On the Allianz sandpit, the Raiders had their worst performance of the season, losing 34-6 to the Roosters on Sunday afternoon.
The game started well enough. The Raiders ended their first set on the Roosters 30 metre line and prepared for an attacking kick. Unfortunately for the Raiders, Josh Hodgson decided that in the absence of Josh McCrone he would take it upon himself to throw an awful ball out of dummy-half. It went about a metre in front of Cornish, rolled along the ground and was knocked on by Soliola on the left hand side.
That was about as good as it got for the Raiders.
In response to this error, the Roosters rolled their way within 30 metres of the Raiders line by the 4th and attacked the Raiders’ left, dragging the defence to that side. On the subsequent tackle, the Roosters worked the ball to the right, Mitchell Pearce throwing an excellent cut-out pass to take advantage of the Raiders’ compressed defence. That pass landed in former Raider Blake Ferguson’s arms, who moved it on quickly to winger Shaun Kenny-Dowell, who scored.
Sure it was only 4-0 but in this passage of play we saw every problem the Raiders have had since day one of this season. Indeed the first try was a microcosm of the Raiders greater problems.
It started with an error – it always does. It would be tempting to blame Hodgson or Cornish for this but that’s too simplistic. As we saw in the rest of this game the Raiders are equal-opportunity employers when it comes to dropping the ball. The Raiders made 13 handling errors on Sunday, with the majority occurring on the few times the Raiders found themselves in attacking position, or when working their way out of their own territory. Dane Tilse was a notable offender. His first error was on the opposition’s goal-line and the next set saw Tulvase-Sheck stroll over when Pearce made the long pass to again take advantage of the Raiders too-compressed defence. He followed that with another error on the attack within 5 minutes. By my count the Raiders completed one of their first five sets, three of which ended in attacking positions. They came away with no points, with Cornish and Austin rarely getting an opportunity to orchestrate anything because someone was busy dropping the ball. After 20 minutes the Raiders had only completed five of the first ten sets.
But back to the first try.
That the Roosters got the ball on their own 30 and ended the set attacking without making a single risky play is an ongoing concern for the Raiders. The Raiders’ unique approach of ball-handling meant that none of the Roosters starting forwards had to crack 100 metres for the game, yet they dominated field position regardless, easily making metres up the middle.
The compressed defence is fodder for teams with mobile backrowers and nifty centre-three-quarters as the Roosters have. Ferguson made the final pass for the first try, and again following a long ball from Pearce, strolled in around the Raiders’ left edge for the Roosters third. Jennings strolled in past the right edge for a bit of variety for the fourth. You can see this weakness in the stats too. Every week we’ve noted Austin and Kennedy’s high missed-tackles quota. Kennedy had five and Austin three more this week.
And sure there were positives. Austin’s running game yet again threatened. He is excellent in space. Cornish again showed his kicking game is an exceptional weapon. He still allows the game to drift without his input, but when he does involve himself it is consistently impressive. His kick for the Raiders only try was immaculate and he kicked smartly on other occasions to get repeat sets – but was inconsistent. The diminutive seven ran the ball more and nearly scooted in himself late in the first half.
Wighton tried to involve himself as much as possible but rarely was running into space. Hodgson had a quiet game – one hopes this doesn’t encourage Stuart to bring back McCrone for next week. He was subbed at the back end of the first half for Buttriss, which seems a better approach to getting him to play closer to 80 minutes than taking him off after 20.
Ultimately it was errors, poor defensive effort and what appears to be a fatal weakness in the Raiders defensive structure carried over from last year. The halves have talent but the team consistently puts itself in positions that make it hard for them to flourish.
Two weeks ago we said the loss to the Warriors could be taken as either glass half full or half empty. There is no such subjectivity anymore. The Raiders are in a bad way.