The byes are finished, Origin is gone for another year. In their wake lies a clear 7 game path to the finals, and a legitimate chance for the raiders to state their case in 2016. Of their remaining opponents, only the Sharks and Storm are genuine contenders. The other five games feature teams who are still just in contention, or those who can pretty much abandon this 2016 campaign while trying win back some dignity.
Which brings us to the Warriors. Touted as a real chance in the pre-season, the NZ team quickly found out how easy it is for the wheels to fall off. Poor losses coupled with injuries to star recruits meant the Warriors were floundering by mid-season, although they have recovered somewhat to sneak into the bottom of the top 8. Of their last 4 games, three have been decided by 2 points or less (1W/2L).
The Raiders meanwhile have bounced back (somewhat) from the Broncos mishap, notching up 3 wins around a bye. Attacking structures in the Green Machine are finally starting to sync, especially from the halves down through the backline. In recent years the Warriors have had it good over the Raiders, handing out floggings like they were going out of fashion. 2016 has seen a reversal of those times, with the Raiders handily downing the Warriors 38-12 way back in round 11. Still, the Warriors, much like the Raiders, can be one of those teams that runs hot or cold, leaving you guessing as to which will show up on game day.
Battle of the Big Boppers
The Raiders forwards, to put it nicely, have been sufficient in recent games. For an engine room that boasts such sheer physicality and weight they have, on occasion, struggled against packs who are on paper at least not as good. Josh Papalii should inject healthy dose of energy and oomph on his return from injury, while the rest of the forwards show a healthy mix of youth and veteran wisdom. Sia’s defensive line speed will be key in motivating his younger charges in the battle against the Warriors, and he’ll need to be on late in both halves to watch for a darting Isaac Luke. Junior Paulo has been fun to watch so far, and I’m seriously impressed by the leg strength demonstrated by Tapine week after week.
Your cue, Maestro
Recent games have finally seen more consistent performances from both Austin and Sezer, especially now that they are often llining up on one side of the ruck. This move has relieved Austin of pressure by extending playmaking options across him and Sezer, giving Blake more opportunities to engage his running game. Sezer too has found a new lease on life, particularly in his kicking game, which has been in fine form of late. Add to this the always excellent service of Hodgson (when he isn’t being wasted at lock) and the improving skills of Wighton and you have a sure fire recipe for attacking success.
Put your Back(s) into it
Jack Wighton was red hot in round 18 against the Cowboys – twice he chimed in on the backline sweep to secure himself a try, his participation in the Sezer/Croker/Lee sweep becoming a fixture of the Raiders attack. Tries alone weren’t enough, with Wighton keen to show that he is now also a midfield defensive specialist, courtesy of his two massive rib rattlers that stopped Cowboys attackers in their tracks.
Baptiste’s injury means Ricky has to field a sane looking line-up along with a hopefully sane game plan (just don’t slot Boyd in at hooker…)
Andrew McFadden is looking a bit more safe with recent wins, but he’ll be desperate to get the Warriors locked into the top 8 after a wobbly start to the year.
Power of Three
Raiders – Wighton, Sezer & Papalii
Warriors – Vatuvei, Johnson & Luke
The Raiders have a real good chance to embed themselves further in the top 8 with a win over the Warriors. They’ll have to be on their guard with Johnson and Luke on the attack, but sturdy defence should have them in good stead to launch counter attacks.
Raiders by 8!