Wests Tigers v Raiders: Cleary makes changes, Hodgson back in green
Author NRL.com Timestamp Tue 12 Jun 2018, 04:35 PM
A crucial game for the Tigers and an even bigger one for the Raiders.
The Tigers are ninth on the ladder with a 7-7 record, while Canberra are 10th with a 5-8 record that could easily read 8-5 if they hadn’t blown so many late leads.
The Green Machine lost the unlosable again last week, going down 23-22 to the Panthers on Nathan Cleary’s clutch field goal. If they drop this one against the Tigers it’s probably time to stamp them as also-rans for 2018.
The Raiders clearly have the talent to be a top eight team and have shown in almost every game that they can out-play the opposition for long periods. But the evidence also shows they often don’t know how to preserve a lead when the pressure is on in crunch time. Why it happens is probably debated endlessly in pubs throughout the nation’s capital.
The Tigers are not unlike the Raiders in that they have also lost a bunch of games by narrow margins. But they have also won a few close ones and might have an edge in mental toughness if Sunday’s clash goes down to the wire.
Key match-up: Whether he starts or is back on the bench, Josh Reynolds looms as a significant factor with his ability to play in the halves or fill a back-up hooker role. He doesn’t always take the right option but Reynolds can turn a game with his energy and infectious enthusiasm. He doesn’t want to step on any toes as a first-year member of the Tigers but it’s not in his nature to sit back and wait for things to happen.
For the Tigers to win: Everything looked rosy with a 10-2 half-time lead last week against the Sharks, but the Tigers got stage fright in the opening 25 minutes of the second half and lost control of the game. They need to remember no lead is safe and stay in the Raiders’ face defensively from start to finish.
For the Raiders to win: First and foremost they need to exorcise any lingering mental demons from last week’s last-minute loss to the Panthers by coming out with a mix of controlled aggression and clear-minded purpose. The Raiders’ problem isn’t staying in the game – it’s their inability to finish a game from a winning position. The top eight will stay out of reach unless they fix it.
Wests Tigers Stat Attack: After a dream start to 2018 the Wests Tigers have hit a form slump, winning only two of their past eight games.
Raiders Stat Attack: The Raiders lost yet another extremely close encounter in round 14, with their 23-22 defeat to Penrith their fourth loss by two points or less this season. They do go into this game with an excellent recent record against the Tigers through, winning five of the past six games between the teams.
And another thing: For those who saw it, the 1989 grand final will always rank right up there with the best all-time premiership deciders. The Tigers led 12-2 at half-time before the Raiders stormed home, tying it up at 14-14 with a converted John Ferguson try in the final minute. The Raiders had all the momentum in extra time, going ahead 15-14 on Chris O’Sullivan’s field goal before unheralded replacement prop Steve Jackson sealed Canberra’s maiden premiership with an improbable try.
Wests Tigers: 1 Corey Thompson, 2 Malakai Watene-Zelezniak, 3 Esan Marsters, 4 Mahe Fonua, 5 Kevin Naiqama, 6 Josh Reynolds, 7 Luke Brooks, 8 Russell Packer , 9 Elijah Taylor, 10 Ben Matulino, 11 Chris Lawrence, 12 Robbie Rochow, 13 Matt Eisenhuth
Interchange: 14 Alex Twal, 15 Matt McIlwrick, 16 Josh Aloiai, 17 Tim Grant
Reserves: 18 Michael Chee-Kam, 19 Tyson Gamble, 20 Sauaso Sue, 21 Chris McQueen
Malakai Watene-Zelezniak returns on the wing after being omitted on game day last Sunday. Kevin Naiqama holds his spot on the wing and Corey Thompson moves to fullback with Tui Lolohea dropping out. Matt McIlwrick comes in on the bench, Elijah Taylor has been named at hooker. Robbie Rochow also makes a return in the starting side and Josh Aloiai moves to the bench.
Raiders: 1 Jack Wighton, 2 Nick Cotric, 3 Jarrod Croker , 4 Joseph Leilua, 5 Michael Oldfield, 6 Blake Austin, 7 Aidan Sezer, 8 Iosia Soliola, 9 Josh Hodgson, 10 Shannon Boyd, 11 Joseph Tapine, 12 Elliott Whitehead, 13 Josh Papalii
Interchange: 14 Siliva Havili, 15 Luke Bateman, 16 Dunamis Lui, 17 Liam Knight
Reserves: 18 Emre Guler, 19 Brad Abbey, 20 Jack Murchie, 21 Craig Garvey
Great news for the Raiders with Josh Hodgson named to play his first game of the season at hooker after tearing his ACL during last year’s World Cup. Hodgson’s long-awaited return sees Siliva Havili drop back to the bench. Jordan Rapana’s hamstring injury gives Michael Oldfield his chance on the wing. Joseph Tapine is back from suspension in the second row and Iosia Soliola moves to prop with Dunamis Lui going to the bench.
Wests Tigers v Canberra Raiders, Sunday 4.10pm at Campbelltown Stadium
Head-to-head: Played 33; Wests Tigers 18 wins, Raiders 15 wins
Matches at venue: Played 9; Wests Tigers 7 wins, Raiders 2 wins
2017 result: Raiders won 46-6 at GIO Stadium in round 3
Points per game: Wests Tigers 15.6; Raiders 21.8
Points conceded per game: Wests Tigers 15.5; Raiders 21.8
Televised: Live on Nine, Fox League