Canberra Raiders and Penrith Panthers ended last year in tenth and eleventh respectively.  Both sides will be looking to improve on their home and away record.  The Raiders recording only three home victories in 2015, Penrith no better on the road with only two wins.

LAST TIME OUT

Canberra traveled to Wade Park, Orange for their trial match against Newcastle.  With both sides at near full-strength in the opening half it was a comfortable 34-6 lead to the Green Machine.  The final score 34-28 not a true reflection of the Raiders dominance.

Penrith hosted local rivals Parramatta a fortnight ago at Pepper Stadium.  On a wet night at the foot of the mountains it was Parramatta who went on to record a 22-8 victory.  Both sides described as being ‘rusty’.

KEY BATTLES

The battle of the rakes, James Segeyaro and Josh Hodgson will be crucial to either sides hopes.  Hodgson was outstanding for the Raiders in the corresponding clash at Pepper Stadium last year.  Segeyaro struggled for consistency but he’s one of those players who can bounce back and become the best hooker in the comp like he was in 2014.

Canberra boast a big forward pack with Shannon Boyd, Frank-Paul Nuuausala, Josh Papalii and Shaun Fensom in the starting thirteen.  Paul Vaughan from the bench will provide punch.  Penrith must match them in the battle.  That’s where the inclusion of former Dragon Trent Merrin will be beneficial.  We already know how good Bryce Cartwright is, but it’s Sam McKendry who can’t afford to take step back in the battle.  Elijah Taylor starting from the bench is an interesting move, possibly be introduced once the game settles after the opening twenty.

PREDICTION

Despite being without the services of captain Matt Moylan, Will Smith is an exceptional replacement at fullback for the Panthers.  Dean Whare will be sorely missed too.  Waqa Blake reportedly has bulked up over the off-season and should return a much better player.  Plenty of hope among Panther fans that Anthony Griffin can get this side focused, leaner and meaner for success.

When you don’t select former Storm winger Sisa Waqa in the squad for the first round of the season, it indicates how strong the Raiders back line is.  Not even Blake Austin can crack a spot in the starting side, but that may be a result of a niggling injury during the pre-season.  If only Canberra can bring that confidence to the park it could be a winning start in the Nations Capital for the first time since 2013.

Canberra won both matches in 2015, Penrith doing similar a year earlier.

It won’t be the prettiest game to watch this round but it will be keenly contested with some flashes of brilliance.

Panthers by 6.

SQUADS

Raiders: 1 Jack Wighton 2 Edrick Lee 3 Jarrod Croker (c) 4 Joseph Leilua 5 Jordan Rapana 6 Sam Williams 7 Aidan Sezer 8 Shannon Boyd 9 Josh Hodgson 10 Frank-Paul Nuuausala 11 Josh Papalii 12 Elliott Whitehead 13 Shaun Fensom. Interchange: 14 Blake Austin 15 Iosia Soliola 16 Paul Vaughan 17 Jeff Lima 18 Kurt Baptiste

Panthers: 1 Will Smith 2 Josh Mansour 3 Waqa Blake 4 Peta Hiku 5 Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 6 Jamie Soward 7 Peter Wallace 8 Sam McKendry 9 James Segeyaro 10 Reagan Campbell-Gillard 11 Bryce Cartwright 12 Isaah Yeo 13 Trent Merrin. Interchange: 14 Tyrone Peachey 15 Jeremy Latimore 16 Suaia Matagi 17 Elijah Taylor

Referees: Gavin Badger, Dave Munro