this season after losing for the second time in the 'battle of the West' against the Penrith Panthers. The Eels were one of the Premiership favourites heading into the season but their forward pack has been dominated every game. This week they welcome back Clint Gutherson and Bevan French so hopefully, the two exciting outside backs can swing that form around this weekend against the Raiders.
Round 11, 2017: Canberra Raiders def. Parramatta Eels 22-16.
Round 5, 2017: Canberra Raiders def. Parramatta Eels 30-18.
Round 24, 2016: Canberra Raiders def. Parramatta Eels 28-18.
Round 6, 2016: Parramatta Eels def. Canberra Raiders 36-6.
Round 26, 2015: Canberra Raiders def. Parramatta Eels 28-24.
Looking at the past five meetings between the two sides and it's almost one-way traffic for the Raiders, both home and away.
The last meeting between the teams was Round 11 last season and was the Eels debut of halfback Mitchell Moses. A mid-season signing from the Wests Tigers, Moses became the latest player to try to fill that halfback role that has struggled to be successfully filled after the retirement of Peter Sterling. Moses had a great season last year but after being sin-binned in consecutive games to start the year, he will be hoping to rediscover that form this weekend.
In the complete opposite form guide to the past five meetings, the visitors have a better record in this clash overall. Amongst the 55 fixtures between the two teams, the Eels have come away with the two points on 29 occasions to the Raiders 26 which means if history is any indicator we should be in for a close battle.
|Canberra Raiders||Parramatta Eels|
|1||Jack Wighton||Clint Gutherson|
|2||Nick Cotric||George Jennings|
|3||Jarrod Croker||Michael Jennings|
|4||Joseph Leilua||Kirisome Auva'a|
|5||Jordan Rapana||Bevan French|
|6||Blake Austin||Corey Norman|
|7||Aidan Sezer||Mitchell Moses|
|8||Iosia Soliola||Peni Terepo|
|9||Siliva Havili||Kaysa Pritchard|
|10||Junior Paulo||Tim Mannah|
|11||Joseph Tapine||Manu Ma'u|
|12||Elliott Whitehead||Tony Williams|
|13||Luke Bateman||Tepai Moeroa|
|14||Ata Hingano||Beau Scott|
|15||Shannon Boyd||Kenny Edwards|
|16||Josh Papalii||Daniel Alvaro|
|17||Dunamis Lui||Kane Evans|
|18||Liam Knight||Will Smith|
|19||Michael Oldfield||David Gower|
|20||Brad Abbey||Suaia Matagi|
|21||Jack Murchie||Josh Hoffman|
The facts that matter
A few years ago Raiders half Blake Austin was being touted as a genuine option for New South Wales. Setting the competition alight with his energy and footwork, he was knocking on the door for Laurie Daley to pick him. Ultimately he was unsuccessful and since that time his decline has been disappointing. The decline was so severe that coach Ricky Stuart had seen enough and dropped Austin to reserve grade side, Mounties. However, an injury to Sam Williams has afforded him another opportunity to rediscover the form that made him unbeatable.
One of the main reasons the Blake Austin was dropped was the sides inability to close out games. It wasn't that the Raiders were uncompetitive; they got into a lead and just didn't know how to hold on to it. That comes down to mental toughness and turning up when it matters the most. We saw glimpses of that last week as they fought with no players on the bench but they did still manage to bring the Bulldogs back into the game. Quality sides will punish you for becoming complacent and even though the Eels are winless, they have class in their backline so will not be a pushover.
What has happened to the Eels? Looking at their squad they should not be winless to start the season. Injuries have not helped their cause but the biggest concern has been the form of their forward pack. Props Tim Mannah and Daniel Alvaro have been dominated and looked off the pace. Suaia Matagi has the potential to be their most damaging runner, but he has been dropped to reserve grade by coach Brad Arthur.
The most damning fact for Eels and their fanbase is they cannot afford to start the season 0-5 as only one side in history has made the finals with that start - the Broncos in 1999. The Broncos ended up being eliminated in the first week of the finals but you have to make the finals to win the Premiership.
The troops are making their way back for the Eels and it couldn't come quick enough. However, there can't be too high expectations on Clint Gutherson after recovering from an ACL injury. It will take him weeks to get back to the rigours of playing high-intensity football because training can only do so much.
The Raiders will hope it is a little more of the same this week. I think Blake Austin will be in for a big one. He has come under heavy criticism and that could work in the favour of Ricky Stuart after dropping him.
The forward pack of the Raiders will be too strong in this one. Big boppers Junior Paulo and Shannon Boyd will dominate this clash as the home side walks away with the win and heaps more pressure on Brad Arthur. Raiders by 8.