Andrew Pelechaty previews Canberra’s return to GIO Stadium to open their 2022 season …
Canberra Raiders v Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks
GIO Stadium, Canberra.
Friday March 11, 6:00pm
MATCHDAY TEAM NEWS
Related: NRL Team List TuesdayEmbed from Getty Images
Raiders: 1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad 2. Nick Cotric 3. James Schiller 4. Matthew Timoko 5. Semi Valemei 6. Jack Wighton 7. Brad Schneider 8. Josh Papali’i 9. Josh Hodgson 10. Joseph Tapine 11. Hudson Young 12. Corey Harawira-Naera 13. Elliott Whitehead 14. Tom Starling 15. Emre Guler 16. Adam Elliott 17. Corey Horsburgh 18. Ryan Sutton 19. Matt Frawley 20. Trey Mooney 21. Harry Rushton 22. Jarrod Croker
After a dramatic 2021, Raiders fans’ optimism returned after solid trial wins over the Sydney Roosters (32-18) and Manly Warringah (18-16).
That optimism came crashing down when new halfback Jamal Fogarty was ruled out for four months. The good news was any speculation over the new halfback was quickly solved with coach Ricky Stuart announcing that Brad Schneider would be the number seven. While Schneider was promising in the trials, will he have the same impact that was expected from Fogarty? Watch this space.
James Schiller debuts at centre alongside Matt Timoko. Schiller has plenty of Green pedigree: he’s the nephew of Raiders (and Sydney Roosters) legend Brett Mullins. The big omission is veteran Jarrod Croker, demoted to NSW Cup. While he’s only nine games from the 300 milestone, he’ll have to earn that record the hard way. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad has been preferred at fullback to the prodigal Xavier Savage, though it’s surprising that Savage wasn’t picked at either wing or centre, especially with Jordan Rapana suspended. Coach Ricky Stuart has been criticised for being too loyal to certain players in the past, so this is a big change in strategy. While Savage should eventually play first grade again (he’s too good not too), Croker may struggle to return, though his experience will be an asset to the NSW Cup team.
Adam Elliott will make his Raiders debut from the bench, while favourite son Nick Cotric returns to the starting side straight away.Embed from Getty Images
Sharks: 1. William Kennedy 2. Sione Katoa 3. Jesse Ramien 4. Ronaldo Mulitalo 5. Matt Ikuvalu 6. Matt Moylan 7. Nicho Hynes 8. Toby Rudolf 9. Blayke Brailey 10. Braden Hamlin-Uele 11. Briton Nikora 12. Teig Wilton 13. Dale Finucane 14. Aiden Tolman 15. Siosifa Talakai 16. Royce Hunt 17. Andrew Fifita 18. Luke Metcalf 19. Jesse Colquhoun 20. Lachlan Miller 21. Jenson Taumoepeau 22. Jayden Berrell
After narrowly missing the eight in 2021, the Sharks spent up in the off-season, buying big names like Dale Finucane, Nicho Hynes, Cameron McInnes, and Matt Ikuvalu. They also lost Aaron Woods, Shaun Johnson, Chad Townsend, Billy Magoulias, Will Chambers, Josh Dugan, and Nene Macdonald.
The Sharks split their pre-season games, with almost identical results: a 34-6 loss to Penrith and a 30-6 win over Canterbury-Bankstown.
Ronaldo Mulitalo starts in the centres, with new recruit Ikuvalu on the wing, and Nicho Hynes at halfback (which should be a huge advantage for the Sharks).
Teig Wilton replaces injured skipper Wade Graham (back row), new recruit Dale Finucane captains the side from lock, and Andrew Fifita will come off the bench.
Referee: Ben Cummins.
This is Canberra’s first home game since July 2021, when the Raiders officially hit rock bottom with a humiliating loss to the Titans: it was so bad that usually hardy Raiders fans started walking out in the second half.
Forget all the “one game at a time” clichés: that memory would’ve haunted the players all summer, and they’d be desperate to win over their home fans again. The ACT Brumbies have gotten Canberrans used to winning again, with three straight home wins to open the 2022 Super Rugby Pacific competition.
Raiders-Sharks games have traditionally been tight, grinding affairs, which will give both sides a decent test to start the season. Canberra won both games last year: 12-10 (after leading 12-0 at halftime and scraping home thank to a missed conversion and penalty goal from Chad Townsend) and 34-18 (with the Sharks leading 18-16 early in the second half). The Sharks haven’t beaten Canberra since 2018, with the Milk winning the last six games, including the Elimination Final in 2020.
The big question for the Raiders is how they’ll adjust to losing Fogarty. With so much time and effort expended on finding him, losing him before the season’s begun was a cruel blow. Will the Milk band together or fall apart? And how will Jack Wighton react to the extra responsibility alongside the inexperienced Schneider?
For the Sharks, an early win against Canberra could lead to a strong start in 2022, with games to follow against Parramatta, St George Illawarra, Newcastle, and the Tigers before tougher tests against Melbourne and Manly Warringah. With a few new faces, banking early wins will be crucial to stay in the top eight race until the combinations click.Embed from Getty Images
- The Sharks beat the Raiders twice during the 1997 Super League finals series, both at Shark Park. Played under the classic Final Five format, the second-placed Sharks beat the third-placed Raiders 22-18 in the major preliminary semi-final. Two weeks later, the Sharks beat the Raiders 10-4 in the preliminary final to qualify for the grand final against Brisbane.
- While the Sharks won their maiden premiership in 2016, they also broke Canberra’s golden run. The Raiders soared into second with a 10-game winning streak, and faced the Sharks in the Bruce Stadium qualifying final. The Sharks (who had also won 15 straight that season) beat the Raiders (with Michael Ennis goading angry locals at full-time with a mock Viking Clap), and then North Queensland, to make the grand final. Canberra were close to meeting the Sharks in the grand final, narrowly losing the preliminary final to Melbourne.
- The Raiders spoiled Paul Gallen’s farewell from Shark Park in 2019. Looking to seal a vital top-four spot, the Raiders overcame a 12-0 halftime deficit to tie the game at 12-12. Aidan Sezer and Chad Townsend kicked two field goals each as the game entered Golden Point at 14-14. Sezer kicked the winning field goal eight minutes into the GP period.
- The Raiders and Sharks played each other on consecutive weekends in 2020: with Canberra likely to finish fifth, coach Ricky Stuart chose to rest a few of his stars for the final round game against the Sharks, and the “Baby Raiders” weathered a late comeback to win 38-28. One week later, the fifth-placed Raiders met the eighth-placed Sharks in the Elimination Final in Canberra. The Sharks led 14-10 at halftime before a double to Jack Wighton helped Canberra to a 32-20 win.
Canberra by six.
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