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Saturday, July 24, 2021

Raiders vs Roosters: Semi-final preview

The Canberra Raiders will be looking to make it back-to-back finals victories when they line up for a grand final rematch against the Sydney Roosters at the Sydney Cricket Ground tomorrow night, Friday 9 October.

It might not be a grand final this time around, but there is still plenty on the line for both sides when they meet for a do-or-die semi-final clash.

The Roosters are coming off a one-point loss to the Panthers last week after starting on fire to race to a 10-0 lead before the Panthers hit top gear and scored five straight tries.

It looked like the Panthers would run away with the game, but the Roosters showed their toughness and finals experience to fight back to only lose by the narrowest of margins.

The Roosters’ strong point in recent seasons has been their defence, but there have been signs in recent weeks that their once watertight defence is just starting to leak.

In last year’s finals series, they conceded just 20 points in their three finals as opposed to 29 in their one final this season. That may be due to some rule changes and more free-flowing football being played, but it is not what we’ve become accustomed to seeing from the two-time defending premiers.

In fact, they have conceded a whopping 107 points in their last three games this season, including that 60-8 thrashing at the hands of the Rabbitohs. What will boost their confidence for this clash is that they conceded just six points the last time these two met back in round 17, with the Raiders unable to crack the Roosters’ line despite plenty of chances in the first half.

Jake Friend is a huge inclusion for the Roosters after missing last week and should bolster their middle defence, while Sonny Bill Williams returns to the bench after also missing last week.

The Raiders have named an unchanged team for this do-or-die clash, with Ricky Stuart happy to stick with the same 17-man team that got the job done against the Sharks.

They may not admit to it, but the Raiders would still be burning from last year’s heartbreaking grand final loss.

The Raiders’ first half against the Sharks last week was incredibly poor by their lofty standards, with several errors and poor discipline keeping them pinned in their own half.

They managed to regain their composure with a superb second half led by their halves Jack Wighton and George Williams, but they cannot afford to start slowly this week against much better opposition.

Wighton and Williams were the two best players on the field, scoring two tries each with Ricky Stuart saying “they lifted the team on their shoulders”.

The Raiders’ first half issues stemmed from being beaten in the middle of the ground. The Sharks forwards got on top of the Raiders early on, before the Raiders bench – led by Hudson Young and Siliva Havili – turned the tide in the second half.

With the Roosters quality pack, the Raiders big men will have to be on from the start with plenty of pressure on the shoulders of their pack leader, Josh Papalii.

Key matchups

Josh Papalii (Raiders) vs Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (Roosters)

Papalii is regarded as the best front rower in the game but struggled to have an impact in the first half last week, before producing a brilliant second stint when he came on late in the game. Joe Tapine has been superb in the middle this season, but there’s no doubt that the Raiders grow an extra leg when Papalii is dominating. He is such an influential player and if can impose his will on the game early, it will go a long way to securing the win.

Waerea-Hargreaves has been the leader of the Roosters pack for a while now and was their best player in last year’s grand final. He gets himself up for the big games and will no doubt be champing at the bit for his matchup with Papalii. He only had 103 run metres last week against the Panthers, so will be looking to make amends this time around.

Jack Wighton (Raiders) vs Luke Keary (Roosters)

Wighton’s game is based on power with his ball running a constant threat to opposition defences. He has also developed a knack of showing up in the big moments, such as scoring two tries last week to drag the Raiders over the line and was also the best player on the ground in last year’s grand final. The aspect of his game that gets lost in his brilliant attacking game is his defence. He is one of the biggest five-eighths in the competition and is such a good athlete that he can handle the bigger forwards and the nimbler backs with relative ease. If the Raiders forwards can get on top, look out for Wighton attacking the Roosters’ right edge defence.

Keary doesn’t have the size or power that Wighton possesses, but his great strength is his ability to read the game and always make the right decision. His kicking game is also elite, and the Raiders will have to be wary of his cross-field kicks to Daniel Tupou on the wing. Keary had all three of the Roosters’ try assists last week, so the Raiders will know that the bulk of their attack comes through either him or their star fullback, James Tedesco.

With a preliminary final against the Storm on the line and a host of big-name players for both sides, this semi-final promises to be an absolute beauty.

Full teams:

  Raiders  Roosters
1Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad1James Tedesco
2Semi Valemei2Daniel Tupou
3Jarrod Croker3Josh Morris
4Jordan Rapana4Joseph Manu
5Nick Cotric5Brett Morris
6Jack Wighton6Luke Keary
7George Williams7Kyle Flanagan
8Josh Papalii8Jared Waerea-Hargreaves
9Tom Starling9Jake Friend
10Sia Soliola10Siosiua Taukeiaho
11John Bateman11Boyd Cordner
12Elliott Whitehead12Angus Crichton
13Joe Tapine13Isaac Liu
 Bench Bench
14Siliva Havili14Lindsay Collins
15Dunamis Lui15Sitili Tupouniua
16Hudson Young16Mitchell Aubusson
17Corey Harawira-Naera17Sonny Bill Williams
 Reserves Reserves
18Sam Williams18Nat Butcher
19Matthew Timoko19Daniel Fifita
20Kai O’Donnell20Matt Ikuvalu
21Michael Oldfield21Lachlan Lam

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