There’s a little glimmer of hope cascading in through the curtains at Sportress HQ.
It’s the first time we’ve felt this way since about the 78th minute of round one. It was at that point that the Raiders completed their capitulation against the Gold Coast Titans, somehow turning a 18-0 lead after ELEVEN minutes into a first round loss. You know what happened after that.
At 0 and 4 the season seemed over. But three wins in four weeks has meant that the Raiders are almost back in the range of being somewhat close to being discussed as a finals smokey.
OK they’ve not exactly rocketed up the standings, but 11th is better than 15th.
Their round one nemesis returns this weekend, and the Raiders have another opportunity to maintain contact with the middle of the competition. The Titans themselves have lost three in a row and will be as equally desperate as the Raiders to stay in touch with the finals.
The Raiders forwards haven’t racked up huge metre numbers in recent weeks. None of them cracked 100 last week. Despite this Shannon Boyd’s early season form has continued, and when he’s been allowed on the field he looks to be the most consistent ball-runner in the pack. Joe Tapine still hasn’t found his feet in attack on the edge, though he gets through his share of hit-ups as needed. That is still being built with Aidan Sezer, though it will come. His real value-add in recent weeks has been in defence. He made 53 tackles last weekend, and he makes a flimsy left-edge a little stronger.
Josh Papalii’s supposed ‘resurgence’against the Cowboys was overstated, but he was effective in the middle of the park.
The Raiders come up against a very strong pack. Jai Arrow has been a revelation in the middle for the Titans – he has the fourth most post-contact metres in the competition. Jarrod Wallace will be a walk-up start for the Maroons come origin. Add the always hardworking Ryan James and Kevin Proctor to this mix and the Raiders will do well to keep this pack in check.
A Mighty Fine Spine
In the Raiders victories this year Aidan Sezer has controlled the proceedings and Saturday’s victory against the Cowboys was no different. He ran the ball well, and kicked to corners effectively. One feels that his control over the side has reached the point where leads like say, I don’t know, 18-0 might feel safe again. Siliva Havili played sixty minutes, up from his sweet FA against the Bunnies. His progress this season is frankly astounding, as was his incredible effort to drag the entirety of northern Australia over the line with him in scoring the victory-sealing try.
Jack Wighton took a backseat to Blake Austin in attack last week, which was unusual. Wighton has been a critical part of the Raiders attack all season. He’ll be more involved this week and the Raiders left side will score more points.
I’ll be interested as to whether Blake Austin’s more resolute defence displayed last weekend holds. Instead of the uninspiring and slow Jonathon Thurston working his edge, he’s likely to have a bit of Ash Taylor and Bryce Cartwright working around him. Both will threaten the line more than JT did, but neither is an elite play-maker, so the decisions facing Austin should be manageable.
The Titans have had a bit of trouble creating line breaks this season. The good folk at theobstructionrule.com say they’ve had the worst attack in the competition in April. They rely on kicks for their tries, and that can be a streaky way to score. Cartwright playing at five-eighth is a desperate attempt to remedy this. He’ll be rocks and diamonds with the ball, and more consistent (read: worse) in defence. Nathan Peats has been out of form this season, and the real challenges will be corralling Mitch Rein when he comes on the field.
You Can Do It (Put Your Backs Into It)
Nic Cotric and Jordan Rapana were rightly lauded for their efforts on yardage coming out of the Raiders half against the Cowboys. It’s no secret that the Raiders back five is elite, and that the Green Machine relies on them to support the engine room. This group averages over 105 metres per person in Raiders victories, and around 98 in losses. Look for them to get more opportunities in attack than recent victories.
Jarrod Croker will see Konrad Hurrell and be worried. Here’s why.
Where it can be won
In my mind the forward packs are going to battle each other to a stalemate. But the Raiders have more points in them, and in recent weeks have shown they have an aptitude for easily handling attacks that don’t threaten the line, which is a good way to characterise the Titans.
Raiders by 8