Season Stats: Wins – 7, Losses – 5, Draws – 1
Current Ladder position: 5th
Points Differential: +329/-265 (+64)
Home and Away: 5W/2L Home, 2W/3L Away, 1D Away
Stat Stars (NRL wide):
Points – 1st J.Croker (132)
Offloads – 1st J.Leilua (40)
Tries – 1st equal J.Rapana (10)
Tackles – 2nd E.Whitehead (521)
All Runs – 2nd J.Wighton (220)
All Run Metres – 4th J.Rapana (1898)
Line Breaks – 1st J.Rapana (16)
Best Wins: The Raiders two standout performances this year have been their round 5 victory over the Bulldogs at Belmore and their round 8 demolition of the Tigers at home.
In round 5 they ambushed the Dogs, rolling them with a mix of strong, physical defence and good, controlled attacking footy. In round 8 they were simply too much for an ailing Tigers squad, running in tries at will with much panache.
Worst Losses: The Raiders two worst games so far were back to back losses against the Eels and Sharks in rounds 6 & 7. On a high after the Dogs, but on a short turnaround, the Raiders faced off against an ascendant Eels team that demonstrated their early season credentials by strongarming the Raiders out of the game. The Raiders returned home, but a Sharks squad also on the rise was waiting for them, and by the end of two rounds they had turned in two disappointing performances and bled 54 points.
Ones That Got Away: The Raiders have starred in a surprising amount of close games this year, ones that Coach Stuart openly admits they would’ve have certainly lost last year.
While they have managed to scrape some narrow victories (rounds 1 &2) they have also managed to let slip some good opportunities through poor discipline and game management. Their round 3 draw with the Knights was plain bizarre, and their do or die games against the Panthers and Dragons in rounds 9 &10 could have easily been added to the Wins column.
Most Improved: Jordan Rapana
If 2015 was the year that identified Rapana as The Little Engine That Could then 2016 is the year of Rapana the Bullet Train. While Friday night’s victory showed he can still get carried away and make silly mistakes his attacking form in 2016 has been superb; hard, quick running with a diehard refusal to give up even with two or more defenders hanging off him. Add to that a scruffy fend style that finds him breaking tackles quite often and you have yourself a hot contender on the wing, partnered by the games form centre in Joey Leilua.
Needs Improvement: Blake Austin
Austin was possibly the most talked about Raider in 2015, partly because he was a Sydney export in an underperforming Raiders side. His line breaks were the toast of the comp, along with his big-sell dummies.
2016 however has quickly shown that to be a proper #6 you need more than two tricks up your sleeve to make it through 24 games and beyond. Austin has shown signs of improvement throughout the year, but seems to be progressing at a slower rate than his peers. Definitely needs to broaden his range of skills to provide the kind of service that more experienced halves do.
Focus on Forwards:
Canberra now boast a massive stockpile of big men to man the engine room: Vaughan, Papalii, Tapine, Fensom, Boyd, Paulo, Bateman, Priest, Soliola, Lima, Whitehead & FPN. In fact they have so much depth that for rd13 Stuart sent Vaughan (is actually still our best performing forward this season on stats) down to Mounties for a break while he rotated others through 1st grade. While there are still problems with defensive line speed and effort this is a pack that should really start to shine in the second half of the year.
For this we’ll count 9,7,6 & 1 (and 14 too) as the spine. On a good day the Canberra spine is lethal – Hodgson’s sublime playing style leads the way, followed by Sezer’s usually tack-sharp kicking game. Austin, as previously pointed out, can still be pretty iffy on any given game day, while Wighton seems to be recovering well from a seriously chronic case of the yips.
Baptiste, while not setting the world on fire, is serviceable enough to either give Hodgson a break (although the Raiders do tend to stall at that point) or allow Hodgson to slot in at first receiver, expanding the attacking options.
Basics for Backs:
The Canberra backline is garnering much attention with its dynamic attacking style, with Croker, Lee, Rapana, Leilua and Wighton all performing well. There have been chronic patches of inconsistency, especially with Rapana and Wighton, while Lee has been unfairly singled out (even by yours truly – Sorry Eddy!) for some quiet, but consistent efforts. If Ricky can get them to understand the importance of a completed set over a razzle play expect this lot to run rampant in the back half of the season.
For the purpose of grading I’ve split the ladder into four tiers – Positions 1-4 are A, with 1st being an A+ while 4th is an A-. In short, the Sharks receive an A+ for being first, while the poor old Knights get a D-.
With the Raiders currently top of the B tier they receive a B+: They have demonstrated moments of brilliance, hampered only by poor execution and patchy performances (There is a slight chance the Dogs could have the B+ by rounds end but they play the Sharks so it’s unlikely)