The Raiders overcame their previous hurdle in the form of the insipid Warriors, easily disposing of the Kiwi outfit at Mt Smart. While the Green Machine remains a very long mathematical chance of making it into the 8, they’re going to have to down fellow aspirants Penrith to get there.
The Panthers are on a solid winning streak, but find themselves without key rake Peter Wallace. In his place come Sione Katoa, who I know absolutely nothing about. What I do know is that Josh Hodgson is slowly building back to his peak level. Given that the season looks as though it’s only three more games for the Raiders right now he may not reach peak performance, but his current level should be enough to terrify any young hooker.
The Raiders forwards continue to provide a good platform, even if last week’s opponents weren’t truly up to the challenge. If there is one thing the Raiders need to retain for 2018 it’s the equation Territory = Power to the Halves. Shannon Boyd is returning to his best form, ploughing into defenders and making good metres after contact. Likewise Junior Paulo. Papa too is a lock for his starting spot, while Tapine and Whitehead will surely grow into their new roles in the fullness of time. While Priest and Bateman have managed to not be abysmal the last two rounds I feel it is their two spots that will be up for grabs when Ricky builds a new look bench in 2018.
Given that Baptiste and Soliola will take the first two spots it will be an interesting battle between the likes of Priest, Bateman, Royce, Hunt and the others lurking in Mounties.
The Panthers pack is one of those annoying no-name-but-quite-good-output units that can easily trouble an opposing side. If there is some good news for the Raiders it’s that Trent Merrin hasn’t made the cut, with the first choice lock still recovering from a knee injury. The Panthers will undoubtedly look towards their veterans Tamou and Campbell-Gillard to lead the charge.
If there is one matchup that can cause the Raiders’ grief it’s in the halves. While Sezer and Austin have improved their running and passing game over the last few rounds (by abandoning the dreaded sides and playing as a pendulum that swings to whichever side Hodgson is pointing) their kicking game, especially in the short range, still leaves a lot to be desired. In contrast Moylan and Cleary are on fire, causing defenders all kinds of headaches when they put in short kicks inside the red zone.
Raiders goal line defenders will need to be on high alert, especially Wighton who has had far too many dubious reads of late.
Ricky’s determination to have his halves play fixed positions was a big factor in the Raiders troubles in the first half of season. Why he abandoned a perfectly functional system of ball distribution and playmaking I’ll never know.
The Raiders need to remember this when they train through the next offseason, because playing fixed halves will get them beat in 2018 – the idea of a playmaker chain tethered to Hodgson is ideal, as it allows the Green Machine to move their assets to either side at will.
Still in sudden death territory.
Raiders by a thrilling last gasp try!