Round 4 at Bruce Stadium sees the 2nd placed Raiders take on the 6th placed Titans. Even the most optimistic fan would probably not have called these two sides being so high up the ladder, but these are early days and both teams have much to prove.
The Raiders left the Hunter Valley with a single competition point after an extended battle with Knights which provided what may possibly be the only draw of the 2016. The Titans meanwhile fired to overcome an equally feisty Wests Tigers.
While the Raiders are unbeaten in 2016 they’ll definitely be keen to avoid another narrow scare like the one the Knights served up. To do so they’ll need to take control of the game defensively, and stop the Titans from building any kind of attacking confidence. The Raiders have demonstrated an ability for gritty goal line defence already this season, which they’ll need to combine with firm ruck defence in the middle of the park.
The Raiders boast the 3rd best tackle break count in the league, while the Titans are second for missed tackles, a stat which could prove costly for the visitors on the fringes.
Battle of the Big Boppers
Ex-Raider Dave Shillington returns to face off with his old team mates, and he’ll be keenly aware of the impact the likes of Vaughan, Boyd and Soliola can have on the defensive line. Boyd in particular is worth an extra 5 metres after contact as he forces at least three defenders to commit and drag him down. Vaughan continues to terrorise ruck defence week after week, bending defensive lines back on themselves.
The Titans aren’t short on big units either, but they’ll be looking to Greg Bird and Ryan James to provide leadership in the middle. James however, is prone to conceding multiple penalties in games, and will need to be wary of quicker Raiders catching him out.
Your cue, Maestro
What should have been billed as the battle of Aidan Sezer and Dave Shillington versus their respective former clubs is now simply a story of Shillos return to Canberra with Sezer still sidelined. In his place stands Sam Williams, partnered with temporary five eighth Elliot Whitehead. Whitehead was actually quite impressive against the Knights, in particular his pass to put Jordan Rapana over the line.
Williams had a mixed bag, which means once again he’ll need to be searching for that form that he displayed in the home loss to the Cowboys last year. While the Raiders lost in the final stroke of play Williams had a sublime kicking game, something that he’ll need to keep the Titans on the back foot.
Both Ricky and Neil have had relatively good starts to the campaign – Ricky technically hasn’t lost a game yet, while Neil has only had to suffer at the hands of Melbourne. NRL coaching is however notoriously fickle, and both men will be looking for that next W to keep them safe.
Lucky Numbers Player Bingo
#Elliot Whitehead #6 Tyrone Roberts
#9 Josh Hodgson #8 David Shillington
#11 Sia Soliola #13 Greg Bird
#16 Paul Vaughan #15 Ryan James
The Raiders have already amassed two thirds of the home wins that they racked up in 2015, and there’s no reason why they can’t match last year’s tally this weekend. Rather than trying to defend a reasonable early lead they need to take a rhythmic control of the game: slowly grind away at the Titans and wait for the gaps to open up. If they can get the Titans guessing every time they attack they can wreak havoc either through the middle or on the fringes.
Raiders by 14!