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3 hours ago | Tim Costello
Premiership dark horses face off against NRL benchmark
Making a strong case to become the first team to go back-to-back in over two decades, the Sydney Roosters will be approaching the Canberra Raiders with caution on Sunday afternoon in the defining match of the Magic Round.
Coming off an emphatic 42-12 win over the Wests Tigers last Saturday, the reigning premiers have begun their title defence in fine form under coach Trent Robinson to sit atop the premiership ladder following their best start to a season since 1999.
Meeting the Raiders on neutral ground after previous clashes on the Central Coast (2005) and Perth (1993), the Tricolours will be hoping to reverse a poor record at Suncorp Stadium that has resulted in losses in their past five appearances, while marking only the second time they have faced a team other than Brisbane at the venue following their 2010 preliminary final win over the Titans.
In a milestone match for Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, the Kiwi prop will become only the tenth player to reach 200 appearances in first grade for the Eastern Suburbs club after joining from Manly at the start of the decade.
Having been ruled out of the Tigers match with minor ligament damage in his knee, Matt Ikuvalu returns to the backline in a reshuffle that sees Mitchell Aubusson shift to the bench and Lindsay Collins relegated to the extended squad.
Ranked inside the top four after the opening third of the season for the first time since 2003, the Canberra Raiders will be hoping to continue a good run of fortune over the reigning premiers having claimed victory in their past three meetings.
Coming into the match after downing Penrith, 30-12, in Wagga last Saturday, coach Ricky Stuart will be banking on an affair built around defence to provide his side with an edge, having conceded the fewest points over the first eight rounds in a major departure from the attacking M.O. opponents have come to expect over a long period of time.
Experiencing a wretched run at Suncorp Stadium with one win from 11 visits dating back to 2005, the Raiders look set to attract their biggest crowd since the final round of 2010 against Brisbane - 38,872 - in a deserved reward for their strong start to the season.
Receiving mixed news on the injury front, Jordan Rapana will make his comeback on the wing in a move that sees Bailey Simmonson shift to the bench, however English recruit John Bateman is set to miss the next six weeks with a fractured eye socket in a reshuffle that sees Hudson Young gain his first start after impressing in limited game time.
Last meeting: Round 23 2018 - Raiders 14 Roosters 12
Who to watch: While critics have long derided the Sydney Roosters as a club where success is bought rather than developed, the progression of players from the 2016 Under-20's premiership winning squad - such as Sitili Tupouniua - speaks volumes to the reasons why the foundation club has endured as a competitive force. Playing alongside current first graders Joseph Manu, Poasa Fa'amusili, Nat Butcher and Victor Radley to claim the club's only NYC title, Tupouniua gained plenty of admirers with a blockbusting performance against Melbourne on Good Friday to forge a strong case for inclusion in Trent Robinson's squad as a long-term impact forward. Averaging over 60 metres in 28 minutes each week, the 22-year-old may not be a household name compared to some of his teammates, but if early signs are indicative of bigger things, expect to see Tupouniua causing havoc for years to come.
The history of rugby league has long been filled with sliding door moments - for the Canberra Raiders the fallout of the 2017 World Cup semi final between England and Tonga may have cost Ricky Stuart's side in the short-term, however the long-term gain of Siliva Havili may prove to be a masterstroke in the club's bid for a premiership. With his NRL career seemingly drawing to a close following unremarkable stints with the Warriors and Dragons, the 26-year-old hooker has resurrected his career with inspiring results after benefitting from Josh Hodgson's international misfortune. Establishing himself as a permanent fixture in jersey 14, Havili has averaged 17 tackles and over 80 metres in 2019 to help the Raiders enjoy their strongest start to a campaign since the mid-2000s.
The favourite: After recording seven straight wins for the third time during Trent Robinson's coaching tenure last Saturday, the Roosters have been well supported to continue their winning ways.
My tip: While some may doubt the Raiders credentials in 2019 given the quality of the teams they've defeated so far, look for the Green Machine to announce themselves as genuine threats with a hard-fought win decided in the dying stages. Raiders by 4.
1. James Tedesco 2. Daniel Tupou 3. Latrell Mitchell 4. Joseph Manu 5. Matt Ikuvalu 6. Luke Keary 7. Cooper Cronk 8. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves 9. Victor Radley 10. Siosiua Taukeiaho 11. Boyd Cordner 12. Angus Crichton 13. Isaac Liu 14. Nat Butcher 15. Zane Tetevano 16. Sitili Tupouniua 17. Mitchell Aubusson
1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad 2. Nick Cotric 3. Jarrod Croker 4. Michael Oldfield 5. Jordan Rapana 6. Jack Wighton 7. Sam Williams 8. Josh Papalii 9. Josh Hodgson 10. Dunamis Lui 11. Hudson Young 12. Elliot Whitehead 13. Ryan Sutton 14. Siliva Havili 15. Bailey Simonsson 16. Iosia Soliola 17. Corey Horsburgh
Referees: Gerard Sutton, Peter Gough; Sideline Officials: Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski, Michael Wise; Video Referees: Steve Chiddy, Ben Galea;