Round 23 Match Preview: Raiders v Dragons

Canberra Raiders v St George Illawarra Dragons on Saturday at 3:00pm at GIO Stadium Canberra

Referees: Adam Devcich and Grant Atkins

Video Referee: Steve Chiddy

St George Illawarra has not won in the Nation’s Capital since 2000 and the Green Machine will be striving to continue this incredible ‘hoodoo’ when the two rivals meet each other once again on Saturday afternoon.

The Raiders have established one of rugby league’s greatest records of dominance over the Dragons.

In 17 games between these clubs since 2000, the Raiders have lost just once, back in Round 17 in 2007 at WIN Stadium. At GIO Stadium Canberra, the Raiders have reigned supreme winning their past 11 consecutive matches.

In fact, since St George and Illawarra merged back in 1999, the Dragons have only won at GIO Stadium Canberra on two occasions.

Whilst they would detest being a part of a side that lets this tremendous run conclude, the Raiders are reluctant to discuss the much-hyped ‘hoodoo’.

“We definitely want to keep the so called ‘hoodoo’ going, and we know that we’re going to hear about it throughout the week but it’s not something that we’re going to be discussing internally,” Jarrod Croker said.

“We can’t rely on a ‘hoodoo’ to beat the Dragons anyway. They’re a quality side who are faring better than us on the ladder so we have to turn up with the right attitude to compete with them.”

Along with the ‘hoodoo’ the other major talking point is the return of former Raider Josh Dugan, who returns to the Nation’s Capital for the first time since his unceremonious sacking last year.

 Whilst the Raiders faithful will no doubt give Dugan a warm welcome when he runs out onto the surface of GIO Stadium Canberra, the playing group are not buying into any talk of giving their former team mate some ‘special attention’.

"I'm sure there will be a lot of other rubbish thrown up about Dugan returning to Canberra but we've just got to worry about the fact that he's one of their better players," Croker said.

"He's a State of Origin centre for a reason and someone that we really need to look out for on the field. We know how good a player he is and how dangerous he can be.”

Whilst Croker still maintains a friendship with Dugan off the field, he hopes the crowd doesn’t hold back when welcoming his former team mate back to Canberra.

"We're still mates but hopefully the crowd gets into him a fair bit on Saturday," he said.

“In saying that though, he’s the sort of player that will thrive on that. He will be pumped up for a big game and I’m looking forward to the challenge of playing against him in the centres.”

After an improved performance against the Eels last weekend, Coach Ricky Stuart has stuck with the exact same line-up.

CLICK HERE to see Canberra’s line-up.

There will be three games played at GIO Stadium Canberra on Saturday for Close the Gap Round, with NYC kicking off at 10:40am, NSW Cup at 12:40pm and NRL at 3:00pm. Gates open at 10:30am.

CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE TICKETS.

Key Matchups:

Edrick Lee v Jason Nightingale

Sorely missed from the side since Round 3, Lee made a stylish return to the Raiders NRL line-up against the Eels last week.

Lee provides the Green Machine with tremendous try scoring potency out wide, particularly in the air.

This was demonstrated in the 18th minute against the Eels when Lee brilliantly fielded a McCrone cross-field kick before masterfully sucking in Parramatta’s centre and winger to pop an over-the-head pass to Croker which enabled the centre a saloon passage to score Canberra’s second try.

CLICK HERE to watch Croker’s try.

This will no doubt be a frequently used play against the Dragons given Lee’s aerial ability and the height advantage he has over Nightingale.

What Nightingale forgoes in height, he more than makes up for in experience, intellect and positional play. It is a highly rare occurrence for the New Zealand international to come up with an error and he is also dangerous with ball in hand having registered 12 line breaks in 2014.

Jarrod Croker v Josh Dugan

As mentioned earlier, many eyes, and ‘boo’s’ will be directed at former Raider Josh Dugan on Saturday afternoon in what will be his first appearance at GIO Stadium since his sacking last year.

On the field though, Dugan’s match-up in the centres with friend Croker shapes as a beauty.

The pair grew up playing together from the Harold Matthews (Under 16’s) onwards and both share a mutual respect for one another’s playing ability.

Whilst Croker maintains a friendship with Dugan off the field, that hasn’t prevented him from encouraging the Canberra faithful to make the Dragons centre’s return to the Nation’s Capital an unpleasant one.

CLICK HERE to see what Croker and former international centre and Dragons legend Matt Cooper had to say about the contest of the two centres.

Anthony Milford v Gareth Widdop

The two attacking dynamos wearing the number six jerseys are undoubtedly the offensive lynchpins of their respective sides.

Milford and Widdop have enjoyed outstanding seasons thus far and will again be key figures for the fortunes of the Raiders and the Dragons on Saturday.

Milford was switched from fullback to five-eighth last weekend against the Eels to accommodate the club debut of Jordan Rapana and will again line-up there against the Dragons.

The 2013 Meninga Medallist had a solid outing at pivot against the Eels but fans can expect a greater showing from Milford this week after re-familiarising himself with the position.

Widdop has been a wonderful addition to the Dragons’ roster this year and Canberra will have to pay particularly close attention to the English international’s combination with halves partner and Kiwi maestro, Benji Marshall.

Stat Attack:

Record against the Dragons:

In a total of 23 games against St George Illawarra, Canberra has won 16 games, drawn one and lost 6.

Dragons record at GIO Stadium Canberra:

In a total of 13 games played at GIO Stadium Canberra, the Dragons have won on just two occaisions.

Last three encounters:

1.          Canberra defeated St George Illawarra 22-18 at WIN Stadium in Round 20 2013

2.          Canberra defeated St George Illawarra 30-17 at GIO Stadium Canberra in Round 3 2013

3.          Canberra defeated St George Illawarra 22-18 at GIO Stadium Canberra in Round 17 2012

They said it:

Jordan Rapana: “I was close to giving the game away professionally about three weeks ago. I actually asked JB [Raiders Football Manager John Bonasera] how to become a police officer but he convinced me to stick with footy and continue to work hard. That hard work is paying off now and I’m stoked to be at the Raiders for another year.”

http://www.raiders.com.au/news/2014/08/13/_i_was_close_to_quitting_and_joining_the_police_force_.html

Jarrod Croker: “The “hoodoo” is going to be spoken about all week but we can’t worry about that or get in the mindset that we can rely on a “hoodoo”. They’re in a much better position on the ladder than us so we need to turn up with the right attitude because it’s going to be a tough game.”

http://www.raiders.com.au/news/2014/08/12/croker_we_can_t_rely_on_a_hoodoo.html

Jack Wighton: “I love the Indigenous jersey. It’s a really good design by Elle Binge and I can’t wait to run out in wearing it at GIO Stadium and celebrate our heritage.”

http://www.raiders.com.au/news/2014/08/13/raiders_indigenous_jersey.html

Matt Cooper: “"It will be a great clash between Dugan and Croker in the centres. The match-up will be very competitive because they're two of the better centres in the game and obviously because they're ex-team mates and friends off the field.”

http://www.raiders.com.au/content/raiders/club/news/2014/08/13/croker_v_dugan