There is a tendency to view what happens in round one of any season as definitive.
As the Raiders kicked-off their season last night, there were many questions to be answered. What kind of direction would their new spine give them? Would they resolve the issues the Raiders had in the attacking twenty? Would the forward pack, interestingly minus former representative player David Shillington and 2014 Mal Meninga Medalist Shannon Boyd, be able to provide sufficient forward-progress and muscle to enable Cornish and Austin the space to unleash a potentially potent backline? What about the new recruits performance? And would Jack Wighton find his position in the number one jersey?
Last night did in fact begin to provide some answers but they were nowhere near definitive.
Cornish and Austin were both impressive. Operating on exclusive sides (Cornish on the left and Austin on the right) they both seemed to provide good direction for their backs. Cornish and Croker combined well in what appeared to be a set play to send Wighton over for the first try of the match. Cornish also ran the ball surprisingly well when needed.
Austin provided a steady threat on the right and showed a greater ability to choose the right option between the short ball and the second man than previous incumbents of the Raiders right hand side. Between the two of them the Raiders looked far more threatening in the attacking twenty, and came up with two tries from set-plays in the red zone.
The forward pack did good work across the board, with Soliola, Tilse, Papali, Vaughan and Nuuausala all exceeding 100 running metres. Soliola and Fensom did a lot of the grunt work, with 17 and 15 hit ups, as well as 40 and 45 tackles, respectively. Hodgson did well in his limited time on the park and showed a smart kicking game early. His removal for much of the second half may have been because of a backline shuffle caused by Rapana’s injury rather than any issue with his performance. McCrone spent plenty of time at 9 and was solid if unspectacular. He still has a tendency to hold the ball for two or three steps coming out of dummy-half, which can often threaten the line, but at other times can simply reduce the amount of space in which Cornish and Austin can operate.
The omission of Boyd and Shillington – the later apparently due to his need for match fitness returning from injury, remains worth watching. Shillington was a representative prop as recently as 2013, and Boyd a club-award winner last year. It will be interesting to see if they fit into the forward pack in the future. In particular, Shillington is 31 and off-contract at the end of the year.
As Jon Tuxworth in The Canberra Times pointed out, Wighton was supreme for the majority of the game. He ran a great line to fit in on the end of Cornish’s and Croker’s good work for the first try, ran 80 metres untouched for the second and provided an excellently timed (if not perfectly delivered) pass to Rapana for the Raider’s third. His defence was often good, and he made a frankly outstanding game saving tackle to bring down Mitch Brown in the left corner after returning from the sin bin.
However these many positives did not obscure the problems that remained across the park for the Raiders. Dropped ball from both the backline (including Wighton) and forwards bringing the ball out of the defensive half was inexcusable, and combined with poor line speed in goal-line defence kept the Sharks in a match where the Raiders had controlled. The amount of time Hodgson spent of the bench is a problem if it wasn’t resultant from the backline shuffle caused by Rapana’s removal – McCrone is simply not a good enough hooker to be playing major minutes there.
Wighton’s sin-binning should be seen as the momentary brain-fade it was. As Coach Stuart said he will be targeted for ‘niggle’ going forward and needs to learn how to handle it better. However if he is unable to find an effective way to deal with frustration it could prove problematic.
A solid start to the season for the Raiders.
Questions remain across the board, but last night was a good start to answering them.
[…] launching a missile towards the opposition red zone. But if you’ve read any of our game reviews from last season you already knew […]
[…] was an almost immediate success, working firstly with Mitch Cornish as his halves partner, then later with Sam Williams when […]