Canberra Raiders v Parramatta Eels on Saturday at 8:00pm at TIO Stadium, Darwin
Referees: Gavin Morris and Gavin Reynolds.
Video Referee: Steve Chiddy
Canberra will welcome the return of star outside backs Edrick Lee and Jack Wighton when the Raiders travel up to Darwin to take on the Parramatta Eels on Saturday night, in what will be the first time that either club has played a premiership match in the Northern Territory
The pair will significantly bolster the side’s attacking potency as well as stiffening up their defence on the edges.
Lee has been sorely missed on the Raiders’ left hand flank. The dynamic winger has not played for the Green Machine since Round 3.
“It’s been frustrating not having Eddie there,” Ricky Stuart said. “We’ve had to chop and change all year with our outside backs to try and get some quality combinations and cohesion going there.
“We’ve really missed Edrick all season. He’s unique; he’s big, he’s fast and he’s very good in the air on that edge for us and that’s something that we’ve missed all year.
“It’s great to see him back in the team this week and running around with the boys at training again.”
While fans will get the chance to see Lee running out for the Raiders for just the fourth time this year, it will be their first opportunity to see Jordan Rapana in action in lime green.
Rapana has been in scintillating touch for the Souths Logan Magpies in the Intrust Super Cup and as a result of his form, an oblique injury to Terry Campese and a subsequent positional switch for Anthony Milford, the Cook Islands representative gets his chance in the number one jersey against the Eels.
In addition to the absence of Campese, the Raiders will also go into battle against the ninth placed Eels without Shaun Fensom, David Shillington and Kurt Baptiste, who were all injured in the loss to the Warriors last week.
As such, Mitch Cornish and Matt McIlwrick have been granted a chance to impress in the final stages of the year.
Cornish has been selected on the interchange bench while the versatile McIlwrick will start the match at lock in place of Fensom.
CLICK HERE to see the full team line-up.
Parramatta will be fired up for this encounter given that a win will secure them a place in the top eight, along with the fact that they are facing their Coach from last year for the very first time.
Whilst they are down on form, the Raiders can take confidence from the fact that they enjoy a good record over the Eels having won their last four encounters on the trot.
These two adversaries have enjoyed a tremendously close rivalry since their first clash back in Round 7 1982, so close in fact that both clubs are sitting on 24 wins apiece.
Look for the Green Machine to bounce back from a tough couple of weeks and bring the total games ledger back in Canberra’s favour.
Jordan Rapana v Jarryd Hayne
With Milford’s shift to five-eighth following the injury to Campese, Rapana gets an opportunity to showcase his wares at fullback against the Eels.
Rapana has been in stellar touch for Souths Logan in the Intrust Super Cup and would have made his debut earlier for the Raiders had it not been for second tier salary cap restrictions.
Fortunately for Rapana, the NRL granted him the chance to make his debut for the Green Machine following the Raiders recent hardship with injuries.
With Milford exiting the club next season and no top class fullback signed as of yet, it is the perfect opportunity for Rapana to audition for the role on a fulltime basis in 2015.
Rapana will go head-to-head with Jarryd Hayne, who is in stellar touch for the Eels at present. In his 16 games for Parramatta this year Hayne has scored 15 tries and averaged 179 metres per match.
If Canberra does not aim up in defence, Hayne will cut the Raiders to smithereens.
Matt McIlwrick v Joseph Paulo
The clash between McIlwrick and Paulo is one of totally contrasting styles.
McIlwrick gets his opportunity back in the Raiders NRL line-up for the first time since Round 10 following the season ending injury to Fensom.
Normally a hooker, McIlwrick will don the number 13 jersey for this encounter. It is not a foreign position by any means for McIlwrick who regularly shifts to the back of the scrum in the latter stages of each half for Mounties in the NSW Cup.
The former Junior Kiwi relies on his explosive leg speed out of dummy half and close to the ruck area whilst Paulo’s strength with ball in hand is the guile and skill he employs when setting up his support players in the centre of the field.
Josh Papalii v Tepai Moeroa
A strong feature of Parramatta’s resurgence in 2014 has been the emergence of several highly talented young forwards, none better than back-rower Tepai Moeroa.
The former Australian Schoolboys Rugby Union representative has been outstanding over the last month and has cemented his position in the Eels back-row for many years to come.
Moeroa enjoys rising to the challenge when confronted by representative forwards and the Seven Hills junior will be looking forward to taking on Queensland and Australian representative Josh Papalii.
The clash between these two blockbusting second-rowers is one that is sure to leave plenty of bruises on each other as well receiving plenty of applause from the grateful Darwin audience.
Record against the Eels:
In a total of 48 games against Parramatta, Canberra has won 24 games and lost 24.
Raiders record at TIO Stadium:
Neither side has ever played at TIO Stadium before.
Last three encounters:
1. Canberra defeated Parramatta 14-0 at GIO Stadium Canberra in Round 19 2013
2. Canberra defeated Parramatta 40-34 at GIO Stadium Canberra in Round 10 2012
3. Canberra defeated Parramatta 25-12 at GIO Stadium Canberra in Round 16 2011
They said it:
Dane Tilse: “We’re disappointed for the fans that are doing it tough supporting us at the moment but we just want to reassure them that we’re working incredibly hard to rectify it. The Eels are going well at the moment so we need to turn our form around very quickly.”
Ricky Stuart: “It’s hard on everybody at the moment; the players and the fans. The players are certainly committing themselves and working very hard during the week and we will continue to do so until we are out on the other side.”
Edrick Lee: "It's been frustrating not being out there with the boys, particularly because we haven't been going too well and there was nothing that I could do about it. I can't wait to run out onto the field again for the Raiders as well as promoting the game up in Darwin."