Last week the Raiders premiership hopes officially died. This week’s 28-12 loss to the Titans raised the chance of a wooden-spoon for the Raiders like a horrifying spectre emerging from the remains of their season. As losses go this was painful to watch, bringing up all the awful things the Raiders had done poorly this season, with few of the good things. The opposition only marginally better, but that was enough to beat an awful Raiders side.
Without the ball the Raiders were slow, poorly position and generally lacking aggression – indeed they appeared a team playing without motivation at all. The right edge, the weakness of the Raiders much earlier in the season again became an issue. The Titans were clearly trying to isolate Austin all game and it put pressure on Waqa, Leilua and Papali to help him out. The Titans scored twice early by pouring through the Raiders right edge defence. Waqa was found out of position by an early, well-placed kick by Kane Elgey for the wing on the first try. Then Papali slipped off a tackle – one of six he missed – allowing the numerical advantage that saw Elgey go in himself. All of a sudden the Raiders were down 8-0 to the last place side who were minus their best half and their starting lock and first choice goal kicker. Early in the second half Elgey threw an excellent ball to find Faifai Loa outside Waqa on the Raiders right, who had come in to the inside man on a 4 on 3. The last try saw the Titans go in after Austin and Leilua found themselves out of position, and excellent ball from firstly Mortimer then Elgey taking advantage of the mistake for an easy try.
In between, a late first half try came from soft defence as Jarryd Kennedy was overpowered by Ryan James close to the line, the only good thing about that play being that at least it wasn’t against the Raiders right edge.
In between these tries the Raiders rarely showed much with the ball that wasn’t interrupted by costly errors. The first try to Williams was good work from Hodgson, showing his ability to read the reaction of defences to decoy runners. The second try was a good play involving Williams to WIghton as the second man, and an excellent line ran by Croker at pace. And the forwards did do some good work up the middle in combination with Hodgson. Vaughan (12 runs for 126m) was the pick of the bunch, but Fensom (12 for 100m) and Kennedy (15 for 145m) worked hard also. BJ Leilua showed his first signs of life as a Raider, threatening the line on the right, and even putting Jarryd Kennedy into space at one stage. He won’t be back next week after being put on report for a shoulder charge early in the second.
But when things were bad, they were horrid. Too much ball was dropped in their own half by backs, or even worse, in scoring opportunities by players who should do better. Too often the Raiders kicked early in sets in attack for no one in particular, or ran the ball on the last where no opportunity to score existed. Hodgson, possibly tired from his full 80 minute efforts over the last two weeks was oddly quiet, allowing Williams and Austin to dictate the direction of the ball, which invariably meant it went away from the Raiders strength and the Titans weakness (the middle). Penalties were given away routinely, and in the second half allowed the Titans to literally kick themselves clear of the Raiders.
Too often Austin appeared to be a player by himself, as if the 12 other Raiders had only met Blake on game day. His unwillingness to send the ball laterally means that his step is no longer a surprise, limiting not just his effectiveness, but also that of his outside men. His talent is undoubtable, but it’s astounding how often he is caught with the ball, running sideways. He is trying to score every time he gets the ball, as if he is searching for proof his early season form is not a fluke. He finally did pass the ball in the 68th minute, and Papali bent the line before uncharacteristically losing the ball.
Williams, in a game he surely had circled on his calendar, merely proved why the Raiders had gone looking elsewhere for a more consistent half. At his best, he is a better organiser and more effective kicker than Austin, linking with Wighton, Kennedy (or Soliola before he was injured) and Croker on the left side in what can often be beautifully performed set movements. But today he was inconsistent at best, often kicking poorly, and his choices in attack were sometimes perplexing. Almost every good thing he did was followed by a seeming brain explosion, and one wonders if he was perhaps trying too hard to prove himself. He did make several excellent defensive plays – a try saver in the first half and cleaning up a grubber early in the second.
Today was an uninspiring game, reflecting the worst the Raiders have to offer. Let’s hope they find a way to improve over the next two weeks. Because the spectre of the 1982 wooden-spoon has just turned up at Raiders HQ, and the Raiders are going to have be much better than they were today if they want it to leave.
 Who was outstanding for the Titans, setting up two tries, scoring one and kicking a forty-twenty as well.
 See Croker, Jarrod.