Rugby League

NRL: English pair hold the key as Raiders look to continue unbeaten run

CAN THE RAIDERS' MAKESHIFT HALVES HOLD THE FORT AGAIN?

Many thought Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart was pulling an early April Fool's Day prank when Elliott Whitehead was named at five-eighth an hour before last week's 24-all draw with Newcastle. The Englishman did finish with two try assists, but how halfback Sam Williams adjusts to being the only specialist half on the field will be key. The Knights were able to put significant kick pressure on Williams with Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer out injured. Fullback Jack Wighton eased the load with a few kicks and he might be required to do a few more to make it less predictable. 

English duo Josh Hodgson and Elliott Whitehead will be vital for the Canberra Raiders against Gold Coast on Saturday.
English duo Josh Hodgson and Elliott Whitehead will be vital for the Canberra Raiders against Gold Coast on Saturday.  Photo: Melissa Adams

WILL THE RAIDERS PLAY MORE "FOOTBALL"?

Stuart said at his midweek news conference that the Titans are "probably playing better than us" and "that [character] doesn't get you through every game, we've got to start playing a little bit of quality football". The Raiders haven't played anywhere near their best in the first three rounds, but still have five points from a possible six to show for it. Whitehead has a reputation as a ball player and hopes he can continue to play like that this year. The Titans are playing adventurous football on the back of halves Ashley Taylor and Tyrone Roberts. It will be interesting to see whether the Raiders back themselves to grind out another two points, or be a bit more aggressive in attack. 

HOME IS WHERE THE GOOD START IS?

The Raiders will equal the number of home victories they achieved last year should they win on Saturday. In round four. It's a remarkable statistic and hopefully some early wins at Canberra Stadium have put an end to any doubts that may have built up. A win on Saturday would be the club's 200th at the ground. It could also mean the Raiders travel to Belmore next Monday against the red-hot Bulldogs as competition leader, provided Cronulla beats Melbourne this week. 

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BATTLE OF MASTER VERSUS APPRENTICES

During his time at Canberra, Gold Coast prop David Shillington spent plenty of time mentoring young bulls such as Paul Vaughan, Shannon Boyd and Josh Papalii. He will know the strengths and weaknesses of the Raiders pack back to front and Titans coach Neil Henry would undoubtedly be picking his brain this week. Shillington will be up for a big match and he would be heartened to know he will feel at home as the Raiders have swapped dressing sheds this year. 

HODGSON THE MAIN MAN AGAIN

Austin and Sezer's absence has forced Canberra hooker Josh Hodgson to take over games and the Englishman has done it with aplomb. A sign of a good player is wanting the ball in the pressure moments and Hodgson regularly put his hand up. In round two against the Roosters he kicked a 40-20 that put Canberra in position to slot a match-winning field goal, and he pulled off another at a critical time in last week's draw at Newcastle. His ability to poke through out of dummy half and allow Canberra's huge pack time and space with his sleight of hand is critical to this team's success.