Origin is done and dusted for another year, and now it’s a full tilt run to the end of the season. The Raiders at this point look like a team that won’t be featuring in any games come September, and this week they face off against a side that definitely won’t be playing on past round 25.
IF the Raiders have had a lacklustre season then the Cowboys have had an outright diabolical one. They’re third last, with just four wins to their name. JT is slowly riding closer to that sunset, while Michael Morgan remains sidelined until 2019 with a bicep injury. The 2015 Premiers have fallen a long way down.
This doesn’t bode well for the Raiders, who are still clinging onto finals hopes by a very mathematical thread. With the pressure well and truly off the Cowboys could start playing fast and loose at any moment, even if all current indicators say they won’t.
The Raiders do at least have some direction in regards to personnel, with Blake Austin signing on with Warrington from 2019. This means that Sam Williams can hopefully entrench himself as the starting six and form a half decent pairing with Sezer for the remaining rounds.
The Raiders are in need of some serious critical self reflection after their last gasp win over the Dogs last week. Canterbury controlled most of that match until they finally did themselves a Canberra in the dying minutes and gave up a generous lead. While the Raiders came away with the win it’s fair to say that they looked pretty unpolished for large portions of the match.
In short, the Raiders absolutely need to hammer the Cowboys. They need to spend as little time defending as possible, as they’re going to need plenty of energy for their horror three-game road trip that includes the Panthers, the Storm and the Sharks.
With the Warriors and Broncos ahead by six competition points (but worse F/A) the Raiders can’t afford to let the gap grow larger.
The Raiders will need to dig deep to really fire up the engine room this week. Shannon Boyd remains out, while Tapine joins him in the stands due to a suspension. Without the benefit of a fresh team list we have to make some assumptions – either Soliola or Bateman will take up the lock forward spot, while Papa will return to his usual position out on the fringe.
Dunamis Lui and Paulo are set to be the starting props, and one suspects that Liam Knight will return to make up the numbers with Tapine out. Tapine is the real loss, as he is a weapon in both defence and attack, with defenders rarely managing to pull him down in the tackle. I was impressed with Lui last week, who made some good runs despite having low metres overall, and I’m hoping that Stuart will give him a bit more time on to get his stats up.
From the Cowboys perspective there is one forward to fear above all others – Taumalolo. The guy remains the perfect description of a dream forward in the NRL, able to play big minutes and rack up huge numbers every game.
The closest the Raiders have is Papalii, who should at least be spiritually energised by Queensland’s win on Wednesday. The Raiders need to shut JT the Younger down any time he looks to be gearing up for a big run, or he’ll punch holes in and around the ruck.
A Mighty Fine Spine
Hodgson continues to be the shining light in the Raiders spine, although his tactic of kicking early against the Dogs was perplexing (Ed: That was a team-wide tactic. Still perplexing). Given the Cowboys woes this year I hope he focuses more on quick moves around the ruck, either with switch up passing from dummy half or by taking runs, hopefully accompanied by good support.
Sezer and Williams provided good, but not great direction last week, and it’ll be interesting to see if the two of them can up their short kicking game in the Cowboys 20. While he started off the bench you do have to commend Austin for the sheer energy he brought against a tiring defence. Expect Ricky to pop him on around the 60 minute mark, especially if he sees the cracks between Cowboys forwards and smaller players appearing in the line.
Havili also comes into the equation, as his introduction to the game means that Hodgson can take a quick break at least once a set to assess the big picture options. Havili’s ability to make an easy 10 is often key to getting the Raiders out of their own half.
Even with some of the magic fading JT remains one of the most dangerous halves in the game. While he may not be able to summon the speed of his younger self he still has the craft and perception to lead defenders astray, and the Raiders need to be wary of giving him too much space and time. Do that and he’ll slowly drift towards the line, putting you in two minds about what option he’ll embrace.
Granville has been having a pretty ordinary year, and isn’t even near the level of a freshly restored Hodgson. Te Maire Martin on the other hand is a pretty decent six when in form, and needs to be closely monitored by the Raiders defence.
You Can Do It (Put Your Backs Into It)
Rapana returns! With Wighton looking more and more likely to be unseen until 2019 the Raiders have decided to take the leap and shift Cotric to fullback, due in part to young Brad Abbey sustaining a head knock last week that sees him ruled out. Michael Oldfield switches across to pair up with Croker, while BJ will no doubt be excited by the return of his other football half.
The real interesting move is Cotric. If this spine clicks it may well be what the Raiders stick with for the rest of the season, and Cotric may go a long way to making the #1 jersey his beyond 2018.
The Cowboys back five has at least three premiership players – Coote, Feldt and Winterstein. They may be slightly older than their Raiders counterparts but they more than make up for it with experience. Enari Tuala I know nothing about, but Kane Linnett brings starch to the speed section.
Off The Pine
Austin – Had a pearler against the Dogs. Hopefully has confidence now that his future is secure.
Havili – A fantastic runner and defender, who definitely helps shore up the Raiders line.
Bateman/Soliola – Capable of picking up where the other leaves off, I get the feeling Stuart may opt for Soliola here just so he can bring some Oomph once Bateman needs a break.
Knight – Getting better with each game, provided Ricky plays him.
The Cowboys have former Raider Shaun Fensom along with Hampton, Wright and Jensen.
Where It Can Be Won
As I said at the top, the Raiders simply need to destroy the Cowboys. Another sneaky win in the dying minutes won’t really help the road trip, but a full-blown score board massacre may help boost morale.
Raiders by 40!