Round 18: Canberra v Cronulla preview
Resurgent Raiders look to continue winning ways against Wobbly Sharks
This Saturday Afternoon's clash against the Sharks shapes as a defining one in the season of the Canberra Raiders. Having just caused a major upset against Manly - albeit without Tom Trbojevic - they have a chance to prove that it wasn't just a flash in the pan and can continue that form against other teams also vying for those last couple of spots in the 8.
For the Sharks, they did get the win last week, however they looked everything but convincing in their 8-point victory over the Warriors. They had a 15-minute period where they scored all their tries late in the first half, and then were not able to take advantage of any of the countless opportunities they had to ice the game. Their defence was sound to keep the Warriors out for the majority of the second half, however the kiwis lack of points can be put more down to their inability to maintain a cohesive attack.
It makes this matchup between the two sides all the more intriguing, with the seemingly improved Raiders to do battle with the apparently vulnerable Sharks. The Green Machine can move ahead of the Sharkies with a big win of 24 points or more, which would potentially see them move into the 8, pending other results.
In their clash earlier in the year, the Raiders narrowly outlasted the Sharks by 2 points, but were saved by 3 missed penalty goals and conversions from Chad Townsend, who is now playing for the Warriors.
In team news, Jack Wighton has been named to back up from State of Origin, pushing Matt Frawley to the reserves. Same goes for Josh Papalii, who comes in as a direct replacement for Dunamis Lui, who is out with a calf injury. Those are the only two changes, with youngster Xavier Savage doing enough to maintain his spot at fullback for the time being.
The Sharks have named the same 17 that took the field against the Warriors, with the only change being that Nikora has been named to start and Talakai on the bench, however coach Hannay swapped the two an hour out from kick-off last week, so don't be surprised to see him do the same again.
Who to watch: As strange as this may sound, Raiders origin five-eighth Jack Wighton will have a tough time filling the boots of last weeks temporary replacement Matt Frawley. Frawley was instrumental to the Raiders victory against Manly, forcing 3 of the 8 total dropouts with his deft short kicking game in partnership with Sam Williams. Although Wighton is playing for the Blues, his form this year certainly doesn't warrant his selection. This year, he has forced just 4 dropouts, half of what his team did in his absence, while also creating just 4 tries, which is anaemic compared to the 15 he forced during the Raiders Grand Final year.
For the Sharks, Braydon Trindall is getting his 3rd consecutive start at five-eighth with Matt Moylan injured, and if he can recapture the form he had in the first half last week, the Sharks will be hard to stop. He was able to dig into the line and create a huge hole for centre Connor Tracey to run through and score, which he did off of Trindall's pass, before running the ball himself and powering over a couple of Warriors defenders to score a try of his own. Shaun Johnson was still the primary playmaker, doing the bulk of general play kicking and forcing all 5 of the Sharks dropouts, however Trindall was a constant threat, and if he can play the same role against the Raiders it could result in a lot of points for Cronulla, particularly against the defence of Sam Williams, who has been targeted close to the line by the halves of Canberra's two most recent opponents with great success.
The favourite: The Sharks are favoured by a narrow 3 and a half points against the Raiders this week.
My tip: This game should be close, both sides are capable of so much more than what they've shown throughout much of 2021. In my opinion, the Raiders win last week was a lot more convincing than that of the Sharks, who's form has been questionable of late. Canberra by 6.