Date: July 02 2012
The Raiders can give David Furner a clear path through the gauntlet of under-fire coaches by extending St George Illawarra's Canberra curse.
Having claimed bragging rights over Stephen Kearney and Wayne Bennett in recent weeks, Furner can make it three from three with victory against Steve Price's Dragons at Canberra Stadium tonight.
All four have been the subject of intense scrutiny as their teams fail to meet expectations.
Kearney's Parramatta Eels are languishing at the bottom of the ladder while the Raiders, the Newcastle Knights and the Dragons are 14th, 12th and 11th respectively.
They have won a combined 21 of their 59 games this season.
''You need to have the personnel there week in, week out,'' Furner said. ''There are certain teams that have been consistent, but other than that … it's a tough comp.''
Furner was last month forced to rebut speculation he would stand down from his position despite having two years left to run on his contract.
A 32-12 victory against the Knights at Hunter Stadium released the pressure valve, only for the Raiders to crash back to Earth with an error-riddled 40-18 loss to the North Queensland Cowboys in Townsville last week.
Price has had a tough initiation to the NRL in his first season in charge after Bennett left St George Illawarra to join the Knights.
The 2010 premiers are four points outside the top eight despite last week's gritty 8-6 win against the Gold Coast Titans.
Working in Furner's favour is one of the weirdest statistics in the NRL.
The Raiders haven't lost to the Dragons in Canberra since 2000, and have won 12 of their past 13 games against the club.
But it's a hoodoo which Raiders prop Tom Learoyd-Lahrs is cautious about taking too seriously.
''We don't tend to bring it up because that could lead to complacency,'' he said. ''The reality is they're a really good football side and we've a really big job to do.
''It's a funny stat and you hear it all the time, but you can't get bogged down with it.''
Learoyd-Lahrs and five-eighth Josh McCrone will co-captain the Raiders in the absence of regular skipper David Shillington, who is in camp with the Queensland State of Origin team.
Josh Dugan's ankle injury has allowed halfback Sam Williams to be recalled to the side for the first time since he was sent back to the NSW Cup in May to work on his defence.
Williams and McCrone have a solid understanding of each other, having spent the majority of last year as the team's halves combination.
''He's got a quiet confidence about him,'' Learoyd-Lahrs said of the 21-year-old Cooma product. ''He doesn't have to try and overplay his hand. Furnsey's given him a job to do and he's just got to steer the ship.''
Second-rowers Joel Thompson (hand) and Joe Picker (skin infection) have been cleared to play but Kiwi international Bronson Harrison will miss his second straight game with a hamstring injury.
Mark Nicholls makes his first-grade debut off the bench.
Penrith Panthers recruit Sandor Earl trained with the Raiders yesterday and could be a late inclusion on the right wing in place of Dimitri Pelo, despite only joining the club last Thursday.
The return of St George Illawarra's NSW Origin forward Trent Merrin is likely to deny former Raider Josh Miller an emotional homecoming.
Miller won the club's best and fairest award twice and played more than 100 games for the Raiders before being forced out at the end of last year due to salary cap pressure.
He is expected to be 18th man for the Dragons.
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