Rugby League


NRL: Canberra Raiders prepare for extreme heat in season opener with Penrith Panthers

Gloves and beanies are usually what's required for visiting teams when they come to Canberra to face the Raiders.

So Penrith Panthers recruit Trent Merrin got a pleasant surprise when he looked at his new team's schedule to start the year.

 "I was stoked when I saw we had them in round one. It's a bit hotter than the back end of the season," Merrin said.

"It's definitely very hard to travel down and beat them at home.

"They have the crowd behind them and they really take it personally.

"The best thing we can do is to concentrate on us to have a tough battle against the Raiders."


The Raiders and the Panthers have adopted different methods in preparing for the sweltering 33-degree temperatures expected for Saturday's season opener, which kicks off at 3pm at Canberra Stadium.

The Raiders haven't shied away from the brutal conditions, with players forced to train at the hottest part of the day.

In contrast, the Panthers have got their work out of the way in the early morning.

"In Penrith it's about 42 degrees, so we can't do too much. It definitely works in our favour," Merrin said. "We've had some really tough sessions in the heat.

"We try to beat the heat, but it's about 30 degrees at 7 o'clock in the morning anyway, so it's really hard to dodge it."

The Raiders will use beanies soaked in ice water and instruct their players to drink ice slushies in the lead-up to kick-off to lower their core temperature.

The NRL will make a decision closer to kick-off whether to have water breaks mid-way through each half, depending on a number of factors, including the temperature and humidity.

Raiders forward Sia Soliola said the team wouldn't be using the heat as an excuse.

"You can do as best as you can preparing for it, but the weather is out of our control," Soliola said. "We've just got to do our best to prepare for the weather and the opposition."

The match is also the first for both teams with the number of interchanges reduced from 10 to eight.

The hot conditions will add to the fatigue factor for the big men and should allow the smaller players to come into their own in the later stages of each half.

"The first few rounds will be tough when the boys are finding their match fitness and getting ready for the season," Merrin said.

"It will affect both teams in the middle and the heat will test everyone out. It's a tough game that we play and it's always a challenge."

Merrin expected Raiders hooker Josh Hodgson to pose his side plenty of problems around the ruck.

"You've just got to stay alert," he said. "Whenever there is an opportunity for him to duck out, he'll take it and he'll be popping the big boys through the line.

"You've just got to stay on your toes around the middle, especially when you're tired."