Round 24: Raiders v Rabbitohs preview
Canberra…. the centre of an eventful week of leadership questions.
Confidence issues have struck the nation's capital this week but they aren't being raised over the Canberra Raiders, who come into this weekend high in confidence as they head into a clash with the South Sydney Rabbitohs on Saturday afternoon.
Having already done away with one leader (a 14-12 defeat of the Sydney Roosters last Sunday), Canberra's finest are thirsty for blood and will be keen to bring down another senior figure in the NRL premiership race. The Raiders stunned many on Sunday when they were able to take down the Roosters in a strong defensive performance which saw the Tricolours score just two tries for the game and still manage to be defeated.
The Raiders in 2018 have had a story of so-close-and-yet-so-far in far too many of their games. They've won just nine matches but the story is more about the games they have lost this season. Canberra have the second lowest losing margin of the season across the sixteen clubs, an average of just 8.5 points per game lost. Across their 13 losses to date, 10 of those have come with a margin of less than 10 points.
The Green Machine welcome back Michael Oldfield who missed recent matches with a knee injury, which will allow Ricky Stuart to move Elliott Whitehead back to the second row to replace the injured Joseph Tapine who suffered a broken thumb in last week's victory.
Comprehensively outplayed is the best description for the Rabbitohs' efforts last weekend when they fell to a 38-18 defeat against the Brisbane Broncos at Suncorp Stadium last Thursday night. The performance from South Sydney was nothing like the efforts of the previous fortnight against the Storm and the Roosters and the effort from these two games clearly had an effect on the performance of the men in cardinal and myrtle.
The Rabbitohs started the 2018 season off slowly before a mid-season surge saw them entrench themselves firmly into the NRL top four as the season went on. In recent weeks the Bunnies have had a mini form slump with just two wins of their past five matches, and although unlikely, defeats in the final two rounds could see them finish outside the top 4.
In a massive boost for South Sydney, three of their missing key players will all return with Alex Johnston, Campbell Graham and most importantly Greg Inglis returning to the fold. Johnston comes back in at fullback with Graham named to start of the wing whilst Inglis returns to the centres. Braidon Burns drops to the bench with Tyrell Fuimaono, Richie Kennar and Mawene Hiroti all moving to the reserves.
The Raiders have won 31 of the 55 games the two sides have played since the first clash between the sides back in 1982. Although the Rabbitohs won the last clash between the two sides, the Raiders had won the previous three clashes prior to 2018.
Who to watch: Sam Williams - The Raiders will be relying significantly on halfback Sam Williams if they want to take another unlikely scalp of a top 4 team. Williams has been on the rotating conveyor belt of halves this season for the Raiders spending plenty of time in both in the NRL and the Intrust Super Premiership. The Raiders half has shown glimpses of class across his NRL career but at the same time his inconsistency has been his downfall.
Cody Walker - The Rabbitohs five-eighth has been a revelation over recent NRL seasons and is a key part of the Rabbitohs set up. The Rabbitohs five-eighth will be an important part of the Rabbitohs finals chances and he will need to stand up in this game against the Raiders. Walker will be key in using his speed against a tiring Raiders pack.
The favourite: The South Sydney Rabbitohs have been well supported in the market and their high ladder position is why they are favourites.
My tip: In a week of uncertainty in the nation's capital, the NRL doesn't make things easier with confidence high for the Raiders following their big win. The numbers of the NRL ladder show that the Rabbitohs are a sure chance of winning this game but the Raiders are always candidates to spring a surprise and that's why I think they can build on that win last week over the Roosters. The Rabbitohs will have three players in key positions who aren't likely to be at their peak and the Raiders have the class to expose that in a close affair. Raiders by 2.