Stop me if you’ve heard this before.
After wrangling their way back into the match through a mixture of luck, grit and guile, the Raiders managed to somehow find themselves with a losing score when the full-time siren went. Despite the often excellent play of the forwards, some deft work from Josh Hodgson, and some individual brilliance from the outside backs, defensive lapses and poor play in the halves left the Raiders vulnerable.
Just f*cking hit the alarm, it’s still Groundhog Day.
Vaughan (140m), Boyd (139m), Fensom (201m) and Shillington (130m) dominated in the middle of the park. Again. It’s clear that even with the loss of Shillington after this season that the Raiders will have one of the best forward packs in the competition. Vaughan seems to somehow bend the line every time he gets the ball, always falling on his stomach and facilitating a quick play the ball. Boyd’s sheer physicality is overwhelming and there has been a notable improvement in his effort on defence. Papali is in career-best form, bending the line like the kid bends the spoon in the Matrix. Fensom is the hardest working man in football. True story – he doesn’t drink alcohol during the season. At all. If only we could all be so disciplined.
Hodgson was again excellent. The pass out of dummy-half that saw Vaughan crash over was excellent, using the duel threats of Boyd and Vaughan running at the line to force the defence to double in on Boyd. Once the decision was made, the pass was perfectly timed and weighted, and Vaughan did the rest. He did make an error running the ball on the last in the first half. I guess nobody’s perfect. But, in putting in for 80 minutes for the second straight week, Hodgson is getting damn close.
The backs showed again that they are a talented, if under-utilised bunch. Waqa was creative, if a little careless with the ball, creating opportunities on the right wing that the Raiders failed to take advantage of. Lee and Croker were excellent on the left wing. Lee’s defence has improved markedly this year, and he routinely is making the right choice when faced with the question of whether to come in off his wing. Croker seemed to take his missed tackle on Lyon that led to Manly first try personally, and spent the next 70 minutes silencing the talented centre. Rapana is like a quick Josh Miller, relishing the opportunity to bash into something or someone at pace. Wighton, brilliant last week, was impressive again, impeccably safe at the back in the face of some testing work by the Manly stars.
But oh, the halves.
They were not as bad as last week. Williams showed his excellent kicking in the second half today, routinely finding the corners or space on his medium to long kicks. Austin finally managed to break the line and was rewarded with his first try in a month. He seemed to realise in the second half that Josh Papali is fantastic at running over people and fed him the ball off his right shoulder. He needs to do this more – it will force defences to stay honest on Papali, giving him the space he needs to be spectacular. It will also make his dummy-and-go play more effective.
But the inability of the halves to link up with their outside backs or ball-running second-rowers in any threatening or organised manner is the Achilles heel of this Raiders team. The Raiders appear to be two teams at the moment, separated by two dazed and confused halves unable to unite the disparate groups.
The disconnection means that a once effective offence now has difficulty scoring. Though the Raiders scored 24 points today, they were hardly repeatable. Austin cannot rely on bouncing off props to score. Edrick Lee is not going to get an intercept every game. And while Brett Stewart isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, I doubt we’ll ever see him do whatever it was he did that led to Jarryd Kennedy’s try. The only points the Raiders got that were well worked came from Hodgson, and this was similar last week. The second man combinations that Williams, Wighton, Croker and Soliola had developed on the left have disappeared with the latter’s absence. Austin, as we’ve noted, has never quite made a connection with Papali and Waqa on the right. One doubts this will improve if Leilua returns next week.
Last week we said the Raiders have a contender lurking inside them if they could ever find a way to let it out. It’s depressing to watch them bottle it up each week, finding new and innovative ways to achieve the same thing – f*ck all.
I would say we should hope it gets better. But it seems every week keeps ending the same way. Now all that’s left is to wait for it to get warm again.