Do you know about parallel worlds? It’s the theory that there are in fact untold mirror images of the universe we live – some of them are vastly different to our universe, while others may only be off by a few atoms. Somewhere, out there, is a world where Josh Hodgson didn’t trip over Sezer’s trailing leg. Or possibly a world where Whitehead didn’t make contact, giving Maloney a cheap shot at goal. We don’t live those universes, and as such, we now find ourselves facing a fired up Panthers outfit, instead of enjoying a week off.
Having said that, many a premiership has had a week 1 speed bump. It’s the benefit of finishing near the top – if you don’t get it right first time out, you get another crack at it.
But you only get one more.
Penrith threw caution to the wind in the 2nd half of their game, and utterly destroyed a hapless Canterbury side. So the question for the Raiders now is do they fight fire with fire? Or do they try and shore up the fortifications, and grind their way to victory in a low scoring affair.
If 2016 has taught us anything it’s that the Raiders love a good blowout. While we all marvelled at the defensive effort that they put in against the Storm, it has to be said that that game was definitely courses for horses. The Raiders preferred form of defence is to simply score so many points that the idea of mounting any kind of comeback is simply pointless (geddit?!) from the oppositions side.
Having said that, this game does still require defensive effort. Namely, it requires a defensive line that moves as one, rather than the dreaded slide/shuffle that has never, ever worked. Gaps need to be plugged, combinations reinforced. From here on out, defensive enthusiasm must be at 100%.
And so we come back to our parallel worlds – Does Hodgson play? What about Austin? Is Clydsdale actually any good as an understudy? Will Bappers have a finals epiphany? Can all of the backline each bag a double?
Battle of the Big Boppers
The engine room was doing oh so well, until Bateman and Priest appeared. Look, they both decent players, and Bateman has recently been running further and harder, it’s just that they’re, well, a bit costly in defence. They’re not huge, and they don’t yet have the defensive nous that compensates for not being able to stop a rampaging prop with sheer size. It’s the trade-off of having two giants like Boyd and Paulo; instead of 4 average size props you get two huge ones and two that are slightly underdone.
Sia needs more minutes than last week too. For a man of his age his level of fitness and defensive awareness is key to keeping his younger charges alert. Tapine is a perfect foil, as he engages defenders and forces them to use up energy, but Sia needs to be injected when the tide starts to swing the Panthers way.
Your cue, Maestro
Hodgson and Austin are both named, and I really hope for all our sakes that they play. Because without them, an already hard task becomes much, much harder. Regardless of what the game day spine ends up being, it needs to fire from 9 down to 1. Crisp passing, vision, accurate kicking, communication and organisation, running, straightening. Wighton has the added burden of being in two categories – he’ll definitely need to feature more in this one if the Raiders want to post big points.
Put your Back(s) into it
I think at this point BJ and Rapana simply need to cut loose. Fend as many Panthers in the face as possible and aim for 1000 tackle breaks. Pop the offloads (backwards, please!) and basically just cause chaos down the right hand side.
Croker and Lee have got it covered on the left.
Stuart should be pleased with his 2016 offerings, if he can maintain this year as a foundation then 2017 should be an absolute ripper in lime green.
Griffin too is having a good time, his success in Penrith is the proverbial bird to Brisbane.
Power of Seventeen
No one gets singled out as a saviour this week – it’s either all in or all gone.
This is it – win this weekend and we will find out how deep the rabbit hole is, lose and we can all start cheering for the Cowboys.
Raiders by 10!