2nd plays 6th. Although it is very early days, most rugby league fans would have been surprised to see both the Raiders and Titans start the season so brightly.
Despite strong off-season recruitment, the Raiders have had to deal with injuries to both their halves. Their draw against Newcastle was an opportunity lost. The Raiders lost a sizeable halftime lead, but Ricky Stuart would be happy that his team can pick up points while Sezer and Austin are injured.
The Titans have been the biggest surprise so far. Last week’s upset win over the in form Tigers is a statement of how far the team has come since last season. They may not be able to keep producing wins in that manner but the Titans have a forward pack as good as any other in the competition.
LAST TIME OUT
Against the Knights, the Raiders showed once again how much they improved but also how far they have to go to become genuine premiership contenders. The Green Machine avoided defeat in a tight game for the third week in a row but once again the Canberra based club let the opposition back into the game. With a sizeable lead approaching half time, the Knights scored a try on the verge of the break. Once Shannon Boyd had to leave the field for concussion, Newcastle went on the attack scoring three tries in the space of ten minutes and almost won the game. Back at GIO Stadium for this fixture, the Raiders will want to get back to winning ways before a tricky run of games: Bulldogs (A), Eels (A), Sharks (H).
The Gold Coast managed a come from behind win against the Tigers. A burst of tries in the fifteen minutes following the break produced four tries as the Titans blew the Tigers’ defense away. Prime candidates for the wooden spoon this season, the Titans have now won five games in a row at home but their away record isn’t as impressive.
Both clubs have strong forward packs but at the moment are weaker in the halves and that is why the battle between Papalii and Bird will be the decisive battle on Saturday. Their offloads will open up the oppositions’ defence so their halves can reap the benefits.
Papalii was immense in the Raiders last home game. Against the Roosters the second rower scored two tries in what was a man of the match performance. Last week against the Knights Papalii wasn’t able to offload once, despite already having seven to his name for the season. With Elliot Whitehead in the unfamiliar role of five-eighth, Ricky Stuart desperately needs Papalii to fire.
Greg Bird already has three try assists to his name for 2016. Adding his five offloads on top of that and it is no secret that Bird is the key man for the Titans. At 31 years-of-age Bird is a leader on the field. If he gets plenty of time with the ball in his hands, the Titans have a chance.
The Raiders have started the season well and the Titans aren’t as strong when they play away from home. Canberra will start the game strongly but will falter in the 20 minutes after half time. The Titans will gain momentum in the second half but it won’t be enough to win the game.
Canberra by 4.
Raiders: 1 Jack Wighton, 2 Edrick Lee, 3 Jarrod Croker, 4 Brenko Lee, 5 Jordan Rapana, 6 Lachlan Croker, 7 Sam Williams, 8 Shannon Boyd, 9 Josh Hodgson, 10 Frank Paul Nuuausala, 11 Josh Papalii, 12 Elliot Whitehead, 13 Shaun Fensom. Interchange: 14 Kurt Baptiste, 15 Iosia Soliola, 16 Paul Vaughan, 17 Jeff Lima
Titans: 1 David Mead, 2 Anthony Don, 3 Josh Hoffman, 4 Nathan Davis, 5 Nene MacDonald, 6 Tyrone Roberts, 7 Ashley Taylor, 8 David Shillington, 9 Nathan Friend, 10 Agnatius Paasi, 11 Zeb Taia, 12 Chris McQueen, 13 Greg Bird. Interchange: 14 Luke Douglas, 15 Ryan James, 16 Leivaha Pulu, 17 Daniel Mortimer, 18 Eddy Pettybourne