The Raiders have had a shocking start to the season. While they haven’t been outright flogged by any powerhouse sides they have managed to capitulate against equally ranked sides, every time losing their way in the dying minutes of each match. Fans were already on edge after a disappointing 2017 campaign, and a trio of dispiriting losses has not helped.
Now, finally, Stuart has made the changes that many have been asking for. It remains to be seen whether or not Ata Hingano will play half or hooker, and whether he is a suitable bench hooker, but surely he can’t be worse than Sezer at rake.
Which brings us to Austin – Stuart has finally conceded that the Raiders five eighth needs some time at Mounties to relearn the basics of defence. If Austin wants back into the side he’s going to have to show he can commit himself physically in the path of attacking players, rather than just throwing out the cursory arm.
The Raiders task this weekend is not easy – they play a hot & cold Manly who went from a 54 point romp in rd2 to a 30 point reality check in rd3. They host the Green Machine at Brookvale, and will have no doubt been reinforcing their defences all week long in training.
With the return of Tapine this may actually be the strongest 17 the Raiders have fielded in 2018 thus far, and they’ll need to demonstrate that they can be a cohesive unit for the full 80 minutes.
The forwards made good metres and some proper effort in defence, but the fitness and slow line speed is ultimately what brought them undone against the Warriors. Boyd continues to be in good form, and the rotation and management of him and Paulo is key during these contests.
Soliola will be able to use more power during his stints, as Tapine will most likely be the one to swap on for him. Whitehead continues his consistency, but we’ll be looking to Papalii to step it up a notch and edge closer to his SOO level of play.
With the likes of Fonua-Blake and Taupau in the front line the Sea Eagles are no slouches, and the Raiders will need to restrain them in the metres department or risk Manly making distance through the ruck.
A Mighty Fine Spine
DCE will be looking to regain the form that made him man of the match in round 2, which means the Raiders need to aware of slick passing and an accurate short kicking game.
For the men in control of the Green Machine there is finally a chance to settle into their respective roles – with no Austin to throw things off Sezer and Williams should have more impact on the direction of attack.
Havili once again starts at 9, and is becoming more assured (and slightly fitter) with every game. The real interest will be on Hingano, and what he will add if and when he comes on the field.
You Can Do It (Put Your Backs Into It)
Captain Croker has been somewhat under fire this week, with some asking if a captain in the centres is really the best idea. While his start to 2018 hasn’t been the best I’m certain he can regain form and inspire his troops.
If there’s anyone Croker can take inspiration from it’s Leilua – after a so so 2017 he proved why he can be one of the form centres in the game, with incisive running and strong carries.
The Raiders backline must do battle with the likes of Trbojevic and Uate, which means they’ll need to be ready for any sideline raids that come their way.
Off The Pine
Hingano – Can he be the key ingredient to keep the Raiders going at the backend of each half?
Paulo – Solid carries and a threat close to the line.
Lui – Consistent game time means young Lui may actually get the chance to develop into a good bench forward.
Tapine – Everyone’s favourite tall tree returns – Tapine probably only hits the deck in 20% of his carries. The rest of the time he’s held upright and ready to play a quick ball.
The Eagles will turn to Hastings, Perrett, Lane and Tanginoa off their bench.
Where It Can Be Won
The Raiders need to get on top and keep scoring (since they probably haven’t learnt rock solid defence in a week). If Hingano is good he can help the forwards maintain the pressure moving up.
Raiders by 16!