2020 State of Origin squads
14 days ago | LeagueUnlimited Media
Raiders must beat Sharks then rely on others for a top-four miracle
Victory over the Cronulla Sharks on Saturday evening will see the Canberra Raiders sneak into the top-four, but it may only be a fleeting visit if the Parramatta Eels dispose of the Wests Tigers in the final match of the evening.
Sitting two points adrift of Parramatta in fifth place but with a superior 18-point differential, win number eight on the road by the Raiders will up the ante on the Eels' quest for a finals double dip.
It's a simpler story for the Cronulla Sharks who will retain eighth place regardless of the round 20 washup. But if this weekend's favourites have it all their own way then John Morris and Ricky Stuart will meet again, one week later, in an eliminator in the nation's capital.
Canberra scored some memorable tries in last week's win over the Warriors at GIO Stadium but the slow start would have concerned Stuart. With a 45 per cent share of possession, a distracted Green Machine were their own worst enemy in a contest that could have easily gone down to the wire if not for some fortuitous outcomes against the run of play.
Now resting up to nine players this weekend, Stuart has seemingly put the cue in the rack, content to launch the Raiders' tilt for a consecutive grand final appearance from home soil in fifth place.
Canberra young guns Adam Cook, Darby Medlyn and Jarrett Subloo will each make their NRL debut with former Bulldog Matt Frawley named to make his club debut. And with Jack Wighton and George Williams joining leaders Josh Papalii and Jarrod Croker on the sidelines, Sam Williams returns as captain in his first appearance of the season.
Other changes include the selection of new centres Harley Smith-Shields and Matt Timoko, while Sia Soliola returns from injury to join Hudson Young and Corey Harawira-Naera in the pack. John Bateman is out and Elliott Whitehead moves to an extended bench.
Last week the Sharks were at the mercy of the Roosters long before Shaun Johnson's Achilles let go at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Already missing key personnel and yet to claim a top-eight scalp this season, Cronulla were no match in elite company.
And while Morris is no stranger to new halves combinations, the Johnston loss couldn't have come at a worse time. Well below his best in the Sharks' week-1 exit in 2019, the former Warrior had found his groove with an unparalleled 23 try assists after 19 rounds. With the suspended Chad Townsend still a week away, skipper Wade Graham makes his return alongside Connor Treacy in the halves.
Sione Katoa and Josh Dugan are other high profile omissions, replaced by winger Nene Macdonald and centre Mawene Hiroti. Forward Teig Wilton has been named on the interchange in place of the injured Royce Hunt.
Last meeting: Round 24 2019 - Sharks 14 Raiders 15
Who to watch: With Johnson's season over, Townsend suspended and Matt Moylan unlikely to return, the Sharks ship is now Connor Tracey's. Despite playing behind a list of established names, last week the Sharks junior and former Rabbitoh racked up his 14th appearance of the season. Never short of confidence, expect Tracey's acceleration to challenge the inexperienced Raiders while Graham's deft ball play targets the fringes.
Despite missing the Raiders' 2019 finals campaign and the opening five rounds of 2020 due to suspension, Stuart's high praise for Hudson Young never wavered. Now with 14 consecutive appearances under his belt , the 22-year-old from Maitland is a key part of the coach's interchange puzzle. Capable of 80 minutes and always good for 30-plus tackles, now with four tries in five weeks, the probing backrower is one to watch from close range.
The favourite: The last time these sides met doubled as Paul Gallen's last on home turf. In what became a shootout, former Raider Aidan Sezer's third field goal - kicked in extra time, ruined the Sharks' party. Now a year on, Cronulla are favoured to reverse the result.
My tip: Little has separated Cronulla and Canberra in recent seasons with the past four split down the middle. With three of those decided by two points or less, another cliffhanger wouldn't surprise. The Raiders are barely recognisable and the Sharks have their own concerns, but with a home final on the cards and the exuberance of youth, watch for the Raiders to outlast a contented Sharks outfit. Raiders by 2.
1. Will Kennedy 2. Nene Macdonald 3. Mawene Hiroti 20. Bryson Goodwin 5. Ronaldo Mulitalo 6. Wade Graham 7. Connor Tracey 8. Braden Hamlin-Uele 19. Braydon Trindall 10. Aaron Woods 11. Briton Nikora 17. Teig Wilton 14. Scott Sorensen 15. Jack Williams 16. Andrew Fifita 18. Billy Magoulias 21. Daniel Vasquez
1. Adam Cook 2. Semi Valemi 3. Matthew Timoko 4. Harley Smith-Shields 5. Nick Cotric 6. Matt Frawley 7. Sam Williams 8. Dunamis Lui 9. Tom Starling 10. Iosia Soliola 11. Hudson Young 12. Corey Harawira-Naera 13. Siliva Havili 14. Kai O'Donnell 15. Ryan Sutton 16. Darby Medlyn 17. Jarrett Subloo
Referees: Ashley Klein; Sideline Officials: Todd Smith, Phil Henderson; Video Referees: Jared Maxwell;