Canterbury coach Des Hasler believes Canberra are capable of a tilt at the NRL premiership on the back of the sublime early-season form of hooker Josh Hodgson.
Hodgson is a surprise leader of the Dally M awards after the first month ahead of the Raiders’ visit to Belmore Sportsground on Monday night for the final game of round five.
Hasler has been impressed with the Raiders and knows they will be even better due to the return of their star halves Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer from injury.
“I think Canberra at full strength is one of the sleeping giants,” Hasler said on Sunday.
“I have watched them closely over the last 18 months/two years and with the evolution of young players and the evolution of players coming through the mix they are capable of beating anyone on the day.
“I expect tomorrow night to be one of the toughest games we will play.”
The Bulldogs (3-1) sat atop the NRL ladder leading into round four, with the Raiders (2-1-1) holding a spot in the eight. Much of that is thanks to Hodgson.
“It doesn’t surprise me that he sits on the top of the(Dally M) leaderboard,” Hasler said.
“He is very important, he is a very good dummy half with all the attributes and certainly provides a lot of momentum the way he brings a lot players into the game especially on the tryline.
“He has a good kicking game too.”
Joey Leilua is another important inclusion for the Raiders in his return from suspension. The visitors are coming off their first loss of the season to Gold Coast.
Hasler has named an unchanged line-up from his side’s last-start Easter Friday thumping of South Sydney.
The Dogs were 1-1 at Belmore last year, beating Melbourne but losing to Cronulla.
* Canberra have won just one of 12 games at Belmore
* Des Hasler has a fantastic coaching record against Ricky Stuart winning 13 of their 15 meetings
* Since the start of last season 16 of the Raiders’ 28 matches have been decided by eight points or less.
Source: Fox Sports Stats