After a scintillating win over Wests Tigers the Raiders failed to live up to all their post win promises of back to back victories. Travelling to Bathurst for a Panthers home game (away from home) they met a Penrith side ready and willing to engage in a physical struggle.
Typical of a Raiders late surge the score line was very flattering – not a proper summation of the Green Machines lack of direction through the first 60 minutes of the game. Josh Hodgson, who is undoubtedly the biggest signing in over a decade looked somewhat flat during his stint, as though he was reading from a different playbook to those supporting him. There were occasions, especially close to the line where support players supposed to be running onto the ball were extremely out of sync, leaving Hodgson in limbo searching for a last gasp resolution. Despite these problems he still had some unbelievable touches – especially that grubber that scythed its way into the in-goal area.
In the engine room only Vaughan, Tapine and Fensom had any real impact on metres gained (154, 129 & 125 respectively). The real sticking point of the afternoon was line speed – the Panthers pack was allowed to run freely, often making an easy 15 metres per run, while in defence they stifled the Raiders forwards. Both sides were equally guilty of conceding penalties at seven each, whilst the Panthers managed to drop it one less time than the Raiders (12/13). The real killer for the Raiders was the Panthers vaunted offloads. Every time the Raiders thought they had shut down a passage of play the ball would find its way to a fresh set of hands, with the Green Machine struggling to adapt to the nature of sudden broken play. The mountain men ended up with a whopping 19 offloads to the Raiders 11. Add this onto a completion rate three sets better than the Raiders and it’s easy to see why they covered so much ground.
For me personally one of biggest questions at the end of 80 minutes was the absence, impact wise, of both Austin and Sezer. Perhaps they’ve been too quick to let Hodgson take control of the good ship Canberra. With Austin missing out on a city jersey they both have plenty of time to sit down and work out what it is they need to do to inject themselves properly into the Raiders command structure. It was nice however to see Austin put in that kick for Rapana to score.
Speaking of which, Rapana has to be hands down the hardest working Raider of the last month. His work in this game was once again very solid, covering off defence of loose balls in goal and making some great runs out of the red zone to get the Raiders set up midfield. While he was unable to combine with his partner in crime this round he did seem to exert some motivation on Leilua in the last 20. Croker too managed to fire up and bag himself 181 metres in the process, with some great running in the last 20.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the afternoon was the impact of Baptiste, who played very direct in his 15 minutes of fame. He only made one real run, but it was a crafty sprint from dummy half that seemed to reinvigorate his team mates, and it was he that laid on the pass for Vaughan to crack the nut that was the Panthers goal line defence.
So where to from here? The whole league gets a break this weekend to accommodate the tests, with the Raiders continuing their road trip the weekend after to face the Dragons at Jubilee. While one could easily write this off as a gimme, the Dragons are also on four wins, the Raiders being ahead due to their draw with the Knights. A win here is essential before traveling across ditch to face the Warriors, with the Raiders needing to find form heading into the turbulent Origin period.