NRL Match Preview: Raiders v Sharks

Canberra Raiders v Cronulla Sutherland Sharks on Sunday at 2:00pm at Remondis Stadium

Referees: Henry Perenara & Gavin Reynolds

Video Referee: Matt Cecchin & Ben Galea

After a disappointing second half fade out against the Dragons last weekend, the Raiders will travel to Remondis Stadium on Sunday afternoon to face a Cronulla side fired up after another week of off-field dramas.

The Sharks have had some major off-field distractions this week with the ASADA investigation coming to a head and the Raiders will know that the team will come out onto the field on Sunday with a point to prove to their supporters.

With both teams anchored to the bottom of the premiership ladder the two points on offer on Sunday will go a long way to saving the victor from the dreaded wooden spoon and the Raiders will need to match the intensity and commitment in the early stages of the match which the Sharks will provide.

It’s an exciting line-up for Raiders fans, with Jeremy Hawkins set to make his long awaited NRL debut after being provided a Salary Cap exemption by the NRL. For those who remember Hawkins playing at NYC level they will know he’s a damaging ball runner with rock solid defence and he’ll bring some more enthusiasm and excitement to the Raiders young backline.

Jack Wighton gets his chance at fullback to determine if it’s a position he can maybe look to fill in the future and he will give the Raiders a strong ball runner, as well as another playmaking option like he was when he started the season at five-eighth.

Kyle O’Donnell also returns for the Raiders on Sunday and he’ll replace Brett White who is out with a groin injury. O’Donnell has been impressive for Mounties so far this season and has shown signs of his future potential in his limited time at NRL level.

With White set to hang up the boots at the end of the year, it’s the perfect chance for O’Donnell to show Ricky Stuart he can fill that void in the future.

It’s also a case of the baby raced Raiders this weekend, with not one player in the 17 over the age of 30 and only Dane Tilse (29) and Glen Buttriss (29), Josh McCrone (27) and Joel Edwards (26) over the age of 25.

The loss of White from last week’s team sees the introduction of Co-Captains this weekend, with Josh McCrone and Jarrod Croker set to take up the reigns. For Croker it will be the first time as skipper in a premiership match, after leading the Raiders at the Auckland Nines at the start of the season.

Key Matchups:

Jack Wighton v Michael Gordon

Both Wighton and Gordon are pivotal parts of their teams attack and both will be looking to provide the X-Factor for their teams on Sunday. Wighton will play just his first NRL match at fullback compared to the far more experienced Gordon, but Wighton’s ability and skill will see him up for the challenge.  

Wighton gives the Raiders both an excellent ball playing option, or a hard line running attacking weapon. The option is there to see him mix up the attack with Anthony Milford and give the Sharks a double headache to defend close to their line.

His inclusion at fullback allows Jeremy Hawkins to start at centre and free up the Raiders attacking options. One thing for certain this weekend is that if a Sharks player makes a break, they’ll know if they’ve been tackled by Wighton, who is not the type of fullback you try and trample on your way to the try line.

Edrick Lee v Valentine Holmes

Two of the most exciting young players in the games are on show this weekend, with Edrick Lee and Sharks rookie Valentine Holmes on show at Remondis Stadium.

Lee is starting to hit his straps after returning from injury three weeks ago, while Holmes has already proven he’s a star of the future for Cronulla. Last weekend’s NRL fixtures showed some outstanding skill by the games wingers and if either of these two get quality ball this weekend we could add a few more highlights to the already bulging highlight reel.

Joel Edwards v Paul Gallen

With no Shaun Fensom to do the hard work in the middle for the Raiders, it’s up to another defensive enforcer in Joel Edwards to make sure he’s in front of the Sharks big men this weekend.

Edwards will have his work cut out for him with Sharks and NSW hero Paul Gallen coming at him for most of the match, with Gallen the lynchpin of the Sharks go forward. After another week jolted by ASADA investigations the Sharks Skipper will have a point to prove on Sunday and Edwards will need to help his fellow middle unit players prepare for the G-Train.

Stat Attack:

Record against the Sharks:

In a total of 61 games against Cronulla, Canberra has won 28 games and lost 33.

Raiders record at Remondis Stadium:

Played 28, Canberra 8, Cronulla 20.

Last three encounters:

1.        Canberra defeated Cronulla 38-18 at GIO Stadium Canberra in 2013

2.        Canberra defeated Cronulla 34-16 at GIO Stadium Canberra in 2012

3.        Canberra defeated Cronulla 36-4 at GIO Toyota Stadium in 2012