For the second week running the Raiders must face a top 2 side in the Storm, who currently have the upper hand over the Sharks in the race for the minor premiership.
The Storm have, as much as you can when you’re a top 2 side, quietly built their campaign between round 1 and now. While all the media has been focused on off field disasters, returning superstars and Cronulla’s hot streak Melbourne has consistently downed their opposition. The wins aren’t always high scoring affairs, but much of the Storms game plan is balanced around a sound defensive structure. When that clicks and oppositions wilt, the points come pouring in, as they did over rounds 8 & 9, where the Storm piled on 80 – 0 against the Warriors and Titans.
In fact both the Raiders and the Storm are on a six game streak, which means that on Monday night the good times will have to end for one of them (barring a draw). While the odds are historically stacked against the Green Machine, they will have the confidence from their impressive win over the Sharks as motivation, along with a general vibe of team consistency.
The biggest challenge for Canberra on Monday night is patience: the Storm are masters of the grind, able to chip away at the defensive structures of other teams with repeat sets inside their 20 metre zones. It is their favourite tactic, to set up camp on their enemies try line and pepper them with crisp passing, odd angles and clever kicks until something, or someone, finally gives.
The Raiders have shown in recent weeks that they are finally mastering their defensive structure as a team. Fringe players are doing the right thing more often and staying out, while defenders closer to the middle are numbering up well and preventing shoulder turnstile gaps from opening up. The goal line defensive speed has increased, and most importantly the angle has straightened. The Raiders have also mastered the art of the goal line swarm, holding up a would be try scorer with four or more men, and then peeling off one at a time so everyone can re-join the line.
All these new found skills are key to going toe to toe with Melbourne.
Battle of the Big Boppers
The Melbourne pack is truly aggravating in that aside from Proctor and Bromwich it is built entirely from unknown forwards, who, thanks to the power of the Bellamy coaching plan, perform at a consistent level week in and week out. They’re a no frills metre eating unit that go where the halves say they should. They are also ruthless in defence, especially in turning back opposing packs in the midfield battle.
The Raiders pack had a taste of this against the Sharks, so hopefully they fresh and ready to do it all again. If the likes of Paulo, Tapine, Soliola and Boyd can make room in the middle of the park expect Papalii and Whitehead to start causing problems for the Storms fringes. Priest and Bateman will need to provide exceptional support from the bench.
Your cue, Maestro
Hodgson vs Smith – This is easily the battle of the year. The English Raider versus the incumbent veteran in a battle of skill and cunning, each one trying to outfox the other while steering their side to a win. Hodgson proved his worth against the Sharks, letting their enthusiastic defence rush up so that he could scoot past them for over 100 metres all told.
His try assist for Rapana was sheer brilliance, and it’s his speed at #9 that is the key for the Raiders attack. Austin was back to his hot-stepping best against Cronulla, so hopefully he can bamboozle his way in for a try on Monday.
Sezer’s short kicking game is also a critically attack element, and he has demonstrated a strong ability to get the ball close to the line without offering the defence the chance to get a 20 metre restart.
Put your Back(s) into it
Wighton owned everything against the Sharks. He was on the receiving end of a perfect Hodgson short ball for a try, but it was his dogged defence that really made a difference, in particular the set where he effected not one but two try saving tackles to ultimately give the Raiders possession of the ball.
Brenko had a bit of trouble adapting to the slippery conditions, and he’ll need to step his game up as he continues to fill in for Eddy.
Croker, Rapana and Leilua all continue to shine, and will no doubt be hungry for points on Monday night.
Stuart is finally getting some props for what he has managed with Canberra this year, and he’ll no doubt be praying that the Raiders can stay with the Storm the full 80 minutes.
Bellamy at this point probably doesn’t even need to coach his side – they’re so thoroughly indoctrinated they don’t really know any other way to play.
Power of Three
Raiders – Wighton, Hodgson & Tapine
Storm – Munster, Cronk & Smith
Can the Raiders double down on last week’s win and send a shock through the competition? The Storm will no doubt be at their ruthless best, so the Green Machine will have to find a new gear to take the fight to them.
Raiders by 2!