It seems fashionable in the aftermath of the Raiders 14-10 loss to Melbourne to praise the Raiders for only losing by four. Ricky Stuart believes the game shows the Raiders are heading in the right direction.
However, the loss revealed the limits the team faces this year. Unthreatening halves play, poor strategy, and an inability to stop teams getting easy yards proved themselves to be ongoing issues regardless of the score.
First the positives. The effort and completion rates were impressive. Again the play of Hodgson was a highlight. We’ve been impressed with Hodgson at almost every turn. Today he kicked well and again allowed our forwards to run with an advantage. His use of misdirection continues to impress. The subtle threat of attacking one side of the field only to send the attack the other direction routinely gave the Raiders forwards the ball with space.
And again it was the usual suspects in the forward line that found metres for the Raiders. Vaughan (16 runs for 158m), Soliola (15 for 131) and Fensom (15 for 129) were again the major contributors. Dane Tilse again failed to crack 100 metres for the game, meaning he hadn’t passed that mark since round one. Kennedy got through good work in defence and seems to be helping to sure-up the side of defence he shares with Blake Austin.
Whilst Austin did his best with ball in hand, the Raiders back-line rarely was in a position to attack the Melbourne line. When they did, they were too conservative both with the ball – at least two sets ended with a hit-up – as well as choosing to take the easy points after two penalties. Whilst both decisions were defendable in the short-term (the first to even the score at 2-2, the second to extend the lead to 8), they wasted valuable opportunities for the Raiders to press for tries. Against Melbourne you only have so many opportunities to be in a position to score tries. The Raiders had made one such foray look easy in the first half. They never really got many opportunities in the second half, despite having the majority of field position.
Williams’ inability to connect with Wighton in any meaningful way should be a major concern for the Raiders. In round one Cornish and Croker combined to put Wighton over from a set play. Williams has yet to find either the opportunity or the ability to run something similar. His kicking game remains exemplary, and is critical because of Austin’s frankly awful kicking game. But he has done nothing to stand out from Cornish with ball in hand. Once Hodgson left with an injury, the inability of Williams to threaten on the left meant that the Storm were able to key-in on Austin’s running game. As they slipped behind, it became clear that scoring points was going to be unlikely for the Raiders.
And to be fair the Raiders were lucky to be in the game. Both Cronk and Smith routinely peppered the Raiders flanks with 40/20 kicks that were lucky to in all but one circumstance to fall in the Raider’s favour. Jesse Bromwich made metres with impunity. The Storm had a try disallowed, and bombed a couple more.
Ricky may think they’re heading in the right direction but today’s game shows there’s still a long way to go.
 It should be noted that Sprotress HQ was split on this. It was a wet game and points were at a premium. Take them while you can was the alternative view.