And so begins the run of opportunity. Having shown up with the requisite grit in round 5 to get away with the two points the Raiders now find themselves in, for want of a better description, an easy period. The next five rounds, including this one, consist of the Titans, The Warriors, Sea-Eagles, Bulldogs and Knights. Of these five only the Sea-Eagles hold a spot in the top 8, with the others languishing 12th or lower. It is, in theory, a dream run for the Green Machine.
The only problem is that there is no such thing as a dead certainty in the NRL in 2017. At least three upsets happen every round, and it would be folly for the Raiders to start applying anything less than 100% effort simply because they are playing lower ranked teams.
The Titans are a wounded beast. Their injury list is longer than your arm, but chances are they’ll still have a good crack at preventing the Raiders from notching their first back to back win of the year. The Raiders have had an up/down rivalry with the Titans over the last few years, losing winnable games at home and then trouncing the Titans at CBUS.
The starting 17 for the Raiders is still not locked in, and Stuart seems to be keen to use this period to try out as many bench combinations as he can. Handy also for the Raiders are the injuries to Tyrone Roberts, Nathan Peats and Jarryd Hayne, all players who can exert a strong influence on the outcome of a game.
The Raiders demonstrated resolve against an Eels side staging a comeback last round, and they’ll need another dose of that measured patience here. If they get too brash early-on, the mistakes will creep in. They simply need to control sets and territory and slowly squeeze the Titans out of the contest.
Between a Pack and a Hard Place
With the exception of Shannon Boyd the starting forwards shone last week. Boyd and the bench, however, did not. The starting forwards, sans Boyd, racked up 599 metres off 60 hit-ups (avg 9.98). The bench forwards, with Boyd’s numbers added on, averaged 9.22 metres per carry (249/27). This may not seem like a huge discrepancy, but in a sport where every metre is crucial to either starting an attack or having the opposition trapped at their end it adds up. Boyd in particular has been quiet, and is not giving up the kind of output that saw him put on a Kangaroos jersey over the summer. Bateman too was low, playing exactly the same minutes as the Broncos game but for 30 metres less.
The Raiders bench needs to lift, as the Green Machine can’t afford a slump in possession, territory or defence every time the starting rotation leaves the field. The Titans pack is not a star studded affair, but the likes of James, Proctor and McQueen are veterans capable of winning the arm wrestle in the middle.
The Raiders older trio versus the Titans young guns. Austin, Hodgson and Sezer are really starting to click into gear, with Sezer and Austin more and more comfortable with stepping out of their comfort zones each game (Austin with kicking, Sezer with running). Combined with Hodgson’s sublime service as rake, these three are very close to unlocking the true potential of the Raiders attack (this isn’t even their final form).
They square off against youngsters Taylor, Elgey and Simpkins. Taylor and Elgey are still developing, but already have the skills and potential that coaches dream of. It will be a good test of the Raiders defensive line when Taylor chooses to unleash an attacking play, and the Raiders will need to be alert for any signs of Taylor looking to shift the ball early in a set.
Put Your Back(s) Into It
With minimal offence to the Titans backline, – you ain’t got jack. The Raiders backline is easily in the top 4 in the competition, and while the forwards are still slowly being herded into line up front these five are already humming along like the season is 16 rounds old, not 6. Toots looks like he never even missed a game, LeiPana is back in full effect, Wighton is still making killer tackles. And now we have Cotric.
18 year old Cotric. The one who scooped up the ball from dummy half and made it his mission to cover the final 30 metres before scoring a try to seal the win. Brilliant (he is also extremely sound in defence and seems very level headed for an 18 year old winger).
Complacency is the real opposition here. Control the game and claim the win, or get cocky and let the Titans get a foothold in the contest. The Raiders had their equal best completion rate so far against the Eels (78%) and it got them the win. If they can demonstrate this level of control then the 2 points is theirs.
Raiders by 12!