Raiders v Eels preview

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Canberra Raiders v Parramatta Eels Sunday 4:05pm at GIO Stadium Canberra, Bruce

Resurgent Raiders Look To Continue Strong Form Against Inconsistent Eels

There's an old saying that a week is a long time in Rugby League. Going on that logic, three weeks is an eternity, and the Raiders recent turnaround in form has certainly backed that up.

Just under two fortnights ago, the Raiders were a shambles. They were sitting in equal last position after losing their last five games and there was seemingly no cause for optimism with 4 of their next 5 games against top 8 teams. Punters were rushing to the windows to get their wooden spoon tickets in and Raiders fans were turning their attention to 2023.

What has followed for the Green machine has been an absolute dream, winning their last three games convincingly, two coming against quality opposition in games they came into as the outsiders. They've got back to winning the battle of contact which has allowed them to dominate field position, leading to huge improvements in defence, while also generating increased momentum in attack. The return of Wighton last week also helped the left side be a more cohesive unit when in the red-zone. A win for the milk this week could potentially see them return to the top 8, however it gets even harder as they take on an Eels side who have shown that they are one of the best teams in the NRL when they want to be.

However, the Blue and Gold have been anything but convincing in the last two weeks, conceding 31 points in a magic round loss to the Roosters before scraping home at BankWest against Manly last week. They are yet to show the consistency required of a championship team, and travelling down to the freezing nation's capital against an in-form Raiders side has all the hallmarks of a famous Eels letdown game. In saying that, there are not many Eels sides in recent years that would've come back from a double digit deficit like the current one did last Friday. Too often in the past, the Eels would've seen Manly score two soft tries shortly after half-time, dropped their heads and lost in a blowout. To win the way they did, with a try in the dying minutes followed by Mitch Moses finally nailing a clutch sideline conversion, shows real growth.

As good as it was for the Eels to get one over their rival, it only brings their current winning streak to 1 in a row, with Round 5 being the last time they were able to win back to back games. The Eels desperately need to find consistency, and winning this one would be huge for them with the bye coming up in Round 13.

In team news for the Raiders, Charne Nicoll-Kolokstad is out for the foreseeable future after hamstring scans came back worse than initially thought. He is replaced at fullback by Xavier Savage, while Jarrod Croker makes his return from injury in the centres, with Ricky Stuart opting to leave incumbent Seb Kris in the 17 on the bench. Jamal Fogarty has been named to make his first appearance in the lime-green, with Brad Schneider making way, while Ryan Sutton is back from injury and will start from the bench, pushing Harry Rushton out of the side.

For the Eels, Waqa Blake returns as a welcome addition to Parra's wing stocks, with Hayze Perham returning to the reserves. Marata Niukore has been named in the back row with Papali'i moving to lock, the bench remaining unchanged from last week.

Last meeting: Round 19 2021 - Eels 10 Raiders 12

Who to watch: It will be good to see Raiders off-season recruit Jamal Fogarty finally run around for his new club for the first time after missing Rounds 1-11 through injury. While it is a shame that CNK got injured and as a result we won't see the Raiders spine at full strength (or as full strength as possible considering Hodgson's injury), Fogarty's inclusion comes at the perfect time; their attack is already running smoothly and he will not need to overplay his hand in any last ditch efforts to create. The fact that the machine isn't broken also takes the pressure off him to come in and be a quick fix. He was signed in order to fill that game-manager sized hold that has been vacant since George Williams' departure, and seeing how he settles into the side will be interesting, especially with Jack Wighton rediscovering his best form in recent weeks.

A lot gets made of the Eels halves and how critical their form is to Parra having success, which is of course fair enough, however it is my opinion that Clint Gutherson is the most important member of this Eels team. To put it simply, whenever the Gutherson plays well, the Eels play well and vice versa. A more detailed and well researched piece could investigating this could probably be written, but it's a theory that stands up anecdotally against the Eels last three games. Against the Panthers, the King played the best game of his career in my eyes, scoring a try and throwing a superb short ball to put Matterson through a hole to give his side the lead. A week later, he played poorly, not recording a single line break, line break assist or try assist against the Roosters as well as making a critical error that allowed Tedesco to score the Roosters second. Last week against Manly he was improved but not at his best, throwing a superb cutout pass to put Hayze Perham over while also missing a cover tackle on Tuipulotu that allowed the opposing winger to score. Gutho's form has been a microcosm of the Eels form, and it's fair to say that the way he performs on Sunday will have a huge bearing on the outcome of the game.

The favourite: The Eels are 5.5 point favourites at the time of writing.

My tip: Contextually this is a huge game for both teams. A win for the Raiders would put them in a great position to make a charge to the 8 while also instilling further confidence, while the Eels simply have to start stringing consecutive wins together. Parramatta may have beaten the Storm and Panthers, but have shown that they aren't capable of turning up in consecutive weeks against quality opposition, and until they prove that they are I can't tip them in a game like this. Raiders by 4.

1. Xavier Savage 2. Nick Cotric 16. Sebastian Kris 4. Matthew Timoko 5. Jordan Rapana 6. Jack Wighton 7. Jamal Fogarty 8. Josh Papali'i 9. Zac Woolford 10. Joseph Tapine 11. Hudson Young 12. Elliott Whitehead 13. Adam Elliott 14. Tom Starling 15. Ryan Sutton 18. Corey Horsburgh 20. James Schiller 22. Trey Mooney

1. Clinton Gutherson 2. Waqa Blake 3. Viliami Penisini 4. Tom Opacic 5. Bailey Simonsson 6. Dylan Brown 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 9. Reed Mahoney 10. Junior Paulo 11. Shaun Lane 12. Marata Niukore 13. Isaiah Papali'i 14. Makahesi Makatoa 15. Ryan Matterson 16. Oregon Kaufusi 17. Nathan Brown 19. Jakob Arthur

Referees: Todd Smith; Sideline Officials: Kasey Badger, Michael Wise; Video Referees: Matt Noyen;

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