Round 15: St George Illawarra v Canberra preview
Crunch match for both teams as jostling for positions heats up in frantic top 8 race.
Sitting equally on twelve competition points, the Dragons and Raiders are in the midst of a logjam of teams on the ladder where just four points separates 7th to 14th position.
With the Origin period now in full swing, traditionally this is the time of year where teams can make a move by stringing a few wins together positioning themselves favourably for the run home.
After a positive start to the year, the Dragons form has gradually fallen away and they'll be hurting after a lacklustre display which saw them go down to the Bulldogs in last Monday's annual Queen's Birthday contest.
If their form wasn't worrying enough, they are also dealing with the distraction of media attention in the wake of recent news key men Matt Dufty and Corey Norman have been told their services will no longer be required past this season.
Coach Anthony Griffin named an unchanged 17 less than 24 hours after their loss to Canterbury, but it wouldn't surprise to see changes on game day as Griffin ponders his team's form over the course of the week. Zac Lomax has been named in the reserves and is one obvious change if he can prove his fitness after recovering from a thumb injury.
Also struggling for form in recent times, the Raiders bounced back into the winner's stall last week with a commanding win at home over the Broncos. Given the Dragons also carved up Brisbane the week prior, a question still remains as to whether the Raiders have turned a corner.
Before last week, it appeared their Premiership window may have closed but they are a team capable of finding form quickly once they start to string wins together and their 3 big dogs - Josh Papalii, Jack Wighton and Josh Hodgson all look to be back to something like their best.
Who to watch: After a strong run-on debut at Origin level for the Blues last week, back-rower Tariq Sims looked very lacklustre backing up for the Red V on Monday missing five tackles and running the football just five times for 54 metres. Noticeably lifting for the occasion in Origin one, Sims was going hard on both sides of the ball and came up with that beautiful offload in the first half to send Brian To'o over. Dragons fans would have been hoping Sims could bring some of that form back to club level where he can be guilty of coasting at times. With the Roosters Angus Crichton back from suspension, Sims should be going into this game with the mindset of needing a big game to hold his rep jersey.
Apart from the return to form from some of their stars last week, the Raiders would have been most impressed by the performance of Bailey Simonsson who was given a crack at the custodian role. With Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad sidelined for the year and Caleb Aekins failing to hold down that role in his absence, Simonsson looked to revel in the chance to get his hands on the ball more often. Running for 243 metres, Simonsson also notched up six tackles busts, three offloads and two try-assists. If the former winger can put in a similar performance this week, he'll be well on the way to cementing that number one jersey for the remainder of the year
The favourite: Equal on competition points, the bookies are struggling to split them with the Raiders marginal favourites.
My tip: Hard to see anything but a win for the Green Machine here. The Dragons looked very pedestrian last week and having key members of their spine staring at the exit door is far from ideal. In contrast, the Raiders key men look ready to roll and should guide them to a comfortable win. Canberra by 22.