Round 14: Raiders v Sharks preview
Bitter rivals resume hostilities in Canberra
Locking horns in a number of spiteful fixtures over the years, the Canberra Raiders will resume hostilities with the Cronulla Sharks on Thursday evening in a contest looming as a warm up for another encounter in September.
Returning to GIO Stadium after a fortnight on the road, the Raiders will be buoyed after downing the Wests Tigers, 28-0, last Friday; the third time this season they have held a team scoreless over the course of 80 minutes.
Sitting in fourth position with the strongest for-and-against differential of the three teams locked on 16 competition points, coach Ricky Stuart will be wary of the Sharks having managed just four wins from ten meetings during his tenure as coach, while should the Raiders go down on Thursday it would be the first time since 2015 the side has lost three straight matches at home.
Moving up to sixth on the ladder with a dominant 42-22 win over Parramatta last Saturday at home, the Sharks will have their sights set on three straight win for the first time under coach John Morris on Thursday night.
Holding a dominant record in Canberra with 12 wins from 15 visits since 2005, including the past six in a row, the Sharks will be out to replicate a number of memorable wins in the ACT, most notably the 2016 qualifying final that saw Michael Ennis ridicule the pre-game Viking Clap after leading the Sharks to a 16-14 win.
Boosted by the return of New South Wales centre Josh Morris after being rested following Origin I, Shaun Johnson has been included on an extended bench to return from a torn hamstring sustained over the ANZAC Round, while Blayke Brailey will start at hooker for the first time with his older brother, Jayden, sidelined for a week with a knee injury.
Who to watch: Set to equal Laurie Daley as the second-most capped Raiders player with 244 first grade appearances on Thursday evening, Jarrod Croker will be eager to celebrate his milestone match with a win. Standing among the greatest players to ever adorn a green jersey throughout the club's esteemed history, the 28-year-old centre has been reliable as ever in 2019 to help the Raiders experience their strongest start to a season in 16 years. Closing in on another record of note, the Country Origin representative requires just one try to draw level with Jason Croker as Canberra's leading try-scorer. Unable to register a try against Cronulla since taking on the club captaincy in the closing weeks of 2014, look for Croker to claim a decisive four-pointer to confirm his place among the greatest players of the modern era.
Among the new faces helping the Sharks prepare for life after Paul Gallen, Jack Williams has been a potent performer under John Morris this season. Playing his junior football with the Raiders before shifting to the Shire in search of an opportunity, the 22-year-old interchange forward has featured in every match in 2019, averaging approximately 100 metres and just over 20 tackles in a half of football each week. Making a try-scoring debut against the Raiders in the nation's capital twelve months ago, expect Williams to provide a significant impact as the Sharks strive to maintain their dominance over the green machine in recent years.
My tip: In a match where goal kicking is set to be a determining factor, expect Jarrod Croker to get the Raiders home in a match with the potential to go beyond 80 minutes. Raiders by 2.