Match Preview: Raiders v Sea Eagles
The Raiders will be out to secure third spot on the ladder and potentially push for a top-two spot when they take on the Manly Sea Eagles at Brookvale Oval on Saturday.
Sam Williams is set to play his first game for the Raiders since Round 8 after Blake Austin injured his hand in training. Williams has travelled to Sydney with the rest of the team and will slot into the halves alongside Aidan Sezer.
The halfback has only made five NRL appearances this season, but led the team to their last finals appearance in 2012 alongside Josh McCrone.
The Raiders made the second week of finals on that occasion before losing to the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
Although Ricky Stuart admitted that Austin’s incident was unfortunate, he isn’t fazed by the dilemma.
“We are not a one man team, and Sam Williams will come into the team now and we know he’ll do a great job for us,” Stuart said.
“This will challenge us and everybody has to buy in and assist in picking up the slack.”
Heading into the game against the Sea Eagles, Josh Papalii is wary about facing a Manly side who are out of finals contention.
“Manly is going to come out firing. They’ve got a few players retiring and leaving the club. It’s going to be tough on Saturday,” Papalii said.
“It’s important for us not to get too comfortable. We may be secured in the top four, but we’ve still got to play good coming into finals.”
Heading into the final two matches of the regular season, the Raiders are a chance of clinching second place on the ladder.
“Personally, I am [aiming for second spot], it would be nice to get a home final,” Papalii said.
"Obviously, we’ve got to win two games and need the Sharks to lose one more or lose both, but that’s out of our control. All we can focus on is winning the next two.”
The Raiders are attempting to win their ninth straight game and in the process break their losing streak at Brookvale Oval, having not won at the venue since 2010.
Manly are out of finals contention, but will be out to salvage at the end of a tough season and break a three-match losing streak.
Sam Williams headlines the changes that Ricky Stuart has made for Saturday’s match. Despite Austin’s absence, the returns of Josh Hodgson and Edrick Lee from suspension and injury respectively are a timely boost.
Junior Paulo misses the match with a lower back injury sustained against the Eels, and Paul Vaughan takes his place in the starting side. Shaun Fensom and Brenko Lee are named on an extended bench.
For Manly, both Dylan Walker and Apisai Koroisau return to the starting lineup in what is a huge boost for Trent Barrett’s men. Jamie Lyon hasn’t recovered in time from a hamstring injury for what was set to be his final appearance at Brookvale before retiring.