The Canberra Raiders head into this week hoping to knock off competition leaders the Sydney Roosters when they face them at GIO Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
The Raiders were narrowly beaten 22-20 by the Wests Tigers last week after fighting back from being 16-0 down after just 18 minutes.
The Roosters moved into first place on the ladder last week after beating the South Sydney Rabbitohs 18-14 at ANZ Stadium.
Canberra have named Emre Guler to make his debut from the interchange bench and become Raider #353, with Jack Murchie making way.
Blake Austin will again start in the halves, with Elliott Whitehead to play in the centres, and Brad Abbey has moved back to fullback with Nick Cotric to play on the wing.
In the Roosters' only change, Dylan Napa starts at prop for the injured Jared Waera-Hargreaves with Nat Butcher joining the bench.
Last time: These sides haven't met since round 12 last year when the Raiders won 24-16 at GIO Stadium.
Canberra led 16-6 at half time before a Roosters comeback saw Sydney trail 18-16 with ten seconds left and ball in hand. As the Roosters threw the ball around and looked to keep the play alive, Aidan Sezer intercepted Daniel Tupou's pass and dashed 30 metres to score and secure an important win for the Green Machine.
Joe Tapine vs Boyd Cordner
The Raiders may have been beaten by the Tigers last week but one man who can hold his head high is Joe Tapine, who played brilliantly. The young second-rower finished with two tries to cap off a performance in which he ran for 155 metres, broke ten tackles and made three line breaks.
This year he has already scored more tries and broken more tackles than in any previous season and that's despite playing just 15 games to date. Watch for him to again wreak havoc on Sunday afternoon.
While Tapine is the type of second rower that makes plays that are impossible to ignore, Boyd Cordner has made a name for himself by doing the unspectacular so well. Early in the season, Cordner was criticised by some for a drop in form but he still captained the Blues to a State of Origin victory and he will be hoping he can add a second premiership ring to his growing trophy cabinet later this year.
Nick Cotric vs Blake Ferguson
This week, Nick Cotric returns to the left wing where he was prolific through the first 17 rounds of the 2018 season. The 19-year-old's form nearly saw him picked in State of Origin and he is currently first in the NRL for tackle breaks and second in line breaks.
Blake Ferguson has equally been brilliant for the Roosters out on the wing. If it wasn't for New South Wales selectors favouring youth, the ex-Canberra Raider would likely have added to his seven Origin caps. He leads the NRL in running metres and is behind only Jason Taumalolo for post-contact metres.
These two strong wingers are both vital cogs in their side's success that can make huge metres through the middle and score plenty of tries out wide so watch for the Raiders' left edge, and the Roosters' right, to play a huge role in deciding Sunday's result.
Josh Hodgson vs Jake Friend
For these two highly rated hookers, the 2018 season can be split into two halves.
Josh Hodgson of course missed the first 14 rounds through injury before playing superbly to remind anyone who had forgotten just how good he is. In his 8 appearances he's laid on six try assists, made nearly 300 tackles and averaged 90 kicking metres per game, not to mention the lift he brings to the team whenever he runs out in the lime green jersey.
A tough first half of the season for Jake Friend saw him receive more than his fair share of criticism with plenty of critics saying he was past his best and it was time for a younger player to come in and replace him. His defence was as good as ever, and he leads the NRL in tackles, but he seemed off the pace at times in attack. That all changed though when Friend starred for the Roosters in their thrashing of Manly in round 19. He finished with four tackle breaks, two try assists and plenty of dummy half runs and hasn't looked back since, ensuring we are primed for a great contest between two fantastic number nines.
Quote of the week:
"Canberra always get out there and support us, we've just got to turn some of these games into wins for them." -Joe Tapine
Head to head: The Roosters have had the better of things in the past, winning 33 of the 60 previous matchups.
The Raiders though can take faith from the fact that they have won the last four meetings played at GIO Stadium.