The Raiders will be in front of their own fans this Sunday hoping to make amends for their drubbing against Parramatta last weekend. In form hooker, Josh Hodgson, and prop, Paul Vaughan, have both been named despite injury concerns.
The Sharks, however, will travel to the nation’s capital with high spirits. The Sharks are sitting 4th on the ladder only two points behind the competition leaders, the Broncos. However, Cronulla will be without the experienced Luke Lewis who is suspended for a shoulder charge. Jason Bukuya is his replacement.
LAST TIME OUT
On the back of a five-day turnaround, the Raiders were humbled by the Eels 36-6 at Pirtek Stadium on Saturday. The defence that was so strong against the Bulldogs a few days earlier was unrecognisable against Parramatta. A number of players, including fullback Jack Wighton, were guilty of basic errors.
Just as concerning was the fact it took a miracle play from the Raiders for the side to register a try. An impressive no-look over the shoulder pass from Jack Wighton found Rapana who produced a perfectly weighted kick infield for Blake Austin to score. The Raiders’ will need to be able to manufacture points in a simpler way if they are to score against the Sharks.
Cronulla, on the other hand, managed to hold on for a well-fought win against the Titans. After racing to an early 14-0 lead, the game turned on its head when influential playmaker James Maloney was forced from the field due to concussion. With the game tied at 20 all, Chad Townsend kicked a field goal before Valentine Holmes scored a late try to secure a 25-20 win.
Jack Wighton had a game to forget against the Eels and dropped the ball three times. The transition to the number 1 jersey hasn’t been easy for Wighton, who previously played in the centres. At this stage of the season, he has the unfortunate record of making the most errors in the NRL.
The Raiders fullback has shown glimpses of what he is capable of in attack. So far this season he has scored one try and has three try assists. If the Raiders are to come away with a win, it is pivotal that he can put in an 80-minute performance.
Ben Barba has bounced back brilliantly after a couple of underwhelming seasons. The 2012 Dally M medal winner has scored four tries so far this season and looks to be playing with the confidence he had when taking the Bulldogs to the 2012 grand final.
Barba certainly has the edge in attack but if Wighton can successfully organise the Raiders defence the game could be in the balance.
Apart from the Raiders loss to the Eels, both clubs have been involved in extremely close matches so far this season. This game won’t be an exception, with the Raiders well rested and playing at the home after two consecutive away games. However, Soliola is a huge loss for the men in green and with other players within the squad carrying niggles into the game, they could struggle.
The Sharks will have plenty of confidence within their squad. Their amount of creativity littered through their side in Barba, Bird, Holmes, Townsend and Maloney alongside the brute strength of their forward pack makes the Sharks favourites for this match.
Sharks by 8.
Raiders: 1 Jack Wighton, 2 Edrick Lee, 3 Jarrod Croker, 4 Joseph Leilua, 5 Jordan Rapana, 6 Blake Austin, 7 Aidan Sezer, 8 Shannon Boyd, 9 Josh Hodgson, 10 Frank Paul Nuuausala, 11 Josh Papalii, 12 Elliot Whitehead, 13 Shaun Fensom. Interchange: 14 Kurt Baptiste, 15 Luke Bateman, 16 Paul Vaughan, 17 Joseph Tapine
Sharks: 1 Ben Barba 2 Sosaia Feki 3 Jack Bird 4 Ricky Leutele 5 Valentine Holmes 6 James Maloney 7 Chad Townsend 8 Andrew Fifita 9 Michael Ennis 10 Sam Tagataese 11 Jayson Bukuya 12 Wade Graham 13 Paul Gallen Interchange: 14 Gerard Beale 15 Chris Heighington 16 Matt Prior 17 Joseph Paulo