There were plenty of critics who would not have thought five weeks ago that this battle in Canberra would be between two in-form teams.
The Titans have won four of their past five clashes (three away from home) while the Raiders have won three from four (yet none at home), leaving them both on eight competition points after winning just one of their first four games.
And they have done it with an array of players who were little known this time last year or playing at other clubs. Both teams are among the most changed since last season, emphasising how both clubs are in rebuilding stages.
The Raiders have just five players who were in the 17 for the corresponding round of 2014 while the Titans have only eight with newcomers like Edrick Lee, Blake Austin, Jordan Rapana, Josh Hodgson, Frank-Paul Nuuausala, Sia Soliola and Mark Nicholls who have all become prominent team members for the Raiders. Meanwhile the Titans have had Kierran Moseley, Kane Elgey, Josh Hoffman, Lachlan Bird, Daniel Mortimer, Eddy Pettybourne and James Roberts come into the Titans side in the past 12 months.
It has given both sides a good mix of youth and experience and coaches Ricky Stuart and Neil Henry, who both grew up in Canberra, confidence their teams will continue to develop and improve.
The Raiders had 11 players involved in last year’s representative weekend and the Titans eight. That shows the depth of both squads and leads to what duels we can enjoy this afternoon. Blake Austin, this season’s recruit from Wests Tigers, has been outstanding for the Raiders while Aidan Sezer has been very prominent in the Titans’ attacking dominance in recent weeks; Ryan James (left) and Dave Taylor (right) are the Titans dangerous edge runners while Sia Soliola (left) and Josh Papalli (right) will be a handful.
Sam Williams and Kane Elgey are emerging halfbacks, Shannon Boyd off the bench is a monster ball-carter who will give the experienced Myles, Douglas, Pettybourne and White some troubles. James Roberts faces off against the seasoned and consistent Raiders skipper Jarrod Croker; Englishman Josh Hodgson and Kierran Moseley are lively dummy half runners who were unknown in the NRL a year ago and Josh Hoffman and Jack Wighton are hitting form at fullback, with former Raider Will Zillman also in great touch while starting at centre but relieving Hoffman at the back during matches.
“The Raiders have some very dangerous ball carriers and a lot of size, and plenty of very good young players from fullback Jack Wighton through big, powerful prop Shannon Boyd who comes off the bench,” said Titans coach Neil Henry.
“Our defence will certainly be tested and we have to be a lot better early in the game than we were against the Warriors in Auckland where we allowed them too much easy yardage before we got over the top of them.
“Blake Austin has been in good form and was impressive for Country against City, scoring three tries, and his partnership with Sam Williams who has an excellent kicking game has been one of their strengths.
“Josh Hodgson, the English import at hooker, is another who is a danger to us with his running from dummy half. They have a big pack, as we expect from the Raiders, and Soliola and Papalli are dangerous edge runners who we know we’ll have to contain.”
The Raiders are after a third straight victory but their first at home (just like the Titans were up to round 7) while the Titans are looking for four straight (and four successive wins away). Both teams have been clicking into gear in their second halves after slow starts too, extending the similarities of their seasons.
HEAD TO HEAD
Played 15: Titans 9, Raiders 6.
At GIO Stadium: Played 7; Raiders 4, Titans 3.
TRIES SCOED: Titans 31, Raiders 26.
TRIES CONCEDED: Raiders 29, Titans 30.
COMPLETION RATES: Raiders 77%, Titans 68%
GOALKICKING: Titans 79%, Raiders 78%.
MATCH OFFICIALS: Referee: Grant Atkins. Assistant Referee: Gavin Badger. Touch Judges: Phil Henderson and Tim Roby. Video Referees: Ashley Klein and Ben Galea.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 3pm
TITANS: Hoffman, Mead, Roberts, Zillman, Don, Sezer, Elgey, Douglas, Moseley, Myles (capt), James, Taylor, Burr. INTERCHANGE: White, Pettybourne, Ioane, Mortimer.
RAIDERS: Wighton, Lee, Croker (capt), Waqa, Rapana, Austin, Williams, Vaughan, Hodgson, Nuuausala, Papalii, Soliola, Fensom. INTERCHANGE: Baptiste, Kennedy, Nicholls, Boyd.