The Canberra Raiders 24-20 loss to the Gold Coast Titans was their second consecutive disappointing result. The Raiders looked like a Proper Rugby League Team for close to 65 minutes. But when the game became tight, the Raiders lacked the ability to put the game away, and the Raiders’ fan had to suffer a ‘stomach-punch’ of a loss. The Raiders will rue that they lost this game as the season wears on.
Without a pair of proper halves, the Raiders were always going to rely on the middle of the park to be competitive. The usual forwards were very good with the ball in hand. Paul Vaughan (13 runs for 146 metres) continues to show promise as a potential representative forward this season. Josh Papali (16 for 139) worked very hard threatening the Titans porous right edge defence. Shannon Boyd and Sia Soliola were solid, Boyd with limited opportunities (only 32 minutes). Frank-Paul Nuuausala was not at his best to be polite, throwing passes into the ground to end attacking movements on several occasions, and only managing 8 hit ups across his 52 minutes.
The patron saint of this blog, Mr Josh Hodgson, was as excellent this week as he is every week. His work around the ruck for the Raiders second try was brilliant, confusing the defence who weren’t sure if they should take him or the oncoming rhinoceros (Shannon Boyd). Ultimately he found Elliot Whitehead who must have enjoyed the massive lane that opened up for him to stroll through. Hodgson repeated this for the Raiders’ third try when he scooted through and found Edrick Lee in space.
If Hodgson’s not the best dummy-half in the competition, he’s coming very close. This makes Coach Stuart’s decision to carry Kurt Baptiste on the bench confusing: Any minute that Josh Hodgson is of the field is a waste, and now that Hodgson is playing 80 minutes a game routinely and happily making 40 plus tackles each week. The Raiders are blessed that he cannot play State of Origin, although if the Blues could find a way he would start at hooker.
But in defence the Raiders again showed they didn’t have the ability to stop the opposition forwards. Even before the calamitous last 15 minutes, routine offloads and easy metres – particularly attacking the Raiders right edge defence – meant that the Gold Coast routinely ended sets sitting on the Raiders line. That the Titans found it so easy against the Raiders forwards is concerning – that they did so running at the Raiders ‘big’ side (the one populated by Whitehead, Soliola and Brenko Lee) will ensure that Coach Stuart remains incapable of cracking a smile. Lee and Soliola missed 8 tackles between them. Nuuausala should also be singled out here. He played 52 minutes yesterday – 10-15 minutes more than his usual – but could only manage 19 tackles in this time. He gave away several penalties, notably the penalty that gave the Titans the field position that resulted in their last try. Jeff Lima was not much better, seemingly giving away a penalty for every tackle he made before he left the field with a suspected broken arm.
The Raiders line defence was appalling this week. After impressing so far this season, they reverted to holding off on attackers, not getting off their line and allowing smaller players to get isolated for easy tries. Ryan James’ try in the 34th was depressing, but David Shillington’s try in the 65th minute was outright disgusting. This is particularly galling given how little line defence they had to do in comparison to other weeks, and how tired their opposition was. The only positive in defence was the excellent work by Edrick Lee, Jordan Rapana and Jack Wighton in dealing with kicks.
Half Sam Williams showed early why he’s been trusted to run this team on his own. The Raiders first try came on the back his show-and-go, Williams slipping through some lumbering Titans forwards that were more concerned about the threat that Papali posed on the outside. He was also good early in the second half – a grubber earned the Raiders a repeat set, a cross-field chip nearly ended in points and he linked well with the left side attack on one foray that ended when Croker bent, but didn’t break the line.
But in two critical periods he went missing. The Raiders dominated for a long period in the middle of the second half that they were unable to turn into points. Williams went missing in that period. And at the back end of the game when the Raiders desperately needed good kicking to get out of trouble, Williams was unable to provide either. Playing Elliot Whitehead as a half has taken its toll on him. Whitehead is doing the best he can, running to the line and showing a good ability to find runners, particularly on short side raids. But he’s not an organiser, and Hodgson cannot do that job from the ruck. Wighton tried to help, inserting himself into the attacking line to offer options with the boot and with the ball in hand. But like Whitehead he’s a good ball-player for his normal position, but a limited one in the halves.
Without proper halves to guide the team, the Raiders were unable to put this game away. For the second week in a row, the Raiders failed to beat a team that will finish the season in the bottom four of the ladder, meaning three precious competition points were passed up. If the Raiders were to be serious about contending this year, they will find those missing points might hurt them.