Canberra Raiders v New Zealand Warriors

Sunday March 15, 6:30pm, GIO Stadium

CLICK HERE to purchase tickets

Coverage: Live on FOXSports1

Referees: Adam Devcich and David Munro

Video Referees: Steve Clarke and Luke Phillips

After a promising start to the year, the Canberra Raiders will look to secure back-to-back victories in what will be their first home match in 2015.

One of the goals Coach Ricky Stuart has set for the side is to reinstate GIO Stadium as one of the feared venues in the competition.

Stuart, and many other past greats, have spoken to the playing group about how opposition teams used to absolutely despise travelling all the way down to the Nation’s Capital and more often than not, forgoing the two points.

“I’m really looking forward to playing my first home game this Sunday,” said new recruit Iosia Soliola. “I was quite surprised with the amount of support that we had against the Sharks on the weekend so I’m really looking forward to running out in front of the home crowd and hopefully we get a good result for all of our Members and fans.

“We’ve been told by quite a number of past players how much of a fortress this stadium used to be and with the help from our fans, we’re all motivated to once again instil it as an intimidating venue for opposition teams to play at.”

With Shaun Fensom and Jack Wighton overcoming judiciary charges and Jordan Rapana being cleared of any serious injury concerns, Stuart has been able to name the exact same team which defeated the Cronulla Sharks 24-20.

CLICK HERE to see the Raiders team line-up.

Whilst the side was thrilled to come away with the victory over the Sharks in Round 1, every player knows that there is a lot to improve on.

Heightening this pressure to perform is the competition for spots within the club and the fact that both Mounties and the Holden Cup side also registered victories last weekend.

“That’s one of the good things about this club at the moment,” Soliola said. “Having a lot of depth and healthy competition makes us understand that we have to be on our toes and perform because there are boys fighting hard for our spots.”

“The squad is in a very healthy state with a lot of players competing for a lot of spots,” Jarrad Kennedy added. “The competition for spots pushes you to be at your best every week because if you are not then you will be in reserve grade the next week.”

New Zealand has proven to be a tough assignment for Canberra of late. The last three encounters have read 54-18, 54-12 and 50-16 – all in favour of the Warriors.

CLICK HERE to watch the Match Highlights from our last encounter in Round 21, 2014.

What has happened in the past matters little to this squad though with the terms “fresh start” and “new beginning” bandied about frequently over the pre-season.

“We’re not worried about what happened last year,” Soliola said with authority. “This is a new chapter in the club’s history and we can’t concern ourselves with statistics like that.

“We’re trying to create a new culture here in Canberra and it’s nice to see it out on the pitch in the attitude that we showed last Sunday. We’ve got to back it up again this Sunday though or it counts for nothing.”

What Soliola is more concerned about though is a Warriors side looking to make amends for their disappointing showing against the Newcastle Knights in Round 1.

“They had a disappointing start to the season last week so they will be coming out all guns blazing and with a point to prove so we will have to match them.

“We’re not worried about who is writing us off or who is backing us; being down in Canberra all you can do is worry about yourself and that’s the way we like it; we’ve got confidence in ourselves and we can’t wait to get a win for all our fans this Sunday!”

An added incentive for Canberra will be to celebrate their current longest serving player, Dane Tilse's, 200th NRL match.

KEY MATCHUPS

Jack Wighton v Sam Tomkins

After his scintillating Man of the Match display against the Sharks in Round 1 there will be plenty of eyes on Wighton to see if he can replicate that form.

CLICK HERE to see Wighton’s 80 metre solo try.

“A lot of the boys are really excited about what Jack Wighton can bring to the side,” Soliola said. "You only had to watch the game on the weekend to see what he can do but I think that as he gets more experience and more comfortable then he can be anything in this game.”

The match-up between Wighton and Tomkins is one of contrasting styles but one that is certain to bring the crowds to their feet at GIO Stadium. Tomkins’ attacking spark was sorely missed in last weekend’s loss to the Knights.

“Sam is a real handful,” said Soliola, who saw him up close and personal in his time in the English Super League. “He didn’t get Man of Steel for nothing. He brings a lot to the table and adds a lot of potency to their attack.”

Mitch Cornish v Shaun Johnson

Cornish had a solid opening to his 2015 campaign against the Sharks. He had a hand in Wighton’s opening try and his kicking game was effective and proved troublesome for the normally reliable Michael Gordon.

With less than 10 games to his name, the former Junior Kangaroo’s kicking game will be instrumental in turning over the Warriors’ huge pack of forwards and limiting the opportunities for their dynamic back three of Tomkins, Vatuvei and Jonathon Wright.

Cornish will go head-to-head with the magical talents of Shaun Johnson who was crowned as the 2014 Golden Boot winner as the best player in the world.

Johnson was well under par last week and “he will be fired up and ready to make amends this weekend,” according to Cornish’s halves partner Blake Austin.

Iosia Soliola v Ryan Hoffman

Soliola and Hoffman add a lot of similar characteristics to their respective sides: leadership, experience, work-rate and fantastic angled running.

The representative duo were brought to their clubs to instil a winning mentality and mental toughness within their inexperienced, yet wonderfully talented team mates.

At vital points in the game, both men will be looked upon to lead the way forward and their battle on the edge will be one of international standard.

“Ryan has a lot of experience from Melbourne and from Wigan and on the representative stage," Soliola said. "He’s a really mobile back-rower who runs great lines – we’ll have to look out for him.”

STAT ATTACK

Record against the Warriors:

In a total of 34 games against New Zealand, Canberra has won 17 games, lost 15 and drawn on two occasions.

New Zealand’s record at GIO Stadium:

In a total of 12 games played at GIO Stadium, the Warriors have won on just two occasions.

Last three encounters:

1.        Warriors defeated Raiders 54-18 at GIO Stadium in Round 21, 2014

2.        Warriors defeated Raiders 54-12 at Eden in Round 9, 2014

3.        Warriors defeated Raiders 50-16 at Mt Smart Stadium in Round 25, 2013


HE SAID IT

Blake Austin: “It was an honour to debut for this club. I got my name inscribed on the jersey and my playing number which was pretty special and we got a win to top it all off.

CLICK HERE to see the full interview with Austin.

Jarrad Kennedy: “It’s good to have on my resume; the ability to play back-row and centre. It was unfortunate that Jordan got injured towards the end of the game last week but I was happy to cover for him out in the backs.”

CLICK HERE to see the full interview with Kennedy.

Frank-Paul Nuuausala: “I always love playing against the Warriors. I’m from New Zealand and it’s always good playing against some of my old mates that I grew up with.”

CLICK HERE to see the full interview with Nuuausala.

Iosia Soliola: “I think the mood is good; we’re not getting too carried away with the win and we know that we need to be better for this week.

CLICK HERE to see the full interview with Soliola.