The tenth-placed Raiders (8-12) host the ninth-placed Tigers (10-10) in what may prove to be an intriguing clash at GIO Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
The season could have been so much different for the Canberra Raiders and yet again they provided a glimpse into that last week against the Panthers, blowing a 16 point half-time lead to fall 40-31 in a high-scoring affair. Heaps of what ifs will come out of this season for them, but scoring points won't be one; it's failing to hold a lead that has hurt them.
The Tigers will rue a slow patch in the middle of the season which may have seen their late-season charge fall short. A disappointing result against the Bulldogs offset wins over top four teams in the Dragons and Rabbitohs. They bounced back with a 25-16 win against the Knights last week to keep four points adrift of the Warriors, Broncos and Sharks, though the points differential of -36 will not help them. The only thing they can do is play what is in front of them and continue to win from hereon in.
2018 - Raiders 48 def. Tigers 12 at Campbelltown
2017 - Raiders 46 def. Tigers 6 at GIO Stadium
2016 - Raiders 52 def. Tigers 10 at Leichhardt Oval
2016 - Raiders 60 def. Tigers 6 at GIO Stadium
2015 - Tigers 20 def. Raiders 18 at GIO Stadium
The Tigers actually have a pretty good record against the Raiders, leading the head-to-head by 38-16. But the last few matches are not something they would look back at too fondly, having dropped four out of the last five and six of the last seven, the majority by colossal margins. The 48-12 win for the Raiders back in Round 15 this year was their lowest winning margin of their last four wins against the Tigers, who had only scored 34 points in those four outings before their last win in 2015.
That win in 2015 however was their ninth at GIO Stadium where both teams have an even record against each other. They will look at that as a positive along with their overall record coming into this match.
Ricky Stuart has made no changes from last week's loss to the Panthers. Blake Austin remains in the centres while Sam Williams stays on at halfback.
Corey Thompson is out for the season with an ankle injury, replaced by Malakai Watene-Zelezniak on the wing. Luke Garner is into the second row with Elijah Taylor moving to lock while Matt Eisenhuth goes to the bench.
|Canberra Raiders||Wests Tigers|
|1||Nick Cotric||Moses Mbye|
|2||Brad Abbey||David Nofoaluma|
|3||Blake Austin||Esan Marsters|
|4||Joseph Leilua||Kevin Naiqama|
|5||Jordan Rapana||Malakai Watene-Zelezniak|
|6||Aidan Sezer||Benji Marshall|
|7||Sam Williams||Luke Brooks|
|8||Iosia Soliola||Russell Packer|
|9||Josh Hodgson||Robbie Farah|
|10||Junior Paulo||Ben Matulino|
|11||Joseph Tapine||Michael Chee-Kam|
|12||Elliott Whitehead||Luke Garner|
|13||Josh Papalii||Elijah Taylor|
|14||Dunamis Lui||Alex Twal|
|15||Shannon Boyd||Sauaso Sue|
|16||Siliva Havili||Robbie Rochow|
|17||Luke Bateman||Matthew Eisenhuth|
|18||Liam Knight||Jacob Liddle|
|19||Jack Murchie||Chris McQueen|
|20||Makahesi Makatoa||Tyson Gamble|
|21||Emre Guler||Mahe Fonua|
The facts that matter
The Raiders' 31 points last week took them to a competition high of 489 points this season, an average of 25 points, and incredible considering they sit in 10th spot. As we all know, scoring their points hasn't been the issue, it's containing them in periods which has been. Their 82 tries ranks just behind the Rabbitohs and should sound a warning to the Tigers this week.
Josh Hodgson's return in their round 15 fixture was the difference between the two sides and starting this week, he will want to control the ruck. He's made 10 tackle breaks and 23 runs out of dummy half (the Raiders are second this season for dummy half runs with 296) this season over his seven games and his match-up against Robbie Farah, who also likes to run the ball, could be crucial with which teams makes the biggest impact through the middle.
Despite the loss, Joey Leilua enjoyed a fruitful game, making 121 metres and scoring three tries within the first hour. The Raiders would want to feed the barnstorming centre and winger Jordan Rapana, who can run the distance.
While they controlled the territory with 64% last week against the Panthers, their 43 missed tackles and eight errors were very costly in the context of the match. It allowed a rather subdued Panthers side to get back into the match, and when the Raiders let their discipline go, it can rain points. Their defense will really need to be on their game, which is more than possible against a Tigers' side who are more defensively focused themselves.
Luke Brooks and Benji Marshall combined for 430 kick metres last week and easily outplayed their Knights' counterparts. The Tigers are second only to Brisbane in overall kick metres this season and the duo will want to again place that pressure on an inexperienced Sam Williams and Aidan Sezer. It will help that David Nofoaluma, Kevin Naiqama and Moses Mbye all ran over 100 metres last week, so they just need to get themselves into the right position on the field to throw it wide to their backs, whilst Robbie Farah needs little invitation for a quick run through the middle to get the defense off-guard.
To get there, their own defense will have to match up against the Raiders' attack. Elijah Taylor, Matt Eisenhuth and Michael Chee-Kam in the back-row all had to make over 40 tackles, as the Tigers were forced to work a bit harder than the Knights. 21 missed tackles from 319 last week still rates high in terms of effective tackling, but they won't want to tire themselves out and give the Raiders a chance to break the line. No one in their back or front row made over 100 metres last week, and they will need to assistance to Marshall and Brooks if they are to think of getting points rather than scrap out a win.
The Raiders seem to enjoy playing the Tigers and despite their recent frustrations I don't think that will change here. They have nothing to lose so I expect they will throw the ball around, get their backs into the mix and put points up as they so often have this season. The Tigers need to keep this in check with another good defensive effort, but need to get their points differential down which will prove to be a tricky proposition. At hooker and in the centres there will be good match-ups, but I think the Raiders will be too strong for the Tigers.
Tip: Raiders by 12
Who will come out on top when two sides desperate to keep touch with the top-eight meet at GIO Stadium in Canberra? Let us know in the comments below.