Round 23: Raiders v Roosters preview
Ricky Stuart must be experiencing his own personal Groundhog Day.
The Raiders' coach is stuck in a purgatory where the Green Machine are alternately giving up leads, or being valiant in failed comebacks, including a 22-20 loss to a still-finals-chasing Wests Tigers last Sunday.
2018 looks to be a wasted one for Canberra. Stuart might go on a quest to find answers to their late game woes, but for now, they have to finish off the season. They do so with three tough contests (this one against the Roosters, followed by top eight sides the Rabbitohs and Warriors) making for more pain for the already spurned Raiders, as such the fans might start reaching for something harder than lime milk on Sunday afternoon.
There has been some pleasant outcomes for the home side this season - Elliott Whitehead, Joey Leilua and when he isn't at fullback Nick Cotric continued their impressive 2017 form into this season, and if they can find a consistent halves partnership could bring them back into the finals race in 2019.
Down Bondi way, everything is coming up roses. After a slow start, the Tricolours have burst into form in the last month or so, which has propelled them to the summit of the table and the catbird seat towards the Minor Premiership. They have plundered 136 points in their last four victories despite injuries, and Latrell Mitchell, James Tedesco and Cooper Cronk have put in some supreme performances.
Although, all the plaudits can't be for the backs themselves. Roosters have a terrific forward pack - and while they'll be missing the ferocious Jared Wearea Hargreaves at the forefront, able deputies including Sio Siua Taukeiaho and Boyd Cordner make for an enticing battle between two packs that like to play some football outside of the standard hit-ups. Add in being an afternoon kick-off means the points total might eclipse the entries in last Thursday night's Powerball draw and make for an afternoon delight for fans of both clubs and neutrals alike.
Who to watch: Like a well-worn pair of pants, Cooper Cronk is back in the groove. In the absence of Luke Keary, the master of the sinews has taken control of the Roosters side. His kicking game comes from the platform that is provided by a stellar forward pack, and against a robust Raiders side, Cronk needs to take the contest by the scruff of the neck again, as the Roosters continue to chase their minor premiership ambitions.
Despite being in a Raiders side that is sputtering to the finish, Joesph ‘BJ' Leilua has stood out on the edge as the destructive centre takes on a man that he may view as taking his representative position - Latrell Mitchell. Expect a huge game from the Raiders three-quarter that has 14 four-pointers to his name and in the Canberra sun BJ might run amok.