NRL Match Preview: Raiders v Dragons
The Raiders will be looking to return to the winners’ circle this Thursday night when they take on the Dragons at Jubilee Oval.
The Green Machine will head to Sydney to take on St George Illawarra buoyed by the inclusions of their six representative stars.
Following a narrow one-point loss at the hands of the Panthers, five-eighth Blake Austin says the side has enjoyed the extended break.
“We had a good ten days off, and we’ve all refreshed, and [we’re] keen to get back in and play some footy,” said Austin.
“The Dragons are going to be a really tough match this week, and we’ll be preparing that way again.”
With questions lingering about Austin’s fitness after a number of injury concerns disrupted his start to 2016, the former City Origin player put those worries to bed after a week off over the representative round.
“It came at a good time for myself, it allowed me to get a bit more training under my belt, and get away from footy a little bit, spend some time with the kids and things like that. Mentally and physically it’s been really good for me.”
Ricky Stuart’s side will welcome back Australian front-rower Josh Papalii, as well as four Country stars, but it is Canberra’s lone City representative that Austin believes will have the biggest impact.
“Aidan had a really good match and should take a lot out of it, and as did the four Country boys – [they] performed very well too. I think we’ll have to match their enthusiasm.
“Hopefully he can bring back some confidence from his performance in Tamworth. I thought he did really well and was probably the best half on the field.”
Austin highlighted the importance of a win to gain some momentum following the week off.
“We’ve probably given ourselves a pass mark for the first quarter of the season, but we probably would have liked to have performed a bit better than what we have.
“Leading into the next little block of games I think it’s really important we start with a win against the Dragons on Thursday.”
The Dragons have made a patchy start to the season so far, entering Round 10 with four wins and five losses. Gaining momentum with wins over the Titans and Roosters in Round Seven and Eight, the Dragons were soundly beaten by the Warriors in Round Nine.
Only one point behind the Raiders on the ladder, the Dragons could make a jump into the top eight with a win on Thursday.
The Raiders have named an unchanged line-up from their Round Nine clash against the Panthers. Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer will partner in the halves, with Clay Priest again named on the bench.
City v Country came at a cost for the Dragons, with Jack De Belin suffering a shoulder injury that will see him out until Round 16. De Belin has been one of the Dragons best so far this season, and his replacement Will Matthews will have big shoes to fill in the lock position.
Mitch Rein resumes his role at Hooker after pulling out of City v Country with an injury complaint. Coach Paul McGregor has named an extended bench of five.
Jack Wighton vs Josh Dugan
Country fullback Jack Wighton will come up against a former Raider in Australian centre Josh Dugan, who will don the number one for the Dragons this Thursday.
Blues coach Laurie Daley will be keeping a close eye on this game, which looms as a big opportunity for Wighton to push his claims as a dark horse for a New South Wales jersey.
Since leaving the club, Dugan has picked up three wins in four matches against the Green Machine, and crossed for the one try.
Jordan Rapana vs Jason Nightingale
Arguably the premier winger in the competition at the moment, Jordan Rapana was unlucky to miss out on a maiden New Zealand jersey.
The Raiders flyer will look to show the Kiwis selectors what they missed out on with a big performance against incumbent winger Nightingale.
Rapana been one of Canberra’s best players in 2016, and will have a point to prove against the Dragons.
Shannon Boyd vs Mike Cooper
How will Shannon Boyd cope with the four day turnaround following City v Country? It's an interesting question - with Big Boyd needing to be on top of his game if the Raiders forward pack want to dominate. Boyd played 30 minutes for Country on Sunday, down on his normal 35-40 minute output.
English international Mike Cooper will be looking to pick apart any tiredness in Boyd's game. Cooper has made a strong start to the season with the Dragons, and will be a key figurehead for the Dragons go forward on Thursday. Boyd has a decent size advantage over Cooper, which may prove pivotal on Thursday night.
The Raiders have clashed with St George Illawarra on 26 occasions, with the famous hoodoo gifting the Green Machine sixteen victories.
The trend has been reversed in the last few years, with the Red V claiming the spoils in the last three encounters:
- Dragons defeated Raiders 32-18 at WIN Stadium in Round 10, 2015
- Dragons defeated Raiders 22-20 at GIO Stadium in Round 3, 2015
- Dragons defeated Raiders 34-16 at GIO Stadium in Round 23, 2014
HE SAID IT
Blake Austin - “We probably would have liked to have performed a bit better than we have over a consistent period.”
CLICK HERE for the full interview with Austin.
Luke Bateman - “I definitely see it as a challenge to step up and play my best footy to make sure that I have the best chance of staying in the team.”
CLICK HERE for the full interview with Bateman.
“Me and Jordan always spoke to each other about just keeping our form up and just being consistent, so if we keep doing that then we keep each other accountable.”