Full Time
5:30pm Sat August 6, 2022
Round 21 - GIO Stadium Canberra, Bruce - Crowd: 16912

Round 21: Raiders v Panthers preview

Finals bound or top eight faders?

Another chapter in the storied rivalry between the Canberra Raiders and the Penrith Panthers will be written on Saturday evening when the two sides square off at GIO Stadium.

Building momentum throughout July to sit on the precipice of the top eight, the Canberra Raiders will be vying to take advantage of their weakened opponents in an effort to record four consecutive victories for the first time since the 2020 finals series.

Piling on seven tries during last Saturday's 36-24 victory over the Titans, coach Ricky Stuart will welcome back Jordan Rapana from suspension in a reshuffle that sees Albert Hopoate drop to the extended squad.

Halfback Jamal Fogarty will belatedly bring up 50 appearances in first grade on Saturday evening; the major off-season signing suffered a knee injury in the final trial match in February which prevented his club debut until Round 12.

Coming up against the reigning premiers for the second time this season, the Raiders have enjoyed surprising success in late season contests against premiership contenders over the past two decades, defeating the eventual premiers in 2006, 10, 12, 16 and 18 along with minor premiers in 2009, 12 and 16.

Set to play out the remainder of the home-and-away season without their first choice halves pairing, the Penrith Panthers will be looking to remain on course in their bid to go back-to-back.

Suffering a colossal blow in the early stages of last week's 34-10 defeat to the Eels with halfback Nathan Cleary being sent from the field for a dangerous throw, coach Ivan Cleary has elected to back Jaeman Salmon alongside Sean O'Sullivan in the halves with Kurt Falls named on the extended bench.

Mitch Kenny also returns after missing the loss to Parramatta, while Stephen Crichton takes the place of Robert Jennings in the backline.

Winning seven of their previous nine clashes against the Raiders, the Panthers will be aiming to record three straight victories at GIO Stadium for the first time on Saturday evening.

Dylan Edwards will become the latest member of the playing group to bring up 100 first grade appearances for the club; the premiership-winning fullback debuted in first grade in 2016 and leads the league in run metres this season.

Last meeting: Round 7 2022 - Panthers 36 Raiders 6

Who to watch: Following in the footsteps of his father by wearing the number nine for Canberra, mid-season pick-up Zac Woolford has provided a steadying influence for the Raiders this season. Returning to the club after five seasons plying his trade in reserve grade, the 25-year-old has admirably filled the absence created by Josh Hodgson's tenure-ending injury, while allowing Tom Starling to make the greatest impact possible off the bench. Averaging over 20 tackles and 40 minutes of game time in ten appearances since debuting in Magic Round, the Raiders will be hoping Woolford can offer additional attacking potency in their bid to pull off another heavyweight scalp.

Recruited to the club explicitly as a back-up playmaker, Sean O'Sullivan will be aiming to show his worth as player deserving of a starting jersey. Set to play out the regular season in first grade after Nathan Cleary accepted a dangerous throw ban, the 23-year-old has averaged a try-assist in each of his six appearances this season to go with an admirable kicking and defensive record. Penning a deal to join the Dolphins for their inaugural campaign, look for O'Sullivan to show his days as a depth player are well-and-truly over.

The favourite: Despite Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai watching on from the sidelines, the Panthers remain favourites to bounce back from last week's rare loss.

My tip: The Raiders have the ability to make the top eight. A win against the competition benchmark will give them the belief to get there. Raiders by 10.