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2021 NRL Round Eight Preview, Raiders Vs Rabbitohs

Andrew Pelechaty previews a rare Thursday night game in Canberra as the Raiders host Souths at GIO Stadium. This is what we have to look forward to.

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TEAM NEWS

Venue: GIO Stadium Canberra, Date: Thursday April 29, Time: 8:05pm

Raiders Team

  1. Caleb Aekins
  2. Bailey Simonsson
  3. Sebastian Kris
  4. Curtis Scott
  5. Jordan Rapana
  6. Jack Wighton
  7. George Williams
  8. Ryan James
  9. Tom Starling
  10. Emre Guler
  11. Corey Harawira-Naera
  12. Elliott Whitehead
  13. Ryan Sutton
  14. Siliva Havili
  15. Joseph Tapine
  16. Corey Horsburgh
  17. Hudson Young
  18. Matthew Timoko
  19. Iosia Soliola
  20. Matt Frawley
  21. Dunamis Lui

Team Changes

IN: Bailey Simonsson
Dunamis Lui
Joseph Tapine
Matt Frawley
Matthew Timoko


OUT: Jarrod Croker
Josh Papalii

Rabbitohs Team

  1. Cody Walker
  2. Alex Johnston
  3. Dane Gagai
  4. Campbell Graham
  5. Jaxson Paulo
  6. Benji Marshall
  7. Adam Reynolds
  8. Thomas Burgess
  9. Damien Cook
  10. Tevita Tatola
  11. Keaon Koloamatangi
  12. Jaydn Su’A
  13. Cameron Murray
  14. Mark Nicholls
  15. Liam Knight
  16. Jacob Host
  17. Jai Arrow
  18. Steven Marsters
  19. Hame Sele
  20. Patrick Mago
  21. Dean Hawkins

Team Changes

IN: Dean Hawkins
Hame Sele
Patrick Mago


OUT:

Referee: Ben Cummins

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Raiders

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Last Saturday night was meant to be redemption day for the Raiders: Ricky Stuart had publicly called out the team for their horrible display against Parramatta, changes were made, and attitudes were adjusted.

For 38 minutes, it looked like it had worked, with Canberra leading North Queensland 24-6. While they’d made a few errors, their four tries (two to Jordan Rapana, and singles to Emre Guler and George Williams) looked impressive, with more second-phase footy. Then, a crucial error from Williams led to a late try to Ben Condon and the Cowboys had their tails up. From there, they outscored Canberra 14-0 (tries to Reece Robson, Justin O’Neill and five goals in total to Valentine Homes) to steal an incredible win. Canberra spent a lot of the second half rucking it out from their own end and never looked like scoring again. It was one the Raiders’ worst collapses since the bad old “Faiders” days of 2017/18. Like Homer falling down Springfield Gorge, it seemed the Raiders couldn’t plummet any lower, until they did.

The Raiders return home in a big weekend for ACT football, with their SG Ball side playing the Illawarra Steelers in Saturday’s grand final at Leichhardt Oval, and the ACT Brumbies hosting the Western Force in the Super Rugby AU preliminary final on Saturday night.

Rabbitohs

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With six straight wins, Souths have justified their pre-season hype. They duplicated their 2020 attacking flair, with 201 points so far (nearly 30 a game) and Supercoach Wayne Bennett pulled off a masterstroke by signing the veteran Benji Marshall, who’s turned back the clock to his mid-2000s glory days at the Tigers.

Last weekend’s comeback against the Gold Coast was magical (even without Latrell Mitchell): down 24-10 at halftime, Souths scored three tries in 12 minutes (Dane Gagai, Marshall, Alex Johnston) to hit the lead, then weathered a late Titans resurgence to win 40-30 with Marshall’s second try. While they were wearing unfamiliar blue jerseys, their ability to hit the switch when needed was peak Souths. This could be dangerous for Canberra, as Souths won’t allow them to feel comfortable for a minute.

PREVIEW

There’s two big outs for Canberra: Jarrod Croker and Josh Papalii. While Croker picked up a shoulder injury, Papalii’s omission is form-based. It’s a roll of the dice from Ricky Stuart, though it’s worked before. Croker hasn’t been at his best since returning, so an extra rest may do him good (and keep the anti-Croker brigade quiet for a while), with Williams to take over the goalkicking and Elliot Whitehead the captaincy.

The promising Sebastian Kris comes in for Croker, while Bailey Simmonson and Joseph Tapine return to the starting 17. Dunamis Lui, Matthew Timoko, and Matthew Frawley return to the extended bench.

The big question: if Canberra don’t respond to Papalii’s omission, where will Stuart go from here?

It’s much happier in Redfern, with only three changes (Dean Hawkins, Hame Sele, and Patrick Mago) to the extended bench.

The start of this game will be crucial. If Canberra are a little off, then Souths will pounce. As we saw against the Titans, they can score points and score them fast. By contrast, Canberra have only scored 137 points (averaging under 20 points per game) and have had some abysmal second halves since their last win: four points against Penrith, and none against both Parramatta and North Queensland. If Canberra aren’t careful, this could get ugly quickly. However, if Canberra get off to a flyer, confidence will rise and they’ll be in with a real shout.

It’s also Ben Cummins’ first game in Canberra since you-know-what happened you-know-when (you know what I’m talking about…). We’ll see how forgiving Raiders fans are, especially if decisions don’t go their way.

KEY STAT

Canberra hold a 16-13 advantage since 1998, and the last three games (all in Canberra) have appropriately been crackers.

Canberra won their only encounter in round 11 2020, scoring three tries to two in an 18-12 victory. This was a week after the Raiders’ upset win over the Roosters and signalled The Milk’s run towards the finals.

Then there was the epic 2019 preliminary final: Canberra won 16-10 (with Papalii scoring THAT winning try) and a packed-out Bruce Stadium exploded with joy.

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Souths’ last success against Canberra was a 16-12 win in round 10, 2019, with Souths outscoring Canberra two tries (Cody Walker and Mawene Hiroti) to one (Sam Williams).

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PREDICTION

If Canberra are to win, they’ll need to be 1,000% perfect: a strong start, no dropped ball, no silly penalties, convert every attacking chance, and no defensive lapses. As we’ve seen so far, if Souths get a sniff, it’s game over. 

While the Raiders are known for sneaking a win when everyone’s written them off (like that famous win over the Roosters at the SCG in round 10 last year), Souths are red hot at the moment. Let’s hope the Raiders can at least regain some pride with a solid performance.

Souths by two.

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