Andrew Pelechaty previews Canberra’s long-awaited return home to play the Dragons. This is what we have to look forward to.
After five straight weeks travelling from Canberra to Melbourne to Canberra to Sydney and back, Canberra are returning to GIO Stadium, with a limited crowd allowed and hopefully a real (if small) Viking Clap. It’s a blessing, as the travel has worn down the Raiders, losing three of their last four since the big Melbourne win upon the COVID-19 resumption, slipping from a comfortable 3-0 record to a perilous 4-3.
In typical Raiders fashion, they produced a miracle comeback against Parramatta: trailing 24-12 with five minutes left, two tries to Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad took the game to Golden Point. Unfortunately, an 87th minute field goal to Clinton Gutherson gave Parramatta a 25-24 win.
Something’s wrong with the Raiders, even coach Ricky Stuart admits it: while Curtis Scott has copped a lot of heat from fans (though hopefully a move to the bench will relieve some pressure), it’s unfair to blame one player. Is it the right edge defence? The lack of imagination in attack? The exhaustion from all the travel? The now-common slow starts? If Canberra want to stay in the top eight – let alone challenge for the top four – they need to find answers. The injury gods haven’t been kind: Jordan Rapana’s out (a minor calf injury), while Corey Horsburgh faces a few months out with a Lisfranc injury. The news that John Bateman will be leaving at the end of 2020 is another blow.
Ironically, Canberra’s previously scheduled home game before the COVID-19 break was also against the Dragons, back in March.
St George-Illawarra Dragons
After losing their first four games, the Dragons were in crisis: fans were angry, they seemed destined for the wooden spoon, and coach Mary looked gone.
Mary survived, and the Dragons (2-5) won two of their next three games to get in sight of the top eight.
They pushed the defending premiers last Friday night, leading 12-10 early in the second half (tries to Mikaele Ravalawa and Zac Lomax) before the Roosters hit top gear, winning 26-12.
With their improved form, the Dragons will fancy themselves against a vulnerable Raiders side.
1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad 2. Bailey Simonsson 3. Jarrod Croker 4. Michael Oldfield 5. Nick Cotric 6. Jack Wighton 7. George Williams 8. Josh Papali’i 9. Josh Hodgson 10. Iosia Soliola 11. Hudson Young 12. Elliott Whitehead 13. Joseph Tapine 14. Curtis Scott 15. Emre Guler 16. Ryan Sutton 17. Siliva Havili 18. Tom Starling 19. Dunamis Lui 20. Matt Frawley 21. Kai O’Donnell.
St George-Illawarra Dragons
1. Matthew Dufty 2. Jason Saab 3. Euan Aitken 4. Zac Lomax 5. Mikaele Ravalawa 6. Corey Norman 7. Adam Clune 8. Blake Lawrie 9. Cameron McInnes 10. Paul Vaughan 11. Tyson Frizell 12. Tyrell Fuimaono 13. Trent Merrin 14. Ben Hunt 15. Josh Kerr 16. Korbin Sims 17. Jackson Ford 18. Eddie Blacker 19. Tristan Sailor 20. Billy Brittain 21. Tim Lafai.
Ever since breaking the infamous ‘hoodoo’ in 2014, the Dragons have enjoyed a decent record against Canberra, with four wins from the last five games, including one win at WIN Stadium. Canberra’s sole win was in round 19, 2017 at GIO Stadium, with Dave Taylor’s offload to Elliot Whitehead giving the Raiders an 18-14 Golden Point victory. Canberra won 36-14 win in round 17 last year, scoring seven tries (two to CNK). Canberra lead 18-11 since 1999.
BATTLE TO WATCH
Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad v Matthew Dufty
Destined to be mentioned in the shame breath as Gary Bechler and Brett Mullins as Canberra’s greatest fullback, CNK scored two tries to take the Raiders to Golden Point against Parramatta. He’d been relatively quiet try-wise before the Eels game, with just one try (in the win against Melbourne), though he’s almost always safe under the high ball. The small crowd at Bruce will appreciate seeing CNK come back home and they’ll be hoping to see him score some more tries.
Matthew Dufty has scored three tries in five games, including a double in the Dragons’ round two loss to Penrith. Jack Wighton and George Williams are sure to test Dufty late in the tackle count, which could bring CNK into play. This will be a brilliant battle.
Let’s not muck around here: with upcoming games against Melbourne (round nine) and the Sydney Roosters grand final rematch (round 10), Canberra have to beat the Dragons. It doesn’t have to be pretty, but they have to win. If they don’t, they could be out of top eight after round 10, unthinkable for a side that was 10 minutes from being 2019 premiers.
Returning to the comforts of Bruce Stadium will help, though the Dragons aren’t the pushovers they were a month ago. Get ready for a tight one, Raiders fans.
Canberra by four.
Date: Friday July 3
Venue: GIO Stadium, Canberra