Well that was brief wasn’t it? It took all of 5 days and 80 minutes of hell to knock the wind out of the Canberra Raiders. As Rob said last week, fresh off the best effort by the squad, the Raiders had a real opportunity to put their stamp on the competition. Instead, frustration. Remotes across the country were hurled at unsuspecting walls, words uttered that really shouldn’t be in front of children, and football shows and newspaper articles avoided. It was that bad.
But! There’s always next week. And so here we are. The mighty Raiders can redeem themselves against a very good Cronulla Sharks side looking for four on the trot.
If they want to do that they’ll have to work out that right edge defence combination of Blake Austin and BJ Leilua. Corey Norman made it look silly last weekend. One can imagine that James Maloney is licking his lips at the opportunity to send Wade Graham or the rejuvenated (i.e. not trying to be a half) Ben Barba through the chasm. Austin suggested they would be fixing that this week, but it was a problem last year and one wonders if it’s just something that will always hold Leilua and Austin back.
Injury clouds hover over Josh Hodgson and Paul Vaughan. If Hodgson doesn’t play, pack it in, the Raiders are done. The situation without Vaughan would be more manageable (though still problematic) but the Raiders depth is being sorely tested in the middle, especially if Ricky keeps treating Luke Bateman like he won some prize to sit on the Raiders bench.
Battle of the Big Boppers
It’s a big weekend for some big boys. The odds of Shannon Boyd and Andrew Fifita enjoying a fracas are shorter than Ricky Stuart’s temper. Paul Gallen is really good at what he does, and for some reason I find him less irritating than I did earlier in his career – he has some weird ‘old professional’ vibe to him nowadays. Which I guess is better than the words I used to call him.
Josh Papali and Elliot Whitehead are going to have a lot of work to do to combat Wade Graham and Jayson Bukuya. If Graham isn’t the starting second rower for the Blues I’ll be shocked. Paul Vaughan should join in the Blues starting pack, but then again NSW does like picking players because they were good five years ago.
Your cue, Maestro
Blake Austin will be keen to make up for what can only be described as a kidney stone of a game. Austin will find more space than he did against the ultra-fast line speed of the Eels. If he’s not better than last week the Raiders will need a massive effort out of Aidan Sezer and Josh Hodgson. Both were excellent last week on the odd occasion when the Raiders had the ball, and Sezer’s kicking game just makes me like life a whole lot more. Hodgson has been taking advantage of the fact that ruck defenders are cheating to try and take out his ball-runners, and making breaks and metres running it himself. But then again, that could be how he ended up with an injury cloud.
James Maloney is very good at football, and Michael Ennis is still capable. This should worry fans of the Raiders, because it means they’ll know exactly where to send runners. Here’s hoping Austin and BJ have managed to close the gap between them.
Should Hodgson and Vaughan pull up fine, the Raiders should go ahead as written. Watch out for the Mounties game this weekend to see if Mitch Barnett is playing. That’ll be a good hint as to whether Vaughan’s health is up to scratch. Also watch out for a disconsolate drunk stumbling about in a Raiders jumper on day 2 of a 4 day bender mumbling to himself about face balls and creative ruck work. That’ll be me if Hodgson is ruled out.
Luke Lewis is out for the Sharks, which means they’re a little thinner on the bench (figuratively speaking).
Lucky Numbers Player Bingo
#6 Blake Austin
Come on Blake. We believe in you. I think.
Rob has this thing where he tips the Raiders every week. He’s way more optimistic than I am. It says here that the Raiders compete in the middle, but can’t handle Maloney, Graham, Bukuya and Barba on the edges. Austin continues to play hesitant football.
Sharks by 10