15 minutes into the Tigers clash against the Raiders fans were quietly awaiting the return of their saviour Josh Hodgson. The Raiders had scored the opening try, but then conceded the next two, and an all too familiar feeling was sinking in. 65 minutes later the mood had very much shifted into the positive.
Suffice it to say the task of taking on the Broncos now seems a little bit more doable, with Hodgson’s direction around the ruck proving very troublesome for the opposition. The Raiders sit directly below Brisbane on the ladder, and the Broncos will be keen to fend off their pursuers. While a Raiders win this week won’t launch them directly into the top 8 it is a vital stepping stone, as the Broncos are 4 competition points ahead.
The Raiders have some personnel shifts occurring, namely the return of Junior Paulo who slots onto the bench in place of Luke Bateman (recovering from knee surgery). Whitehead and Tapine have both returned from their high-altitude showdown unharmed, while Leilua should get a boost from leading his side in representative honours over the weekend.
With the competition still awaiting Game 3 and all the upheaval from midyear swaps looming the Raiders have a real chance to knuckle down and secure some key victories to get them closer to life in September.
One interesting stat is that the Raiders are actually doing better points wise in game, having scored more and conceded less than the Broncos (and with only one Hodgson game). This clearly shows how crucial those late, close losses have been for Canberra, but also that the Broncos are far from their dominant best in 2018.
Elliot Whitehead was having himself a very average season until his fellow countryman returned to the pitch. The sudden reappearance of the Steeden to the right edge, as facilitated by Hodgson, sparked a whole new attitude from the mobile backrower who then found he had the space and time to cause the Tigers defence some serious headaches.
The return of Paulo means that the Raiders can keep their Big Boppers on proper rotation, swapping Boyd out when the tank runs dry and allowing Paulo to get in there and tire out the Broncos ruck defence. Add in Havili’s potential for injection late in halves and the Raiders could find gaps opening all through the midfield.
The Broncos themselves have a solid pack with the likes of Mcguire and veteran Thaiday, and the Raiders will need to match it with them when it comes to cutting down the amount of post-contact metres the Broncos can earn.
A Mighty Fine Spine
Hodgson lead a masterclass in game management against the Tigers. In his first set he earned his side a penalty coming out of their own half, and was soon putting bodies over for tries willy-nilly. With his return Sezer now can also have some of the pressure lifted from his shoulders, and is free to act as pivot playmaker on one side of the field.
Austin remains the concern. Yes he made some good breaks and nabbed a try, but at least two of the Tigers scoring efforts happened due to his poor positional choices close to the line. News emerged Wednesday that he had been in contact with Parramatta about linking up with the Eels for 2019, but for now he needs to devote his on-field attention to making the right decisions when it counts (something that he demonstrated he could after being cut earlier this year).
Andrew McCullough remains a good hooker, although with the ascendance of Cook I would now rate him at #4 in the league. He hasn’t quite had the pizazz of prior seasons, and it’s this point where the Raiders have the upper hand via Hodgson.
Nikorima and Milford are another two solid players who also aren’t putting out stellar performances in 2018, and the Raiders will be looking to shut down any rhythm they might develop as play goes on. If there’s one area where Milford does excel it’s in broken field play, so the Raiders need to be wary that they keep a cohesive line.
You Can Do It (Put Your Backs Into It)
Oldfield proved that he was a more than capable replacement for Rapana, bagging a try and linking well with BJ and Whitehead on the right. Croker and Cotric continue to put in solid work on the left (Croker’s pass to Nic on the wing was sublime). Wighton continues to show that he is a very capable custodian, bringing strong kick returns combined with great attacking sweeps, particularly when he combines with Cotric and Croker on the left.
The Broncos field an equally impressive backline, with former Origin player Boyd and current Origin centre Roberts both on the books. Oates has also had his taste in the Origin arena, and once you throw in Kahu and Isaako you have a very daunting back five. The Raiders need to be wary of cross field chips targeting Oates who can be near unstoppable in the air.
Off The Pine
Havili – The best #14 choice the Raiders have.
Lui – Continues to serve up good efforts off the bench, with some hard running and dominant tackles.
Paulo – It will be interesting to see how much damage he can wreak both in offence and defence.
Knight – Still on his way to earning a full time spot for 2019. Needs to be aware of getting clear of tackles after initial warning.
The Broncos will be calling on Mago, Ofahengaue, Opacic and Glenn for their rotations.
Where It Can Be Won
The Raiders need to observe patience and avoid an over-reliance on Hodgson when facing Brisbane. Strong defence is key to shutting down the Broncos and in turn frustrating them. The Green Machine will need to watch for attacking runs on the fringes from the likes of Roberts, or raids around the ruck orchestrated by McCullough. Minimal errors are a must!
Raiders by 6!