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Canberra Raiders v Penrith Panthers on Sunday at 2:00pm at GIO Stadium Canberra

The fans are hurting, the coaching staff are hurting, the players are hurting. Let’s not hide underneath the covers; it’s been a tough week at Raiders HQ.

After heavy back-to-back defeats, apologies were delivered to the club’s Members and supporters but the playing group have been reluctant about using vacant air space this week; they want their actions to do the talking at GIO Stadium Canberra this Sunday.

“The last two weeks have been unacceptable – plain and simple,” David Shillington said.

“I think that it’s a good thing to have apologised to our members and fans after the loss to the Warriors as it shows that we care and that we know what we dished up wasn’t acceptable.

“In saying that though, we as a playing group don’t want to talk about it anymore; we want our actions on the field to do the talking.”

The uncharacteristic losses have forced Coach Ricky Stuart to make several changes to the side for the clash against the Panthers.

The change which will no doubt have the most effect on the side will be Josh McCrone’s selection at halfback, which in turn pushes Country Origin representative Jack Wighton from five-eighth out to the centres.

“I think the whole squad's on their toes at the moment after the last couple of weeks and so they should be,” Pay said. “We've had a few changes this week, and it was due.

“The change is exciting for Jack; he’s excited to get back out in the centres and hopefully running the footy in a bit of space.

“Josh and Campo have played in the halves for a number of years now so there’s nothing new there. Josh is really excited about getting back into the halves and trying to create some opportunities there for us.”

Mosese Pangai will make his debut for the Raiders against his former club in place of the out of form Bill Tupou whilst Jarrad Kennedy returns to the starting side and Matt McIlwrick will make his second appearance for the year from the interchange bench.

The trio have been in outstanding form for Mounties in the NSW Cup this year and thoroughly deserve their selection in the side according to Pay.

“He’s a big, aggressive and talented kid Mosese and he’s been playing terrific footy for Mounties as have a number of guys like Kennedy and McIlwrick. They all deserve their spots and we’re looking forward to seeing what they can come up with on Sunday.”

Canberra and Penrith have met previously this year in Round 5 when the Panthers ran out winners 12-6 in torrential conditions at the foot of the mountains.

Round 7’s victory over Melbourne saw just how much a parochial Canberra crowd can lift the side and Pay is hoping for a similar input from the fans this Sunday.

“The atmosphere was great at our last home game against the Storm,” Pay said. “The boys played really well that day and the crowd had a lot to do with that. We’re hoping to get as many supporters as we can out to GIO Stadium Canberra and we’ll be striving to put in a much improved performance in front of them.”

Key Matchups:

Jack Wighton v Jamal Idris

After starring for Country Origin earlier this year in the centres, Wighton returns to that very position for the clash with the Panthers where he will directly oppose his Country centre partner Idris.

Wighton donned the number six jersey for the opening nine rounds of the competition however, amongst a host of positional changes made by Stuart, the 21 year old will return the centres, a position he is extremely comfortable in.

Wighton and Idris have played alongside each other for Country for consecutive years and have struck up a friendship during this time. Whilst they get on like a house on fire off the field, neither player will want to surrender bragging rights to the other so fans can expect a highly competitive individual encounter.

Idris is one of the hardest players to tackle one-on-one, averaging 143 metres per game, and although he will test Wighton significantly with ball in hand, the Orange CYMS junior is one of the most technically sound and aggressive defenders in the NRL for his size.

Josh McCrone v Peter Wallace

Wighton’s switch to the centres coincides with McCrone’s return to halfback after being used as an impact-dummy half this year.

McCrone has played in over 100 NRL matches in the number seven jersey and will provide the side with direction, creativity and his renowned enthusiasm. Whilst McCrone has declared that he will “play prop for the Raiders if that’s what the coach asks of me” it is no secret that he favours the halfback role.

The Country Origin representative will come up against the composed and calculated Peter Wallace who has been excellent this year as a calming influence over a talented young Penrith outfit.

Josh Papalii v Tyrone Peachey

Papalii returns to the starting side for the battle with the Panthers and he returns with a point to prove. The World Cup winning forward knows he is currently out of form and working hard off the field to ensure that he returns to his best for the Green Machine as soon as possible.

An added incentive is for Papalii to prove to Queensland Coach Mal Meninga that he deserves to retain his Maroons for the upcoming series jersey with Meninga yet to name his 17 for Game 1.

The power and stocky build of Papalii will come up against the skill, footwork and tenacity of the considerably smaller Tyrone Peachey. Papalii will need to have his wits about him in defence with Peachey possessing a sharp step, instinctive ball playing ability and a chip and chase within his attacking arsenal.

Stat Attack:

Last 3 results:

- Penrith defeated Canberra 12-6 at Sportingbet Stadium on April 5 2014 (Round 5)

- Canberra defeated Penrith 24-12 at GIO Stadium Canberra on June 15 2013

- Penrith defeated Canberra 32-10 at Sportingbet Stadium on March 10 2013

Record against the Panthers:

Penrith and Canberra were adversaries in the early 1990s and as they meet once again this Sunday, the Raiders have an opportunity to square the ledger at 32 games apiece after the Panthers hit the lead in Round 5 following their 12-6 victory.

The win by the Panthers also saw them hit the lead in their try tallies by just one!

They said it:

Dean Pay: “We’re not settled on our full 17 at the moment so there’s an opportunity for the guys named on the extended bench to push for selection throughout the week.”

Brett White: “I know Ricky came out and took responsibility for the Manly loss but that’s just not the case; he’s not the one out there missing all the tackles.”

David Shillington: “We’re all in this together; it’s not the position that we want to be in but we’re going to work as hard as we can to get out of it. We’re excited to play at home this week and looking forward to turning it around.”

Dane Tilse: “We understand that the fans are hurting and we’re hurting more than anyone. There are still 14 games left in the season so there’s plenty of time to get things right and have a good season.”