The Raiders put in possibly their most controlled performance of the season in round 16, demonstrating that they had learnt some valuable lessons in their loss to the Broncos. While execution was not a perfect 100% the improvement in ball control and defensive line speed was visible. Yes, there were moments where the Titans got the overlap, but on the whole the Raiders were a much better side, even if they were a little less exhilarating.
It’s this new heading of consistency over razzle dazzle that should excite or comfort most fans. While 100 metre tries are very exciting they are the sugar high of rugby league, a sudden burst that is all but forgotten about by rounds end. Repeat sets along with staunch defence and precise attack is way more satisfying, and deservingly it is the stuff that season campaigns are built on. Razzle dazzle play is the stuff you get to do once you have completely broken your opposition.
All of that leads to this: I want the Raiders to start slowly against the Knights. Yes I want tries scored, but not in a flurry of Novocastrian incompetence, but rather through a steady and meticulous grind from the Green Machine. I want to see stifling defence that causes panic in those trying to escape their own 40 zone, line speed effected in unison.
I want to see smart, tactical kicking, that rather than going for the high risk gamble of a possible try goes the reassuring option of a repeat set, or at least restarts the play deep in Knights territory.
I want to see offloads made not through panic or frustration, but because a Raider has stood strong in a tackle, made a quick but calm assessment and found willing support.
Finally, I want to see the 60 minute mark be a point where efforts are redoubled, not lessened. The top 4 in the comp are teams that are all capable of using those last few litres of fuel in the tank, digging in and weathering the storm of the all-too-frequent modern comeback. Scoring in this period should be a consequence of superior control and defence.
I dearly hope the Raiders have revisited their round 3 game this week. After jumping to an early lead they took their foot off the gas and allowed a resurgent Knights squad to control much of the match, with Brenko Lee’s 76 minute try being the thing that saved them some face on the day.
Battle of the Big Boppers
Newcastle really do have to face some pretty awful consequences in this game. Not only do they face an in form and rampant Leilua, but they must also contend with a rising star, formerly theirs, by the name of Tapine. The youngster has proven time and again that he already has a very strong frame, often standing for at least 2-3 extra seconds in tackles and tiring 3 defenders at a time. In the forwards he is the Raiders third best when it comes to offloads, a handy skill which should match Papalii’s within a few seasons.
Your cue, Maestro
Austin ran the ball much better last week. Sezer had a quiet but ok game. The real kicker was when the Raiders suddenly found themselves sans both hookers heading into the last quarter. The breakdown at dummy half became noticeable very quickly, and it’s something that Ricky will need to take into consideration on the off chance it ever happens again
Put your Back(s) into it
Wighton served up two try assists, Brenko bagged a nifty intercept and Rapana, Leilua and Croker all worked hard, with Croker and Brenko securing two tries each. Most importantly BJ and Jordy were much more focused and restrained when it came to doing silly, flashy plays.
Ricky would have been thoroughly pleased with last week’s showing, and no doubt will have hammered home that more of the same is necessary moving forward.
Nathan Brown continues to hold the poisoned chalice that Wayne so thoughtfully left him, but if the Newcastle management are fair his term really shouldn’t start until next year.
Power of Three
I’ve scrapped player bingo in favour of this new format – I’ll just name three key players for each side.
Raiders – Wighton, Leilua & Tapine
Knights – Mataora, Sims & Barnett
On paper this is a game the Raiders should dominate. With a controlled performance last week it does look as though the Green Machine are finally hitting their stride in 2016, but as all Raiders fans know Mr Hyde can return at any moment.
Either the Raiders will put in another measured effort which could see them come out on top by as much as 40 points, or they can drink the wrong kool-aid and go down in an embarrassing encounter.
Raiders spread lose by 2/win by 40+!