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3 hours ago | Tim Costello
2019's two surprise packets look to keep momentum going in nation's capital
For many, selecting where the Canberra Raiders and Parramatta Eels would finish on the ladder was a relatively easy task. Picking them to land in the bottom eight required little thought. Parramatta were also tipped by many to nab their second-straight wooden spoon.
Instead, both have defied their critics to enter round five tied with the Sydney Roosters on six points in second position.
Outside of hooker Josh Hodgson, Canberra went into this season with what was one of the competition's worst spines on paper.
Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad had only played nine games of first grade and was relatively untested at fullback. The same could be said for Jack Wighton, who had spent little time at five-eighth having played most of his NRL career in the jersey now worn by their new recruit. And both Sam Williams and Aidan Sezer struggled for consistency when it came to game management.
But based off the first four rounds of the season, all have dispelled their doubters. Credit must be given to Canberra's forward pack though and in particular new English import John Bateman, who has been a revelation up front.
Having fallen short in their first real test against the Melbourne Storm three weeks ago, the Raiders have another chance to further push their premiership claims against the rapidly improving Eels.
Like their opponents, Parramatta have benefited off strong form from key recruits. Blake Ferguson has been immense bringing the ball up and his finishing in attack has been just as good.
Meanwhile, Shaun Lane finally looks like he is delivering on a consistent level - each and every run bending the line and dragging defenders.
Again, like Canberra, this is not the best team on paper. But the Eels are revelling under low expectations and need to make the most of their start to 2019.
Last meeting: Round 6 2018 - Raiders 18 Eels 2
Who to watch: The battle of the number nines is certainly an interesting one.
Josh Hodgson is, behind Cameron Smith, the best rake in the game. He is no stranger to hard work but his short-range kicking game is sublime while his quick service out of dummy-half is also great at putting his big men over the advantage line.
This week he comes up against one of Parramatta's impressive young guns in Reed Mahoney. Not much was expected of the youngster in 2019, with many questioning whether he was capable of playing the full 80 minutes. He proved them wrong last week with 59 tackles in a solid display against Cronulla. While lacking the creativity and finesse of Hodsgon, Mahoney competes on every play and his youthful enthusiasm has been refreshing to see.
The favourite: Canberra are favourites to win this one at home.
My tip: If both teams play to their potential, there is no doubt this will be the game of the round. With the second-best defensive record in the league, look for the Raiders to sneak home. Canberra by 4.
1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad 2. Nick Cotric 3. Jarrod Croker 4. Joseph Leilua 5. Jordan Rapana 6. Jack Wighton 7. Sam Williams 8. Josh Papalii 9. Josh Hodgson 10. Dunamis Lui 11. John Bateman 12. Elliot Whitehead 13. Ryan Sutton 14. Siliva Havili 15. Hudson Young 16. Iosia Soliola 17. Joseph Tapine
1. Clint Gutherson 2. Maika Sivo 3. Michael Jennings 4. Brad Takairangi 5. Blake Ferguson 6. Jaeman Salmon 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Daniel Alvaro 9. Reed Mahoney 10. Junior Paulo 11. Shaun Lane 12. Marata Niukore 13. Tepai Moeroa 14. Peni Terepo 15. Tim Mannah 16. Kane Evans 18. David Gower
Referees: Henry Perenara, Tim Roby; Sideline Officials: Drew Oultram, Nick Morel; Video Referees: Jared Maxwell, Bryan Norrie;