The Canberra Raiders will return on home soil for the first time since Round One when they host the St George Illawarra Dragons on Friday night.
It will be the Green Machine’s first appearance at GIO Stadium since March 13 after spending the past five weeks on the road and they will be backed by a small contingent of Raiders members.
The travel has taken a toll on the Raiders, they have lost their past two matches, but they will look to return home in style this week.
After a gallant display last week where they forced golden point on the back of two tries from fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad in the last five minutes, the Raiders will be hoping they don’t have to play catch up this week.
A fast start is essential for the Raiders this week, they have not scored the first try in any game since their victory over the Melbourne Storm in round three.
After starting the season with four losses and no wins, an improved Dragons put together two straight victories after that, but they were soundly defeated by the Sydney Roosters last week.
Four competition points separate the two sides after seven rounds of play, Canberra are currently sitting in seventh, while the Dragons are 12th. In the past eight meetings between these two sides, not much has separated them with both sides posting four wins apiece.
Canberra do have a strong record against St George at GIO, winning 12 of 16 which includes an undefeated period from 2000-2014.
After forcing a table-topping Parramatta side to golden point last week on the back of a flurry of points late in the second half, the Raiders will be keen to extend their attacking prowess.
The Dragons will also take a lot of confidence from last week’s display, although they were defeated by the reigning premiers, they were never out of the game and their defence was rock solid.
With the Raiders scoring three of their four tries down the left edge last week, the ‘Red V’ can expect plenty of attacking raids coming down their right side.
Coach Ricky Stuart has made a plethora of changes this week as he looks to steer his side to victory, Jordan Rapana is out with a minor calf injury, Bailey Simonsson moves from the bench to take his spot and Michael Oldfield replaces Curtis Scott at centre, with Scott moving to the bench.
Joseph Tapine is back from a knee injury; he will replace Corey Horsburgh (foot) at lock.
The Dragons are unchanged, with coach Paul McGregor sticking solid with the same 17 who put up a brave challenge last week.
The Raiders defeated the Dragons 34-16 on a cold Sunday night in Wollongong, with the game marred by a send-off from Raiders winger Nick Cotric for a dangerous throw. A 12-men Canberra outfit would be too strong, and the win cemented their premiership credentials.
Jack Wighton vs Corey Norman
When Wighton plays well, the whole team is rolling, the same can be said about Norman and the Dragons.
Both men like to play what’s in front of them and are very strong ball runners, in 2020, Wighton is averaging 82 metres per game, and Norman 76 metres per game.
Wighton is a constant threat with the ball in hand and already has four tries to his name after only seven rounds and also two try assists.
With a rookie halfback outside of him in Adam Clune, Norman has been rushed into the six jersey to steady the ship and has taken on greater responsibility.
Both players are silky and a lot of good happens when they’re playing well, expect both men to be heavily involved in proceedings.
Raiders v Dragons - Round 8
Josh Hodgson vs Cameron McInnes
All eyes will be on the two hookers when they meet on Friday, with both Hodgson and McInnes the key to their side’s success.
Hodgson gets through a mountain of work in the middle of the ruck in each game he plays, with the English International averaging 42 tackles per game this year.
The same can be said about McInnes, who is averaging a whopping 56 tackles per game and is leading the competition on average tackles a game.
Hodgson will be especially keen to keep the attacking momentum going from last week, where he stated he wanted to get back to the basics and it showed with the Raiders scoring an equal season-high of 24 points.
Both men have the ability to get their forward packs rolling and with the battle of the forwards looming large, expect both dummy halves to play smart and hard as they look to guide their side to victory.
Josh Papalii vs Paul Vaughan
A truly colossal clash in every sense of the imagination with both these props are representative players, so expect big things when these two giants meet.
Papalii has continued where he left off from last year, averaging 155 metres per game and he is always a threat in the opposition red zone.
A former Raiders, Vaughan is arguably one of the best forwards in the competition and is averaging 166 metres per game in comparison to his counterpart.
Coaches Comment: Stuart talks team changes, Horsburgh injury
The battle of the forward packs will rely heavily on which prop can make more yardage and who can set the platform for their team moving forward.
Head to head:
In 30 matches played between the two sides, the Raiders have the advantage with 18 wins compared to the Dragons 11, with the sides sharing the spoils with a draw on one occasion.