NRL Match Preview: Raiders v Panthers
The Canberra Raiders will be hoping the home ground advantage will be enough to get them over the line in their do or die clash with the Penrith Panthers.
With just three rounds yet to play, the Raiders must win if they are any chance of playing finals football, but come up against an equally as determined Penrith outfit who can fall out of the top eight if they lose.
The Raiders hold a healthy record against Penrith at Canberra winning four of their last five games in the national capital.
But the Panthers are currently riding a tidal wave of momentum after winning their past six games and have a chance to move into the top four with a win.
Being the second last game of the round, the match is only intensified as each side will have a better idea of where they place on the ladder before the match begins.
The Raiders are coming off the back of a comprehensive win against the Warriors last week and will field and unchanged team from the side that won 36-14.
The only concern being Joey Leilua who has been cleared to play despite suffering a knee injury during the game.
The Panthers have suffered a big blow with NSW Origin hooker Peter Wallace ruled out by a hand injury.
Young hooker Sione Katoa moves into the starting line-up for the first time in his career while Trent Merrin is named on the extended bench but not expected to play.
It’s hard to forget the last time these two teams came together after the Panthers stole the win off the Raiders in the dying seconds of their round 14 clash.
Up 20-12 with two minutes remaining, the Raiders looked set to cruise home to an easy win. But after a strong defensive display the Raiders fell away in the final minutes of the match letting in two tries in two minutes, handing the Panthers a clutch 24-20 victory much to the disbelief of Raiders fans.
Tensions also boiled over in the contest with back-rowers Corey Harawira-Naera and Joseph Tapine sin-binned for a melee in the opening half.
Blake Austin v Matt Moylan
It was a Matt Moylan master class that gave the Panthers the edge over the Raiders last time, but if Austin can outclass his opposite number it could have a big impact on the outcome of the game.
Moylan was crucial in the Panthers win, securing two try assists and crossing for one himself.
However, the chink in Moylan’s armour is his poor defensive work rate. If Austin can direct a lot of play down Moylan’s edge and tire the inexperienced half out, it will limit his impact in attack and give the Raiders an advantage.
Jordan Rapana v Josh Mansour
Strength and power meets speed and agility in this match up which is sure to light up GIO Stadium. Since returning from a knee injury Mansour hasn’t been at his best, but the NSW winger is still capable to turning a match on its head.
Mansour currently averages more running metres per game than Rapana but New Zealand born winger has the edge over Mansour in almost every other category.
Rapana will need to be at his best to outshine Mansour but if Rapana can find some open space he has the ability to win the match for the Raiders.
Junior Paulo v James Tamou
Standing three inches shorter but weighing nine kilograms more, Junior Paulo comes up against a tough opponent in James Tamou this weekend.
Tamou has been strong in the middle for Penrith, recording three line breaks and missing few tackles all year. But the former NSW prop will need to on top of his game to stop Paulo who averages almost 40 more running metres per game.
If Paulo is able to get on top of Tamou early in the game and stop the talented front rower from offloading the ball, it will go a long way to helping the Raiders chances.
Head to Head
Since their first game in 1982, the Raiders have played Penrith on 72 occasions. Despite this there is almost nothing to split the two teams over the years with the Raiders winning 36 of their encounters while the Panthers have won 35.
Even the points scored is similar, with the Raiders scoring 1,504 points against the Panthers while Penrith have managed 1,487 points against the green machine.
Quote of the Week
"We're hoping to put on a good performance for our fans, we definitely owe them, it's going to be a tough game and we'll be focused on getting the win."