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Match Preview: Raiders v Warriors

Zac Gates

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The Raiders will be on the hunt for their third-straight win on Saturday as they look to overcome the New Zealand Warriors at GIO Stadium.

The Raiders have celebrated many milestones in winning ways this year, none more so than when they ran riot on the weekend in Joey Leilua’s 150th NRL appearance, and are hoping to make Jack Wighton’s 100th NRL game one to remember this Saturday afternoon.

Having edged out a gritty Parramatta outfit 30-18 and belted the Titans in an eight tries to three demolition on Saturday evening in their last two outings, it is clear Ricky Stuart’s men are hitting their straps.

Bringing plenty of wind to the Raiders’ speeding sails is blistering right-edge duo Joey Leilua and Jordan Rapana, a pair with an eye on running rampant against the Warriors on Saturday.

“Leipana” was again at its scintillating best in round six, a fact made strikingly clear by Rapana’s hat-trick of tries in the opening 25 minutes of play.

Rapana’s partner-in-crime played a hand in all three of the Kiwi international’s four-pointers as the pair again stamped itself as arguably the most destructive backline combination in the competition.

But as the hype surrounding the Raiders’ electric right edge grows in noise, five-eighth Blake Austin noted the left side of the park is also brimming with potency.

“We’ve got a left side that can do some pretty special things as well,” Austin said.

“I think Josh Papalii’s probably at the top of the game in his position, and Jarrod Croker and Aidan Sezer and young Nick Cotric, so good luck to any team that wants to focus on one part of our team.”

The Warriors have also struck hot form and, like the Raiders, have trounced both the Titans and the Eels in their two most recent appearances.

They knocked off the Gold Coast in New Zealand 28-22 in round five, before accounting for Parramatta 22-10 in another home win in a game streaked with the brilliance of halfback Kieran Foran.

However, as impressive as the Warriors have been at home, they remain winless on the other side of the Tasman.

With the Raiders returning to the capital with an unchanged line-up, New Zealand could be set to face one almighty hurdle.

Last Time

The Raiders clinched a 26-22 golden-point win at home when they last crossed swords with the Warriors.

Croker turned in a brilliant captain’s game in last season’s Round 20 clash, crossing for a trio of tries and nailing three goals.

Watch highlights from the match in the video below. 

Key Matchups

Jack Wighton v Roger Tuivasa-Sheck

Wighton’s battle with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck shapes as one flashing fullback feud. The outcome of this clash could depend largely on who does a better job of slotting in to their respective backlines in attack and who reads the play better in defence.

Wighton had arguably his best game of the season on the Gold Coast on Saturday evening, amassing 177 metres and adding to the scoreboard with one glittering solo try. With the visitors already leading 14-4 early in the game after Rapana’s hat-trick of tries, Wighton rubbed salt into cavernous Gold Coast wounds when he sliced through a feeble right-edge defence.

Arch-rival Tuivasa-Sheck let loose with a similarly impressive performance on the weekend, notching 205 metres and a line-break in his side’s win. The Warriors’ skipper will have to turn in a similarly imposing game if his troops are to rain on Canberra’s home parade.

Blake Austin v Kieran Foran

There aren’t many players in the competition who can have as big an impact on a game as these two gun five-eighths, meaning this matchup fares as one crucial battle ahead of Saturday’s contest.

Blessed with the ball skills of a juggler and silky footwork makes Austin a highly difficult playmaker to contain. It means that regardless of whether the 26-year-old is running the ball or setting up a crafty right-edge move, the defence often has a problem on its hands. Austin made this strikingly clear when a pinpoint short-ball set up a line-break late in the Raiders’ clash with the Broncos, the five-eighth zooming up on the inside to again latch on to the ball and snare a stirring four-pointer.

Ever since the Warriors secured Foran’s prized signature for season 2017, the hoo-ha surrounding the Kiwi international has only grown in noise. The five-eighth’s media attraction is now at an all-time high after he turned in a dazzling display against his former club on Sunday afternoon, playing a hand in two tries. It was a beguiling dummy that blazed the trail for one of the four-pointers, Foran slipping through the Eels’ right-edge defence to put winger Ken Maumalo over for the home side’s fourth try.

Josh Papalii v Ryan Hoffman

Both the Raiders’ and Warriors’ backlines teem with talent, but their respective forward packs provide the bedrocks for the outside men to weave their magic. Arguably the Raiders’ best forward is Papalii at second row, while Ryan Hoffman stands as arguably New Zealand’s strongest force in the middle of the park. Not only will the two second rows be on the hunt for strong carries, they will be looking to combine with key players in attack though nimble footwork and penetrating cunning lines off testing short-balls from their halves. Both are also set to absorb plenty in defence.

Quote of the Week

“The boys had a good game. We showed a lot of spark and what we’re capable of. We were trying to string those two wins together and get on a little roll, and I think we did that on the weekend, and we’ll try again this week.” – Joe Tapine

Head-to-Head

The Raiders have emerged victorious the last two times the sides have met, winning 26-22 at home in the most recent outing and thrashing the Warriors 38-12 in Round 11 last season on the other side of the ditch. Overall, the Raiders hold a slim lead, having registered 19 wins to the Warriors’ 17 from 36 matches since New Zealand joined the competition as the Auckland Warriors in 1995.

Team Lists

As of Tuesday, April 11. 

Canberra Raiders New Zealand Warriors
1. Jack Wighton 1 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (C)
2. Nick Cotric 2 Blake Ayshford
3. Jarrod Croker (C) 3 David Fusitu'a
4. Joey Leilua 4 Solomone Kata
5. Jordan Rapana 5 Ken Maumalo
6. Blake Austin 6 Kieran Foran
7. Aidan Sezer 7 Shaun Johnson
8. Junior Paulo 8 James Gavet
9. Josh Hodgson  9 Issac Luke
10. Shannon Boyd 10 Jacob Lillyman
11. Josh Papalii 11 Bodene Thompson
12. Elliott Whitehead 12 Ryan Hoffman
13. Joe Tapine 13 Simon Mannering
14. Adam Clydsdale 14 Nathaniel Roache
15. Luke Bateman 15 Charlie Gubb
16. Clay Priest 16 Ligi Sao
17. Sia Soliola 17 Sam Lisone
18. Dunamis Lui 18 Albert Vete
19. Jordan Turner 20 Bunty Afoa
20. Makahesi Makatoa 21 Mafoa'aeata Hingano
21. Lachlan Croker 22 Mason Lino 
GAME DAY GUIDE: RAIDERS V WARRIORS