NRL Match Preview: Raiders v Sharks

Canberra Raiders v Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks

Sunday March 8, 6:30pm, Remondis Stadium

CLICK HERE to purchase tickets

Coverage: Live on FOXSports1

Referees: Gavin Morris and Alan Shortall

Video Referee: Matt Cecchin

Well Raiders fans, the wait is finally over and we can all breathe a sigh of relief – the start of the 2015 NRL season is finally here!

The Raiders will kick-off our 2015 campaign against a new-look Cronulla Sharks outfit at Remondis Stadium on Sunday evening – but I’m sure you’ve all had this date pencilled in for months!

After the acquisition of several handy recruits and a supremely beneficial pre-season, there is a strong air of optimism filtering around Raiders HQ.

Round 1 will be a “first” on a number of fronts.

It will be the first time that Raiders fans will get to witness the likes of – Blake Austin, Josh Hodgson, Frank-Paul Nuuausala, Sia Soliola and Sisa Waqa – in action.

With the quintet all selected in the top 17 for Round 1, it is the highest number of debutants to start the year since 2007, where Canberra had six new faces in their line-up.

CLICK HERE to see the Raiders team line-up.

 “Our new recruits have certainly brought a lot to the club,” said Captain Jarrod Croker – another first in 2015.

“They’ve each impressed me in their own individual way and it’s really provided a boost for the club. A lot of those guys are in key positions and in the leadership group as well so that just goes to show how well they’ve fitted in and the positive elements that they’ve added to the club.

“It’s been a tough pre-season but we’re all jumping out of our skin to run out there on Sunday night, especially the new recruits who want to really impress their new fans.”

Positionally, it will also be the first time that Canberra’s new halves pairing of Blake Austin and Mitch Cornish take the field together to steer the side around the park.

The pair makes up a fresh and exciting new spine in conjunction with Jack Wighton at fullback and Hodgson at hooker.

“We’ve been looking really good on the training paddock so if we take that sort of form into the game it shouldn’t take too long for us to gel,” Cornish said.

“Blake and I are two different styles but we complement each other well and I’m confident leading into Sunday. I had a lot of competition for my spot from Sammy Williams so I’ve got to take my opportunity with both hands otherwise I’ll lose it.”

As Cornish highlighted, there is plenty of competition for spots in the NRL line-up with Mounties featuring no less than 14 contracted Raiders players, so there is plenty of pressure to perform this weekend against the Sharks.

CLICK HERE to watch the Match Highlights from our last encounter in Round 22, 2014.

Finally, it will be the first time Raiders have seen dual-Meninga Medallist Shaun Fensom on the field since he ruptured the ACL ligament in his knee in Round 21 against the New Zealand Warriors.

Fensom has astonishingly come back three months ahead of schedule and his defensive prowess will be paramount against the Sharks’ new recruits such as Ben Barba, Gerard Beale, Jason Bukuya and Michael Ennis.

KEY MATCHUPS

Jack Wighton v Michael Gordon

After playing every position in the backline bar halfback in his three year NRL career, the dynamic attacking talents of Jack Wighton looks set to fill the fullback role in the Raiders line-up in 2015.

Wighton’s team mates speak in disbelief at how well he has handled the full-time transition and are thoroughly looking forward to playing alongside him in the number one jersey.

The Indigenous All Stars representative will go head-to-head with Sharks’ dynamo Michael Gordon.

Gordon, a City Origin representative, has been a tremendously consistent contributor for Cronulla in his two seasons at the club and his support play is something that needs to be watched carefully.

Blake Austin v Ben Barba

Five-eighths Austin and Barba are both new to their respective clubs in 2015 and both viewed as the attacking lynchpins of their team.

After a break-out year for the Tigers in 2014, Austin has made a home for himself in the Nation’s Capital and is focused on becoming the club’s next long-term pivot following the departure of Terry Campese.

Barba had an unhappy season with the Broncos last year and will be out to prove a point in 2015 – something that the Green Machine must be very wary of.

There is no doubting Barba’s phenomenal attacking talents and with reports that he is lighter and fitter than he has been in years, he must be a heavily marked man on Sunday.

Shaun Fensom v Paul Gallen

Without a doubt, Fensom and Gallen are the heart and souls of their respective sides .

Fensom has incredibly returned to the side three months ahead of schedule and his team mates certainly love having him back out on the field.

“It’s outrageous that he’s back already; he’s an absolute freak of a man,” Paul Vaughan said. “His attention to detail on and off the field is unbelievable. It’s a big confidence boost for the team having Fenno fit for Round 1. Everyone knows the massive role he plays in our side; he’s basically the glue that holds us together.”

Over the course of his 14 year career, Gallen has won many admirers through his unrelenting performances at club, state and international level. Even the most inattentive league fan knows he will be the key player for the Sharks in 2015.

STAT ATTACK

Record against the Sharks:

In a total of 62 games against Cronulla, Canberra has won 29 games and lost 33.

Canberra’s record at Remondis Stadium:

In a total of 29 games played at Remondis Stadium, the Raiders have won on just nine occasions.

Last three encounters:

1.        Raiders defeated Sharks 22-12 at Remondis Stadium in Round 24, 2014

2.        Sharks defeated Raiders 38-18 at GIO Stadium in Round 26, 2013

3.        Sharks defeated Raiders 30-20 at Remondis Stadium in Round 10, 2013


HE SAID IT

Mitch Cornish: “My spots dependent on form and winning so hopefully if we are winning then I will stay in first grade.”

CLICK HERE to see the full interview with Cornish.

Shaun Fensom: “As professional athletes we like to push the boundaries and I’m happy to say that I’m good to go for Round 1.”

CLICK HERE to see the full interview with Fensom.

Sisa Waqa: “Being a senior player, I’ve got a responsibility to perform and lead the way for my younger team mates and that’s what I’m focused on doing this Sunday.”

CLICK HERE to see the full interview with Waqa.

Jack Wighton: “It’s been a completely different pre-season for me due to the positional change. It was tough but I can’t wait to get out there this Sunday.”

CLICK HERE to see the full interview with Wighton.