A week after what can only be described as an underwhelming victory, the Canberra Raiders meet with a side that can only be described as having an underwhelming season, the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
In recent weeks the Raiders have piled up the victories and find themselves in the top four. At times they have played some quality football that befits their position on the table. Josh Hodgson remains one of the best rakes in the game. Halves Aidan Sezer and Blake Austin have been finding a groove together, and Jack Wighton and the rest of the backline have followed in their footsteps. The forwards at their best have shown a ferocity and physicality that few sides can match. At their best, the Raiders have the potential to be playing deep into September.
But they have yet to find their best for 80 minutes this season.
By anyone’s measurement the Burgesses Bunnies have disappointed this year. Ever since Isaac Luke moved across the waters, their block-standard (see what I did there?) attack has been dangerously predictable. Greg Inglis has been unable to add any dynamism into it, due to a range of physical issues. And despite a plethora of Burgesses (quick, what’s the collective noun? A bar fight of Burgesses?), they’ve been unable to match sides in the middle of the park.
This is the last match before the ‘real’ test of the Raiders mettle begins when they play the Sharks, Storm and Eels in consecutive weeks. They need to continue to rack up the wins to ensure they can finish the year in the top 4 and guarantee a home final.
Battle of the Big Boppers
The Raiders forwards didn’t have their finest outing of the season last weekend. Minus Paul Vaughan, who’s been sent to Coach Stuart’s doghouse (for reasons no sane person can understand), they were handled easily by the Warriors. Ricky has given them all another opportunity to prove their worth. And frankly, outside of Whitehead (particularly in defence) and Papali (particularly in attack) none should feel that their efforts guarantee them a spot.
The Souths forwards will provide a physical challenge. There’s plenty of size in the Burgesses, and John Sutton still has the capacity to find an offload where there wasn’t one. Can the Raiders show enough line-speed to stop the physical forwards of Souths? Can they wrap the ball to stop the second-phase play?
Watch for Sam Burgess to find himself running at the Raiders left edge defence. Papali, Sezer and Croker will have some work to do.
Your cue, Maestro
Aidan Sezer has taken a bigger role in the Raiders attack in recent weeks, with Josh Hodgson getting him the ball earlier in attacking sets, and Blake Austin removing himself to second receiver on a near-permanent basis. He’s formed some good combinations with Papali, Soliola, Croker and Wighton, particularly on set plays. Here’s hoping he can continue to build on this.
There should also be plenty of opportunities around the ruck for Hodgson to send the bigs around and through the sizeable opposition pack.
The Bunnies have Adam Reynolds and Luke Keary, the epitome of a predictable and solid halves pairing. They shouldn’t provide anything the Raiders haven’t seen this season, so if they provide trouble, the Raiders can only blame themselves.
Put your Back(s) into it
Jack Wighton has been great this year, and is really growing into a secondary playmaker for the Raiders. Jarrod Croker is possibly as underappreciated as he is undersized. With the form of BJ and Rapana, the Raiders backs are certainly showing they can match it with any side in the competition. Sezer and Hodgson will give them every opportunity to show this.
Without Inglis, Souths have a bunch of replacement level backs. The Raiders should be able to handle them.
Stuart has decided he needs a utility on the bench. Given that his entire spine has the ability to play 80 minutes, this is curious. Given it takes the Raiders best ball-player further away from the ball this is questionable. Given it forces that best player into a role as a lock, it’s downright idiotic.
Bringing a replacement hooker on for Hodgson didn’t make sense when it was second-string Kurt Baptiste. It makes even less sense when it’s his understudy.
Souths have named a bench longer than it is good.
Power of Three
Raiders –Hodgson, Sezer, Wighton.
Rabbitohs – Reynolds, Sutton, S Burgess.
The Raiders need this win to ensconse themselves at the top end of the table. The Bunnies are playing for not much other than pride. It says here the Raiders will get over the line.
Raiders by 4!