Round 17: Bulldogs v Raiders preview
The Raiders' season goes on the line as Canterbury look to build on a rare win.
Bulldogs' fans were preparing themselves for yet another embarrassing defeat last week following the departures of Aaron Woods and Moses Mbye. What followed, however, was completely unexpected as Dean Pay's men stormed to a 36-16 win.
It was just the second time this year that the Bulldogs had scored over 20 points.
The win lifted the Bulldogs into 14th position on the ladder, four points ahead of the last-placed Eels. Given that Parramatta and the Cowboys have a bye this week, a loss would see Canterbury fall back to 15th and right back into contention for the wooden spoon.
New halves partners Lachlan Lewis and Jeremy Marshall-King looked settled in leading the Bulldogs to the upset victory while Canterbury's forward pack laid the platform with David Klemmer running for 200 metres and busting five tackles in a powerful 74-minute effort.
With Klemmer called into Origin camp this week, more will be needed from some of the Bulldogs' unheralded big men.
The win, however, will mean very little if the Bulldogs can't use the confidence gained from it to better their recent form, which has seen them win just two of their last nine.
If they are to claim back-to-back victories for the first time this year, Pay's men will have to overcome their poor record at Belmore. While typically called their spiritual home, Belmore Sportsground has been somewhat of a graveyard for the Bulldogs, who have won just two of their last seven at the ground since 2015.
Motivation will certainly not be hard to find for Ricky Stuart's Raiders. After demolishing the Tigers 48-12, Canberra looked to be on track for a late-season charge inspired by returning hooker Josh Hodgson.
Yet even Hodgson couldn't save the Raiders last week as they surrendered a 16-0 lead at half time against the Broncos. The fading Raiders ended up losing the match 26-22 and instead of sitting two points outside of the eight, the loss saw the eighth-placed Broncos go six points clear of Stuart's men.
Therefore, the two points are particularly valuable this week for the Raiders as six of their remaining eight games this year are against teams currently placed in the top half of the ladder (Sharks, Storm, Panthers, Roosters, Rabbitohs, Warriors).
The Raiders will be without Josh Papalii this week (Queensland Origin), with Siliva Havili taking his place in the starting side. Brad Abbey also plays his second game for the club with Jack Wighton still suspended.
Last meeting: Round 5 2018 - Raiders 26 Bulldogs 10
Who to watch: Danny Fualalo will really need to step up in the absence of Klemmer. The New South Wales prop has been the competition's best this year and provides the power and aggression that has defined the Canterbury pack for several years. Fualalo was strong last week against Newcastle, managing 78 running metres from just 25 minutes of play. With increased minutes, coach Pay will be hoping Fualalo can lay the platform for the Bulldogs' inexperienced halves pairing of Lewis and Marshall-King.
Will Williams' first-grade return bring the Raiders the stability and control that they need in attack? Hodgson has been excellent since making his comeback from an ACL, yet he cannot do it all himself. Coach Stuart has clearly recognised this by selecting Williams in the place of Austin. The five-eighth also struggled in defence last week and has been reported to be on the outer at the club. It will be interesting to see if Williams' presence will be the missing ingredient that Canberra need to close out victories.
My tip: After taking a punt on the Raiders last week, I have officially given up on them. They have continually let me down. The confidence from last week's 20-point win over the Knights should spur the the home side to a tight win at Belmore. Bulldogs by 4.