Raiders Review: It’s not just Austin.


If you’d not watched the Raiders’ 44-22 victory over the Knights yesterday, you could be forgiven for thinking it came from an exceptional game from Blake Austin. Both the Sydney Morning Herald and the NRL match review focused on his play as the source of difference between the sides. In truth, Austin was merely the beneficiary of the outstanding performances of Sam Williams, Josh Hodgson and the Raiders starting forwards. These players created the platform and the holes that allowed Austin to flourish. The Raiders now are in good position to cement a place in the top 8 over the coming weeks.

As is usual in Canberra victories, the Raiders flourished because their forwards did. Paul Vaughan (15 carries for 169m) and David Shillington (20 for 200) were devastating, routinely making huge metres before being touched by a Knights defence unable to match their enthusiasm. When the Knights defence did get to them, Vaughan in particular found a way to add metres to his run. Shillington got less metres after contact, but always managed to find a way to fall to his stomach, ensuring a quick play the ball and more metres for the player following.

Both players were also critical in defence. They combined with Fensom and Hodgson in the centre of the field, and the first twenty minutes of the game saw the Knights struggle for metres. They were physically overwhelmed by Vaughan and Fensom in particular, who both made several critical tackles in defence to either shut down promising momentum, or creative work, around the ruck.

This early dominance in defence was in stark contrast to the relatively even contest that existed between the Raiders back up forwards (in particular Frank-Paul Nuuausala) and the Knights. This can be seen in that with Vaughan, Shillington and English dummy-half Josh Hodgson on the field, the Raiders outscored the Knights by 30 – 6, whilst being outscored 16 – 14 without them.

Of course the space that Shillington and Vaughan found was aided by yet another tremendous game from Hodgson. We’ve noted in this space before that his creativity and deception out of dummy-half has been critical in providing space for the forwards and while he was on the field the Raiders forwards were rarely met by the defence without making 8 to 10 metres. Not content with just making the forwards look good, he also found the time to kick his second 40/20 of the season.

In attack his subtle creativity was awe-inspiring. For the Raiders first try, Hodgson deliberately brought Williams to the weak side, the extra ball player being enough to create the space that allowed Austin to stroll through a massive gap off an inside ball. Austin then grubbered well (but luckily – he missed Croker unmarked on the inside) for Edrick Lee who scored.[1]

Hodgson’s brilliance was on display again when he combined with Williams for the Raiders third try – the most promising attacking play the Raiders have put together all season. Hodgson attacked out of dummy-half, threw a dummy to Fensom and passed behind the face ball (Shillington) to hit Williams as the second man. This subtle movement alone created a two man overlap for the Raiders as the Knights collapsed on the decoy forwards, expecting the ball to the forward running outside-in – a pet play of the Raiders this year.[2] At this point Wighton began an inside-out, and Papali an outside-in, line, each aiming for a different shoulder of the single, hapless Knights defender desperately making a choice between the two. Williams held the ball just long enough for Tuimavave to choose Papali, allowing Wighton to stroll in untouched. This play is one to watch for the Raiders. A piece of gorgeous choreography, it was repeated later in the half for a Papali score (with Baptiste ably playing the roll of Hodgson). This time Tuimavave made the right choice but couldn’t stop Papali so close to the line.

Williams’ role in these plays was exemplary. It was the best attacking work from him since the 2012 final against the Sharks. Apart from these two tries, he also put on 2 others with kicks to Lee and Croker. He routinely got the Raiders out of their half after difficult sets (particularly in the back end of the first half), and earnt the Raiders more repeat sets with his good grubbering that the Raiders have had all season. He combined with Soliola and Croker on the left on several occasions to bend or break the line. If he can repeat this play more consistently, Ricky Stuart might have the good type of head ache as to how to fit Williams, Sezer and Austin all in to the team next season.

As you can see, to credit Austin with playing a big hand in this victory is to be more focused on the box score that the actuality of the game. Austin’s good work running the ball did result in tries at the back end of the game. His strong running game allowed him to take advantage of tired, and frankly not very good defence from the Knights. One might seek to caution that this isn’t repeatable against better defence – the Broncos and Dragons more disciplined approaches to his ball running restricted him. He needs to develop some sort of connection with Sisa Waqa, who must look at all the ball Croker gets from Williams with an intense envy. I counted twice that Austin passed the ball in this game. He kicked well once in this game, and kicked poorly more than that.

The 22 points the Knights put on the Raiders defence is worrying in a sense – outside of Leilua there is not much attacking punch in the side. The Knights dropped more ball than the Raiders, and despite starting well only completed 70 per cent of their sets to the Raiders impressive 90 percent. But the Knights’ tries came from a kick with a perfect bounce and not one but two separate occasions where a player’s momentum took him to the try line. An inch here or there and the score could well have been 44-10.

After three weeks of losses, it was pleasing to the Raiders prevail again. They have a bye, and then some very winnable games over the next five weeks. They have a unique opportunity now to cement a place in the top 8, something few Raiders fans would have thought possible at the beginning of the year. It was a good victory for the Raiders, the critical players – the front row, Josh Hodgson, Sam Williams – all stood up. Blake Austin made something out of the space he was given, but it is worth reminding people that he is not the all there is to talk about with this side.

[1] Austin’s line – inside out from behind the ruck – was one that is normally run by a fullback, perhaps explaining why the Knights defence was so surprised to see him in that hole.

[2] Check here to see Williams use it against the Broncos.


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