A sell-out crowd will spur the Canberra Raiders on as they face the Cronulla Sharks in an elimination final at GIO Stadium on Saturday evening.
With tickets being snapped up in just over 24 hours, it will be the second-largest Viking clap of the season with 9,600 screaming Raiders fans set to bring the noise.
The ‘Baby Raiders’ defeated the Sharks last week in a high scoring encounter on the back of big performances from Sam Williams and Tom Starling.
Williams had himself a night bagging 14 points, while Starling was dynamite out of dummy half, with four try involvements including a four-pointer of his own.
With three players making their NRL debut and six players from last year’s Jersey Flegg Grand Final team, they were able to grind out a convincing win against their more experienced counterparts.
While understrength themselves, Cronulla have been under the microscope all year as they are yet to defeat a top eight side in 2020.
Although a damning stat, the Sharks know a win this weekend would immediately put the critics at bay and could kick-start a deep finals run.
Cronulla will be quite confident knowing they have defeated the Raiders before in week one of the finals in Canberra, this came back in 2016.
The Green Machine have made a plethora of changes as Ricky Stuart decided to give some players a rest to nurse niggling injuries last week.
Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad replaces Adam Cook at fullback. Jarrod Croker and Jordan Rapana return demoting Matt Timoko and Harley Smith-Shields to the reserves.
Jack Wighton and George Williams are both named in the halves and will replace Matt Frawley and Sam Williams. John Bateman and Elliot Whitehead are named to start in the back row with Hudson Young and Corey Harawira-Naera starting on the bench.
Josh Papalii is back in the front row, Joseph Tapine is at lock with the returning Sia Soliola and Silivia Havili to round out the bench. Kai O’Donnell, Darby Medlyn, and Jarrett Subloo drop out of the squad, while Ryan Sutton will miss an indefinite period with a knee injury.
Cronulla have also had a major reshuffle, with John Morris boosted by the return of suspended halfback Chad Townsend.
Townsend will slot straight in, as will Sione Katoa, Josh Dugan, Blayke Brailey, Toby Rudolf, and Siosifa Talakai.
Wade Graham returns to more familiar territory to the back row, former Raider Scott Sorensen drops to the bench, Nene Macdonald, Mawene Hiroti, Billy Magoulias, Teig Wilton, and Daniel Vasquez have all dropped out.
Fullback for Raiders is number 1 Charnze Nicoll-KlokstadFullback for Sharks is number 1 William Kennedy
Winger for Raiders is number 2 Semi ValemeiWinger for Sharks is number 2 Sione Katoa
Centre for Raiders is number 3 Jarrod CrokerCentre for Sharks is number 3 Josh Dugan
Centre for Raiders is number 4 Jordan RapanaCentre for Sharks is number 4 Jesse Ramien
Winger for Raiders is number 5 Nick CotricWinger for Sharks is number 5 Ronaldo Mulitalo
Five-Eighth for Raiders is number 6 Jack WightonFive-Eighth for Sharks is number 6 Connor Tracey
Halfback for Raiders is number 7 George WilliamsHalfback for Sharks is number 7 Chad Townsend
Prop for Raiders is number 8 Josh PapaliiProp for Sharks is number 8 Braden Hamlin-Uele
Hooker for Raiders is number 9 Tom StarlingHooker for Sharks is number 9 Blayke Brailey
Prop for Raiders is number 15 Iosia SoliolaProp for Sharks is number 13 Toby Rudolf
2nd Row for Raiders is number 11 John Bateman2nd Row for Sharks is number 11 Briton Nikora
2nd Row for Raiders is number 12 Elliott Whitehead2nd Row for Sharks is number 12 Wade Graham
Lock for Raiders is number 13 Joseph TapineLock for Sharks is number 14 Siosifa Talakai
Interchange for Raiders is number 10 Dunamis LuiInterchange for Sharks is number 10 Aaron Woods
Interchange for Raiders is number 14 Siliva HaviliInterchange for Sharks is number 15 Scott Sorensen
Interchange for Raiders is number 16 Hudson YoungInterchange for Sharks is number 16 Andrew Fifita
Interchange for Raiders is number 17 Corey Harawira-NaeraInterchange for Sharks is number 17 Jack Williams
- Referee: Grant Atkins
- Touch Judge: Phil Henderson
- Touch Judge: Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski
- Senior Review Official: Jared Maxwell
You only have to go as far as last Saturday, as a fresh-faced Raiders team played like a team of seasoned veterans as they knocked off Cronulla in what was a dress rehearsal for this week. The Raiders led from start to finish, which showed a glimpse of what’s to come in the future.
Raiders v Sharks - Elimination final
Nick Cotric vs Sione Katoa
Cotric has had a stellar 2020 campaign; he has scored 12 tries and ranks fourth in the NRL for tackle-breaks.
While his right hand man has changed a few times this season on his inside, Cotric has developed a key partnership with Jordan Rapana, who can also break a few tackles.
While the duo are experienced and are both strong defensively, they will have their hands full with Katoa who has lit up the league this year.
Katoa is fourth on the NRL’s leading try-scorer list with 15; he has 16 line breaks to his name this year and also averages a very handy 140 run-meters per game.
With both men able to find the stripe, expect a plethora of action down the Raiders' right-hand side.
George Williams vs Chad Townsend
Williams has had a stellar debut season in the NRL, defying all expectations and delivering on the big stage, but the stage does not get bigger than this.
The Englishman has 12 try assists and has forced a whopping 15 line drop outs this year which is a credit to his game.
A great organiser, Williams has formed a formidable partnership with his halves partner Wighton.
Townsend on the other hand returns from a three-game suspension, he is a premiership-winning half and knows how to win football games.
Both men are their sides respectable game-managers, expect both men to utilise their strong kicking games to control the tempo of this clash.
Tom Starling vs Blayke Brailey
When Josh Hodgson went down, many thought the Raiders were done… step up young Starling.
Since Hodgson’s injury, the Raiders have won 9 from 11 with the hooking duo of Siliva Havili and Starling filling in nicely.
Starling was untouchable last week, continuing his dazzling run of form and will be eager to make an impression in his first finals clash.
Brailey is another livewire youngster, he made his debut in 2019 and has played every game this year, with a handy six try assists and 28 tackles per game to his name.
With both player’s young and full of energy, expect both men to be in the thick of the action as they look to get their forward pack rolling.
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Head to head:
In 42 matches played between the two sides, Cronulla have a 23 to 19 game advantage. Although the Sharks have the advantage, the Raiders have won the last three games between the two sides.