The Canberra Raiders will be looking to make it back-to-back wins when they host the South Sydney Rabbitohs at GIO Stadium on Saturday night.
It is the first meeting between the two sides since the Preliminary Final triumph which sent the Green Machine to the grand final for the first time since 1994.
The undermanned Raiders claimed a bit of grand final revenge after a courageous victory against the Sydney Roosters which capped off their first visit to the SCG since 1987.
Missing seven starters through injury and facing a red-hot Roosters side was still not enough to dampen the Raiders spirits.
An impressive display from the Raiders forward pack, most notably from Josh Papalii and Dunamis Lui set the foundation for a famous win.
Papalii will have fond memories playing against the Rabbitohs, as it was his try last year which separated the two teams and sent the capacity crowd at GIO stadium into raptures.
Being one of the form props in the competition, Papalii ran for 218 metres and scored a try which turned out to be the eventual match-winner.
Lui made two massive one-on-one steals and crossed for the first try of the match while making 26 tackles with only one missed tackle.
The Raiders will need a similar performance this week against a strong South Sydney team and will need their pack to stand up to lead from the front again.
Though their job gets a little tougher with a mounting injury toll worsening with Michael Oldfield set to miss two to three weeks with a hamstring injury.
The Raiders are sitting on 12 competition points in sixth position, while their opponents are in eighth with 10 points. A win here is vital for both sides, the Raiders will look to maintain pressure on the top four, while the Rabbitohs will look to cement their place inside the top eight.
Canberra met South Sydney twice last year both at home, with the sides sharing a win each with not much separating them on both occasions.
The Rabbitohs will be looking to bounce back after a disappointing 20-18 loss against the Newcastle Knights, although will take plenty of confidence from a strong finish and almost stole the match after trailing 20-0 with 14 minutes to go.
With Josh Hodgson missing, the Rabbitohs will need to be wary of the attacking threat of the Raiders halves in Jack Wighton and George Williams.
Williams looked likely every time he touched the ball against the Roosters and found himself crossing the line for his efforts in the second half.
Coach Ricky Stuart has made some changes to his side, Semi Valemi will make his starting debut on the wing with Jordan Rapana replacing Oldfield in the centres. Harley Smith-Shield is set to become Raider #367 as he joins the bench.
The Rabbitohs have been forced to make a number of changes, James Roberts and Ethan Lowe will be missing for a number of weeks through injury. Campbell Graham will return to take Roberts place. Bayley Sironen is promoted to the starting side and debutant Jack Johns will take his spot on the bench.
The Raiders qualified for their first grand final since 1994 after a 16-10 victory in front of 26,567 fans. It was the first time that Canberra has ever hosted a preliminary final and a late Josh Papalii try under the posts rubberstamped the Raiders return to the ‘big dance’.
Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad vs Alex Johnston
The battle of the fullbacks will be one to keep a close eye on, Nicoll-Klokstad is starting to find a purple-patch of form and Johnston is trying to fight for the number one jersey.
Nicoll-Klokstad is starting to find some play-making skills which was seen last week where his grubber found an open Jarrod Croker who scored.
Match Highlights: Roosters v Raiders
The New Zealand International has been averaging a whopping 188.9 metres per game and is third in the competition for runs made.
Johnston is looking to fill the shoes of Latrell Mitchell, who is missing through suspension and will need to have a massive game if he wants to cement the fullback position.
Look for both men to be heavily involved and expect both players to make a lot of metres coming of their respective red zones.
Jack Wighton vs Cody Walker
Both players have very potent running games and are at the forefront of their sides attack, so expect no different when Wighton and Walker meet.
Wighton was massive against the Roosters, running for 110 metres and having a good night off the boot, kicking for 299 metres.
The Origin representative picked up three Dally M points in the win and is mounting pressure at the top of the leader board.
Walker is one of the biggest threats the Rabbitohs pose, he is averaging 88 metres per game and has 7 try assists already this season.
Walker scored 16 tries last season, including one against the Raiders in Round 10, which will have the Raiders defence on high alert.
Both players will be the focal point of their teams attack and plenty of good things happen when they’re playing well.
Siliva Havili vs Damien Cook
With Hodgson missing for the duration of the year through injury, Havili was immense against the Roosters and will need to repeat that type of performance against a representative player in Cook this week.
Havili’s defence was a highlight, with the big-bodied hooker making 34 tackles against the reigning premiers.
Not only was Havili huge, Tom Starling was just as big off the bench putting some big hits and also putting on a try assist for Papalii.
Cook has become one of the premier hookers of the competition and the new rules have given him more rein to attack.
The hooking rotation will need to again be on point if they are the overcome Cook and the Rabbitohs.
Head to head:
In 28 matches played between the sides, the Raiders have a slender advantage with 15 wins compared to the Rabbitohs 13 wins.