A suspension, a debutant and a milestone all headline a massive game for the Canberra Raiders when they take on the first placed Melbourne Storm in a must win match this Saturday.
Sitting two wins outside the top eight, the Raiders are desperate to string some wins together and have mixed things up in an attempt to upset the premiership favourites.
Blake Austin has controlled the right side of the Raiders attack all year while Aidan Sezer has worked the left. Ricky Stuart decided to switch them around for last week’s match and will stick with his choice against the Storm. The switch saw the Raiders get their first win in four games in a move which could make or break the Raiders season.
In another shake up, recent signing Michael Oldfield has moved onto the bench and will make his debut for the club. The Journey-man outside back has played for five different teams and will make the Raiders his sixth on the weekend.
The Raiders will also be without Australian back-rower Josh Papalii, who has been sidelined for two weeks for a shoulder charge. Coming up against a Melbourne Storm outfit who boast seven representative players in their starting 13, the loss of Papalii could prove costly.
Papalii’s suspension puts a dint in the Raiders armour, but Joe Tapine will move into the starting side and is more than capable of filling the void left by Papalii with his tall 107kg frame and late footwork.
In a boost for the team, Raiders impact player Kurt Baptiste will run out for his 50th game in lime green. Baptiste has been sidelined for most of the year injuring his Achilles but the talented rake will finally get a chance to notch up his first milestone for the club.
The Storm have also received a boost with the return of their State of Origin stars this weekend. Five origin reps including Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy slater all return to Craig Bellamy’s side as they look to get back on track after a loss to the Eels in their last game.
Despite the inclusion of these players making the task harder for Ricky’s men, it will be the last time the big three will play together in Canberra. With Cronk leaving the Storm at the end of the year, the famous combination of Smith, Cronk, and Slater will light up GIO Stadium for the final time on Saturday.
With plenty to play for and a point to prove, the Raiders will be out to make a statement this weekend. The match is sure to be something special so make sure you are there at 5.30 GIO Stadium on Saturday.
In a game which still haunts the memories of Raiders fans, the last time the Raiders came up against the Storm was the preliminary final last year.
With a spot in the Grand Final on the line, the Raiders and Storm battled it out in an entertaining affair. With just two points in it at half-time, the Raiders started the second half with a vengeance attacking from the outset and troubling Melbourne’s table topping defence.
But in the end, a costly drop ball and a send-off to Jack Wighton proved too much for the Green machine as they fell agonisingly close to the Grand Final 14-12.
Key Match Ups
Jordan Rapana v Suliasi Vunivalu
The two best wingers in the NRL square up in the contest which is sure to make for an entertaining highlights reel at the end of the match. Both players are currently tied on 14 tries for the season and have been the go to men for their respective teams attack.
Rapana is more deadly from long range with 19 line breaks to Vunivalu’s 14, but the Fijian flyer is unmatched in kick return metres notching up 565m this season to Rapana’s 267m.
Both players can leap high for the ball or stretch out and run the field in an instant, so whoever comes out on top in this match up will play a big role in the outcome of the match.
Aidan Sezer v Cooper Cronk
People say the performance of a half-back determines the outcome of match and in this case it couldn’t be truer. Aidan Sezer led the Raiders to victory last week with his monster 40/20 to set up the match winning try. While Cronk is coming off the back of his 22nd Origin appearance where he helped his team to victory.
Both players are in form and leading their teams from the front. With Cronk leaving the Storm at seasons end, his final trip to Canberra could drive him to perform better while Sezer knows the Raiders must win.
Shannon Boyd v Jesse Bromwich
An Australian front-rower comes up against a Kiwi front-rower in this clash of the titans. With a combined weight of 260kg these two giants will battle it out in the middle of the field with the winner potentially determining the result.
Bromwich has had the edge over Boyd this season averaging 35m more running metres and has almost tripled the offloads of the Cowra born Boyd.
But both players are down on form from last year and haven’t shown their full potential this season. A standout performance from either player could have a big impact on the game and led their team to victory.
Head to Head
Played 38: Raiders 11; Storm 27.
The Raiders have always struggled against the Storm, even once falling to a 14 game losing streak against the Melbourne based side.
Things have been different recently however, with the record slightly more even with four wins from eight matches for either side.
With the most recent match coming in the preliminary final last year, revenge would be in the back of the minds of the Raiders team.
Quote of the Week
“We are different team and a different group of blokes. We know what it takes to win big games we’ve been in some tough games, come out on the right side of them and learnt a lot.”
-Josh Hodgson on the preliminary final defeat to the Storm last year.