Round 13 finds the Raiders on the road again, this time off to the poorly named Lottoland to try their hand at beating the Sea-Eagles. Manly stole a win at GIO a few rounds back, and the Raiders will be keen to repay the insult this time out.
In terms of personnel the Raiders welcome back Papalii from Origin duties, while Bateman, who was actually decent against the Roosters drops out due to a thumb injury. Manly have personnel shuffles too, with Myles and Jake Trbovejic returning from the origin, while Tom Trbovejic languishes on the sidelines.
The Raiders are a somewhat different side to the one that got beaten back in round 8. In that game they were at the beginning of a horror 3 loss run, with their efforts against the Dogs and Knights some of the worst football this Raiders side has ever played.
While the last two performances haven’t been red hot they have been good enough to garner two wins, which means a lot when you’re hovering in 8th in the middle of a logjam.
Manly are in a similar place, except they’re losing to teams above them, rather than cellar dwellers like the Knights. The key now for the Raiders is their differential – it currently sits at a healthy +51, only 35 behind the league-best Dragons on +86.
The Green Machine are slowly regaining some of their mojo around the ruck and through the spine, and it will be interesting to see what happens after Stuarts tirade about split markers.
Between a Pack and a Hard Place
If there’s one identifying feature of the Raiders forwards it’s the chasm between the bench and the starting rotation. While Tapine remains an invaluable impact player (who actually works better off the pine than he does from the get-go) the other bench players leave Raiders fans lamenting the release of certain quality forwards.
Dunamis Lui has been ramping up his runs, and is making ok metres, but it’s his slowness in defence and inability to hold a consistent line with those around him that has us worried. Too often he is the man singled out for being out of place, leaving large gaps that can be exploited by smaller nimble players.
Priest also remains a liability, even if his game against the Roosters did manage to come off mainly without too many problems. With Clydsdale taking up a slot it’s important that the Raiders be able to field three quality subs, something they can’t currently do.
Which means it’s up to the likes of Paulo and Papalii to take it to the big boppers of Manly such as Taupau and Jake Trbovejic. Ricky may need to start considering redistributing his forwards by separating Boyd and Paulo, as a lot of steam is lost when they both clock off.
After a period where it looked as though he was lost in early morning fog Josh Hodgson is on his way back to his best. As Dan wrote his body language is coming back, his ability to subtly suggest one thing before unleashing the opposite. His distribution too is quicker, with his props running tighter lines alongside the ruck and bringing it back to the same point in the defensive line.
If there’s one problem in the spine it’s Austin. It’s beginning to look as though he’s peaked already, and it’s showing in the stats. Sezer is becoming an equal in terms of ball running, and already has the upper hand in passing and kicking finesse. Austin’s only ace now are his massive bombs and touch finders/dropouts, which while very helpful are not integral to the Raiders game plans. If he can’t turn it around in the next few rounds be on the lookout for Whitehead to get a crack at #6 (provided they can find a replacement).
The Raiders forwards need to harass DCE like their lives depend on it – if they can frustrate his kicking game they can unsettle the Eagles good and proper, they just need to get up in his face without being ruled offside.
Put Your Back(s) Into It
If 2016 was the year of Leilua then 2017 is definitely Rapana vintage. While his centre buddy struggles with poor distribution from Austin, Rapana continues to make crazy things happen down the righthand side. He is good for a try in every game, and his efforts to assist in bringing the ball out of the red zone are huge.
The rest of the backline remains hugely talented, and it’s up to the spine and forwards to give them the space to create the crazy stuff we know they can do.
One of the Raiders bigger mistakes in round 8 was underestimating Walker, expect those marking up on him to clamp down and try and force errors.
The Raiders need quick ball and aggressive forwards, and they need to demonstrate that teams are splitting at the ruck. If they keep sending forwards back in they can find lazy markers who want the cheap option, and either get the penalty or catch them napping. If they can shut down the creative side of Manly they’ll be well on their way to taking the two points home.
Raiders by 8!