The Canberra Raiders will be looking to conquer Bathurst this weekend when they come up against a confident Penrith Panthers outfit at Carrington Park this Saturday.
After falling agonisingly short last weekend against the Sea Eagles in their third golden point loss of the season, the Raiders will have a point to prove when they look to get revenge on the Panthers who beat them by a field goal once again, the last time the two teams met in Bathurst.
Ricky Stuart’s men will be hoping to have the match all wrapped up by the full time siren this time around to avoid yet another close defeat and securer a critical win to get their season back on track.
Both teams have shown that they are not afraid to throw the ball around and play an exciting brand of Rugby League, which could result in a battle of the backs with the winner to heavily impact the outcome of the match.
The match also has extra significance for the Raiders team with a host of players growing up in the country, who will relish an opportunity to play in front of a country crowd once again.
The Panthers are coming off their biggest win of the season after they thumped the Bulldogs 38-0 last weekend. The decision to switch captain Matt Moylan from fullback to five-eighth have proven a master stroke as the panthers are now looking for a fourth win in a row.
The Panthers will field an unchanged side from their victory last week while the Raiders are forced to reshuffle their forward pack after losing Australian prop Shannon Boyd and interchange forward Dunamis Lui to knee injuries last week.
Versatile utility Sia Soliola will pack down in the front row along-side Junior Paulo with Luke Bateman filling in to start the match at lock. Forward Royce Hunt will make his NRL debut for the Raiders coming off the bench in the number 15 jersey, after impressing for the Mounties earning a call up into the first grade team.
The last time these two teams faced off was under the pressure cooker of an elimination final last year when the Raiders came out on top and booked a spot in the preliminary final in front of an ecstatic home crowd, 22-12.
After going into the sheds leading 12-0, the Panthers ran in two quick tries to bring themselves back into the match, only to have their hopes crushed by Jarrod Croker who kicked over two penalty goals and converted his own try to give the Raiders an important win.
Blake Austin vs Matt Moylan
Matt Moylan was instrumental in the Panthers big win over the Bulldogs last week in his first game starting at five-eighth. The decision to get the ball in the young captains hands as much as possible has paid off, but he will need to show his consistency when he comes up against the experience of Blake Austin.
Austin has been at the wheel of the Raiders attack since he debuted for the club in 2015, his running game and cut-out passes have terrorised opposition defences and despite a slow start to the year he has been starting to find the form which saw him become a household name.
With both teams heavily reliant on attack and throwing the ball around, the winner of this match up will heavily sway the final outcome of the match.
Jordan Rapana vs Josh Mansour
Jordan Rapana has been the most dangerous winger in the NRL this year, bagging 13 tries in as many matches including four try assists and averaging over 150 running metres per game. The Kiwi international hasn’t had too many problems getting around his opposite man this season but he could have some difficulty coming up against the returning Mansour.
Mansour played just his first game of the season last week when he returned from an ACL injury. The former NSW Blues winger picked up where he left off scoring a try and setting up another in a confident return to the top flight.
It will be Mansours first big test since returning from injury when he comes one on one with Rapana, with the matchup sure to be a highlight of the match.
Luke Bateman vs Trent Merrin
With the edge men set to shine, the battle in the middle might go unnoticed but that doesn’t make this match up any less important. Luke Bateman has spent most of his NRL career coming off the bench but has been slowly edging his way into the NRL first team. Bateman will be determined to prove his worth by over throwing Australian and Blues rep Trent Merrin this weekend.
Merrin has been one of the top forwards in the NRL for quite some time and along with his natural skill and ability he now has a wealth of experience to draw from.
If Bateman can contain Merrin early on and prevent his late offloads and limit his post contact metres, it will set the platform for the Raiders attack to build off and will be a vital part of the game.
Head to Head
Played 70; Panthers 34; Raiders 35; Drawn 1. History shows there isn’t much to separate these two teams with the game this weekend set to be no different.
The Raiders currently sit just below the top eight in 9th position while the Panthers sit directly below in 10th position.
Both teams are also tied on 12 competition points separated only by for and against, with the Raiders having only lost one match to the Panthers in the last two years, with that defeat also coming at Bathurst when they lost by one point in round 9 last year.
Ladder position: Raiders 9th Panthers 10th
Last Five Matches: 22-12, 18-19, 30-22, 34-18, 34-24.
Win %: 53% 47%
Attack Ranking: 1st – 9th
Defence Ranking: 9th – 7th
Quote of the Week
"They (Penrith) played some great footy on the weekend but we're looking at ourselves and how we can do better this week."
Aidan Sezer on how the Raiders are preparing for the game.