NRL Match Preview: Raiders v Bulldogs
The Raiders will be out to spoil the party as the Bulldogs return to their spiritual home at Belmore Sports Ground on Monday night.
The current competition leaders will host a Canberra outfit boosted by the return of Aidan Sezer, Blake Austin and Joey Leilua.
The return of the dynamic halves pairing will bring an element of stability to the Raiders squad, which in recent weeks has seen Elliott Whitehead and Josh Hodgson playing cameos in the halves.
Hodgson in particular, who has been in damaging form to start the season, will benefit from being able to concentrate completely on his position at hooker.
The English import refuses to get caught up in the hype after his stellar start to the 2016 season, instead focusing on improving his game.
“I think there are still a lot of areas I can still improve,” said Hodgson.
“Defensively – personally and as a team – we’ve got some improvements to make, and that’s something we’re definitely looking at.
“Personally it’s a good start, but I think as a team we can certainly be a bit more consistent. We’ve got five points out of a possible eight, but we’re always striving for perfection and we want to improve where we can.”
After giving up two comfortable leads in the last fortnight, Canberra are now sitting sixth on the competition table – just one point behind the league leaders.
Hodgson acknowledged that the Green Machine’s defence has been exposed in important stages in recent times, but will work relentlessly to correct any errors.
“I’m going to keep my head down and keep working hard and keep concentrating on the things we need to work on as a team.”
The Bulldogs defence has been near impenetrable at times in the opening month of the season, but they have conceded three long-range tries so far this year – a stat that will have Raiders’ fans licking their lips as they welcome back Austin and Sezer.
Despite not playing in the Raiders pre-season trial, Austin was straight back to his dangerous best in the Raiders round one victory over the Panthers.
“The Bulldogs game was always the game I had penciled in for my return from injury. I worked really hard on my rehab to be able to come back,” Austin said,
“It’s been torture not having a game of football to look forward to at the end of the week. I think I will be like a kid in a candy store, just happy to be back out on the field.”
The Bulldogs will be coming into the game full of confidence, after dismantling South Sydney Rabbitohs in a dominant display last week. The Raiders haven't played at Belmore Sport Ground since 1998, and will be expecting a fanatical Bulldogs fan base on Monday night.
The Raiders welcome back a number of attacking weapons this weekend, with Austin and Sezer joined by Joey Leilua, who returns from a two match suspension. Elliott Whitehead will shift back to the backrow, having filled in at five-eighth the previous two games.
CLICK HERE for the Raiders NRL team.
The Bulldogs are unchanged for round five, with Chase Stanley (100 games) and Tony William's (150 games) both having milestone games. James Graham captain's the side and will relish the opportunity to go up against his fellow English internationals, Hodgson and Whitehead.
CLICK HERE for the Bulldogs NRL team.
Aidan Sezer vs Moses Mbye
Sezer inspired the Raiders to a thrilling victory in Round One of the competition this year, before spending the next three weeks on the sidelines with a fractured eye-socket. Sezer scored two tries and had a hand in a number of others as the Raiders started their season with a W.
Bulldogs halfback Moses Mbye is growing in confidence every week for the Bulldogs. After starring in his side’s massive victory over South Sydney, Mbye will be a key player for the hosts as they look to remain atop the competition ladder.
Frank-Paul Nuuausala vs James Graham
Nuuausala will be looking to redeem himself on Monday night against the Bulldogs. After conceding a costly penalty late in the Raiders loss to the Titans, he will be itching to prove himself against one of the world’s best front-rowers in James Graham.
A devastating player in attack and defence, Graham is averaging a staggering 174 metres per game to go with 37 tackles. Graham will be the spearhead for what many rate as the best forward pack in the game.
Joseph Leilua vs Josh Morris
Incoming centre Joseph Leilua is primed for a massive performance against the Bulldogs this Monday, having grown up down the street from Belmore Sports Ground. After a few weeks off, Leilua will look to add some spark in attack against a strong Bulldogs defensive unit.
Josh Morris is one of the finest centres in the competition today, and will be brimming with confidence following his two tries against the Rabbitohs on Easter Sunday.
Record against the Bulldogs:
In a total of 62 games against the Bulldogs, Canberra has won 26 games and lost 36.
Raiders record at Belmore Sports Ground:
The Raiders have played 12 games at Belmore Sports Ground, winning 1 and losing 11. The Raiders last played at Belmore in 1998.
Last 3 encounters:
Bulldogs defeated Raiders 41-34 at GIO Stadium in Round 11, 2015
Bulldogs defeated Raiders 22-14 at GIO Stadium in Round 15, 2014
Bulldogs defeated Raiders 28-16 at GIO Stadium in Round 23, 2013
HE SAID IT
Josh Hodgson: "As a team we can certainly be more consistent. We have five points out of a possible eight, but we are always striving for perfection."
CLICK HERE for the interview with Hodgson.
Paul Vaughan: "The Bulldogs have a massive forward pack. If we can get over their starters in the first 20 minutes, we will be halfway there."
CLICK HERE for the interview with Vaughan.
CLICK HERE for all your matchday information for Raiders v Bulldogs, including the best place to watch the game from in Canberra.