Roosters v Raiders preview

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Sydney Roosters v Canberra Raiders Thursday 7:50pm at Sydney Cricket Ground

Battered Raiders hit the road for grand final redemption

Even with a truck load of talent missing from last year's controversial decider, the fight for top four spots will be enough to stoke the fire in this one.

In a buzz for the Raiders, they'll make their first appearance on the Sydney Cricket Ground since the club's first grand final in 1987. Dean Lance was skipper that day, and with the club now decimated by injury, Ricky Stuart could do far worse than use the former square-shouldered battle axe for inspiration.

In the nine or so months since James Tedesco shattered Canberra's 2019 dream, little has separated the sides. In fourth place, Trent Robinson's Roosters sit three spots above the Raiders but it's a slender gap of just two points.

It's typical of the trend in a rapidly forming rivalry. Since 2016 the results are split three apiece, with the winner in five of those games collecting the spoils by a converted try or less.

On form at least, and with the addition of Boyd Cordner and Brett Morris following last week's demolition of North Queensland, it looks like the rudderless Raiders minus Josh Hodgson don't stand a chance.

But with the NRL's fourth best defence this season, no matter the result, more often than not the plucky men from the ACT find themselves within striking distance at the final whistle.

And so it was last week in defeat to the Melbourne Storm where rough calls, injuries and a clunky attack became an insurmountable burden.

Up front, Josh Papali'i still leads an energetic pack that won't back down.

The trick for new hooker Siliva Havili will be serving the Raiders halves early ball without overplaying his hand, because with Jordan Rapana joining fellow speedsters Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and Nick Cotric, the Green Machine are more than capable of knocking up a winning score.

Last meeting: Grand Final 2019 - Roosters 14 Raiders 8

Who to watch: Following an eye-popping five try masterpiece, who wouldn't want to watch Matt Ikuvalu? Anyone good enough to oust Headingley flyer Ryan Hall obviously has an affinity for bright lights. And with the wide open spaces of the SCG and an even bigger screen to match, the stage is set.

The Raiders' forward stocks might be in freefall, but watch for Elliott Whitehead to steady the ship. Now in his fifth season in the capital, Ricky Stuart will hope the 24-Test Englishman is at his most tenacious. Much more than an irritant in defence, the rangy backrower gives Canberra its left edge punch. And with a cheeky show-and-go, his season tally of four tries and seven line breaks is sure to feature on Robinson's cheat sheet.

The favourite: Just like last year's Grand Final the Roosters enter this one as the bookies' favourite.

My tip: Ricky Stuart has already said he's not interested in excuses. But facing the premiers with a short turnaround on the SCG where they're unbeaten in their last 10 will be tougher than tackling Mt Everest without a Sherpa. But it'll be closer than many think, with the difference another late touch of Roosters class. Roosters by 4.

1. James Tedesco 2. Matt Ikuvalu 3. Josh Morris 4. Joseph Manu 5. Brett Morris 6. Luke Keary 7. Kyle Flanagan 8. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves 9. Jake Friend 17. Lindsay Collins 11. Boyd Cordner 12. Angus Crichton 10. Siosiua Taukeiaho 14. Lachlan Lam 15. Sitili Tupouniua 16. Mitchell Aubusson 20. Isaac Liu

1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad 2. Nick Cotric 3. Jarrod Croker 4. Michael Oldfield 5. Jordan Rapana 6. Jack Wighton 7. George Williams 8. Josh Papali'i 9. Siliva Havili 10. Dunamis Lui 11. Hudson Young 12. Elliott Whitehead 15. Kai O'Donnell 13. Joseph Tapine 14. Tom Starling 16. Ryan Sutton 21. Semi Valemi

Referees: Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials: Dave Munro, Todd Smith; Video Referees: Jared Maxwell, Ben Galea;

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