The Raiders return from their first round loss to face a reborn Newcastle team at GIO. After the malaise of the second half against the Titans, the Green Machine will be looking to lay down a solid 80 minute display. Several players were found wanting in that second stanza, and Dan has already combed through the wreckage to show us where the Raiders faulted in both attack and defence.
The slowest learner on the team is not any of the 17 players, but rather Ricky Stuart. Stuart demonstrated across 2017 that he was reticent to make any big changes until either his hand was forced by poor contributions from a player, or by injury.
There is one change that definitely needs to happen now, for two reasons – Aidan Sezer should not play in the #9 jumper for the rest of the year. Reason one is that he is in fact not a very good hooker. He is slow to pass from dummy half, mainly, as Dan pointed out, because he waits until he’s standing before he passes. Hodgson doesn’t do this. Neither does Havili. One suspects that Garvey, who by all accounts did very well for Mounties in round one, doesn’t do it either, or at least, not as much as Sezer does.
Secondly, having three halves on the field is simply a case of too many cooks. Suddenly the very distinct divide between Williams kicking and organising game against the running game of Austin is blurred. Forwards become confused as to who is directing what. Game plans fall apart.
Ricky is infamous for not budging once he’s chosen a course to follow. Losses due to poor positional planning are almost always met with platitudes about courage and persistence. These are not things the Raiders need now.
The Raiders are one of the very few teams that struggled with the Knights during their weakened period – to run an improper roster against them now is foolish.
For the first 20 minutes against the Titans the Raiders forward pack were at their bullish best (nearly). Boyd ran with direction and purpose, and Papalii looked equally dangerous on his edge. Then, once the halves structure fell apart, the forwards lost their way, and were unable to muster the strength to rejoin the grind against the Titans engine room. Tapine broke his finger. We at the Sportress began to recognise that all too familiar slump in output.
It shouldn’t be this hard for the Raiders forwards. They have a good starting pack, supplemented by an okay bench (actually this is exactly why it’s hard). They just seem to lack that that extra ounce of energy that drives stronger packs to victory.
The Knights have a pack stocked with the likes of Lillyman, Guerra and Barnett. They’re like the mixed salad of youthful aggression and veteran composure. The Raiders forwards need to show equal composure against them.
A Mighty Fine Spine
The Knights now have Mitchell Pearce and Connor Watson, which means the Raiders need to make a choice. In reality they should only be taking two halves into this game. My preference would be for Williams and Sezer, as I feel that their kicking games are more important than Austin’s ability to run (and not pass). In fact, Sezer is the perfect person to fill Austin’s spot, as he has the requisite running skills along with a competent kicking game (leaving Williams to organise big picture things).
If you drop one of these three altogether it means that you must fill a spot on the bench, and I pick Havili. Havili is good, but he’s clearly not up to the 80 minute fitness benchmark that the Raiders so desperately require for the next 15 weeks. He is, however, quite sizeable for a hooker (he weighs 10kgs more than Hodgson). This makes him quite suitable to playing as a temporary lock. Let Garvey take command of the #9 spot for the full 80 ( they can always swap in and out in attack when Havili comes on)
You Can Do It (Put Your Backs Into It)
The spine got off to a cracking start, and then, like the rest of the side, the brain farts set in. Croker never looked quite the same after his run in with Hurrell, which left Cotric trying to stay on top of the workload on the left. Meanwhile Leilua abandoned reasonable playing standards in favour of his old approach to footy – doing what he likes, rules be damned. The fab five at the back need to re-learn how to weather the bad times during a game before they can resume scoring.
With the likes of Ponga, Coke-face K-Dowall, Moga and Ross on the hunt for the tryline the raiders edge defenders will need to be hyper-focussed and ready to move up in a cohesive line (No Back-pedalling!)
Off The Pine
Havili – stocky guy who plays good at hooker and will make a suitable temporary lock.
Charlie Gubb – Jesus Ricky just hurry up and pick him already.
Dunamis Lui/Royce Hunt – Either one of these two is ok I guess.
Anyone but Luke Bateman – Please for the love of god make it stop.
The Knights can call on the likes of Heighington, Buhrer and Saifiti. The Raiders need to pick better (and train smarter).
Where It Can Be Won
Ricky’s obstinance makes it hard for me to gauge this contest. I don’t feel like the team can cohesively click until Stuart makes a tough choice and picks a working spine that doesn’t become all muddled up. Maybe the power of a home ground can get them through?
Raiders by 6!