Matt’s Match-ups Rd 17: Raiders V Dragons
Dragons V Raiders
Matt Dufty 1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad
Jonus Pearson 2. Bailey Simonsson
Euan Aitken 3. Jarrod Croker ©
Tim Lafai 4.
Mikaele Ravalawa 5.
Corey Norman 6. Jack Wighton
Darren Nicholls 7. Aidan Sezer
Jeremy Latimore 8. Josh Papalii
Cameron McInnes © 9.
Josh Hodgson ©
Blake Lawrie 10.
Jacob Host 11. John Bateman
Tariq Sims 12. Elliott Whitehead
Luciano Leilua 13.
# Reece Robson 15 vs 14.
# Korbin Sims 14 vs 15. Corey Horsburgh
Patrick Kaufusi 16. Sia Soliola
Josh Kerr 17. Ryan Sutton
Tristan Sailor 18.
Jason Saab 19.
James Graham 20.
Ben Hunt 21.
Paul Vaughan 22.
Tyson Frizell 23.
#- Skins altered to pair like skins.
(Bolded players are the winners of the skin. The extended bench is excluded.)
Matt Dufty might be lightning fast, and might have a big play in him, but he isn’t consistent or involved enough. Charnze Nicholl-Klokstad isn’t as fast, but, he is safer, and effort and determination aren’t things he lacks.
Bailey Simonsson has done everything asked of him in 2019. He has done it with the work ethic of his Kiwi team mate and wing partner, Jordan Rapana. He averages 17 carries for 132m a game. That’s three more carries and nine more metres a game.
Jordan Rapana has had to deal with injuries this year, and the Raiders' recent lighter schedule should hopefully have helped him. Meanwhile, the former Raiders junior Mikaele Ravalawa has been a revelation for the Dragons in 2019. He has been a big bodied ball carrier and try scorer, averaging 125m a game and crossing nine times this season. Ravalawa gets the skin.
Both Jarrod Croker and Euan Aitken have been overlooked for State of Origin in recent seasons, so they both know the disappointment. Aitken got off to a poor start in 2019, even getting dropped for a period. However, since returning to the centres, following injuries to Tim Lafai and Zac Lomax, he has been back to his barnstorming best - averaging 117m a game. Croker is averaging less metres, has more missed tackles, and more worryingly, produced more try causes. He has 13 try causes, meaning he is costing the Raiders a try most weeks. He has scored 128 points in 2019 though, which means he is averaging over eight a game. He's still ahead, and he wins the skin.
Nick Cotric returns from his ankle injury, which means Seb Kris drops to the extended bench. People will hate this call, as Tim Lafai only returned from injury himself last week, but this is an injury rule skin.
Jack Wighton will again bring confidence back after playing State of Origin football. The last time he pulled on a lime green jumper he had a very good first 25 minutes. It all went pear shaped after that and turned into one of his worst games. Corey Norman finally gets a taste of the Origin arena. It’s been a long journey for a high touted player - who has made plenty of mistakes off field, along the way. Wighton has forced his way into a Blues jumper and held it, while Norman got his via injury. That’s a stronger form line in my opinion.
Jack Wighton has been playing very good football at five eighth, but as we saw last round, his confidence and performance can sometimes falter. In that match against the Eels, Aidan Sezer needed to take a greater share of the load. He faces a one gamer in Darren Nicholls, so Sezer takes the skin. But I do expect Hunt will play - in which case, the skin would be reversed.
Josh Papalii is the best prop in this contest. Jeremy Latimore had his best game for years on the weekend. That’s not enough to make up for the rest of his season.
Dunamis Lui, as I say every week, does his job - averaging 81m and 23 tackles a game. Blake Lawrie is averaging 100m and 34 tackles a game. He has played as a starting prop, lock and off the bench. I expect Paul Vaughan to play, and if that is the case, it is an even more decisive skin for the Dragons player.
Sia Soliola is averaging 92m and 23 tackles a game. This is much more than the two gamer, Patrick Kaufusi, and Soliola easily takes the skin.
Korbin Sims is an irritatingly good player. He is straight out of the Adam Blair mold, tough, uncompromising and walks the fine line of grubbery. Corey Horsburgh is also aggressive, a bit hot headed, and still has a lot to learn. Horsburgh averages more than his opponent; 89m to 68m and 21 to 20 tackles a game... and Horsburgh gets the skin.
Two captains will be at hooker this week - Josh Hodgson and Cameron McInnes. The Raiders need their wily hooker back at his best this week. Hopefully the rust in his game will be gone, after returning from a broken thumb last week. McInnes isn’t a ball player, he is more the workhorse. He does his job every week. While he isn’t more talented than his opponent, he hasn’t missed football through injury, and didn’t play poorly last time he suited up. McInnes takes this one.
Reece Robson is playing the same role as Siliva Havili, a hooker playing at lock. Robson is aiming to add mobility in the defensive line through the middle of the game. Havili is a sturdier ball runner, yet only averages one metre more a game and he averages 14 less tackles.
Jacob Host has played a lot of right edge for the Dragons in 2019 and done a reasonable job, averaging 85m and 25 tackles a game. But he also has 38 missed tackles, ten line break causes and six try causes. John Bateman doesn’t need explaining. He is one of the best back rowers in the game. He averages 107m and 32 tackles a game with a 91 per cent tackle success rate. He is an inspirational player, and this is an obvious skin.
Elliott Whitehead is tough as nails, and leads by his actions - averaging 35 tackles and 75m a game. Whitehead gives the team steel, toughness and reliability. Tariq Sims returns from the suspension that ruled him out of Origin three. Sims averages 111m and 30 tackles a game. It comes down to Origin star versus international star, so I’ll take the Englishman.
Joseph Tapine has a heap of talent, but as yet hasn’t consistently translated that into practice. He is good enough, but we need to see more of him, for longer minutes. He averages 62m and 19 tackles as a starting lock - and that isn’t great, especially when you compare him to Luciano Leilua. He has played edge back row, starting prop and off the bench this year, yet still averages 60m and 21 tackles. I expect Tyson Frizell to play, in which case the skin would remain with the Dragons player.
Ryan Sutton averages nearly double Latimore’s output. That is more than enough for me. Josh Kerr has played three games, but only yielded 33m and 18 tackles a game.
The tally is Dragons six and Raiders 11. This is as you'd expect in a match up between fourth and 12th on the ladder. However, with three Origin stars and an English international on the extended bench, I expect a very different Dragons 17 come Sunday.
Result: Raiders need to stick with the top four and I expect them to battle past a star studded Dragons (by 6-12).
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