With one half-arsed flag raise and an unblown whistle the Raiders season hopes of 2018 were all but extinguished. Up until that point the Raiders had been a second half tsunami bearing down on the Sharks, before incompetence and indifference threw up a break wall to hold them back.
The Raiders fan base have, along with the wider NRL community (NOT Sharks fans) have agonised over last Saturdays incredible display in the days since. Sometimes with these things it’s best just to get up, dust yourself off and try again. There are still 12 competition points on offer for the Green Machine. If they somehow miraculously bagged all of these they’d finish the season on 30 points with a reasonably healthy differential.
Unfortunately the run home has them facing off against five top 8 sides and the Tigers, who may well be in the eight within a few rounds, given their giant killing abilities. Diehard fans will scream that the more pessimistic among us aren’t bleeding enough green, but even they know deep down that 2018 is pretty much done and dusted for the Raiders (barring some untimely accident involving the Broncos, the Warriors, Sharks, Panthers and Tigers).
So what now for Canberra? Croker is gone for the rest of the year, recovering in the presence of an adorable small dog, and Sezer is yet to recover from his hammy issue. Boyd could be back soon, but it’s a moot point because he’ll be gone in six rounds, pausing only to hold the door open for Paulo.
There are only two objectives for the Raiders now – stay healthy and get as much quality game time into the younger players as possible. While each successive loss may be a disappointment for us it does theoretically free Stuart from the demands of fielding his best 17, giving him some space to blood newbies or extend game time for players like Murchie (who acquitted himself quite well last week).
It’s the Raiders pack versus the stone cold band of Storm mercenaries. Bellamy is renowned for taking average-to-good players and shaping them into part of a cohesive unit, and it’s the Raiders mission objective this Saturday to crack this unit open. Dunamis Lui deservedly holds onto his starting prop spot, while we all breathe a sigh of relief when we see that Tapine is back in the second row. Tapine’s return means that young Murchie has to bow out this week, with Papalii slotting back into lock (where he has been an almighty asset).
On the Storm side are the likes of Jesse “Whiteline-fever” Bromwich and Dale “Horyuken” Finucane, along with returned Storm veteran Ryan Hoffman. Storm forwards are always a million times better as Storm forwards, and the Raiders will need to be tough to fend off all the silly wrestling and dirty leg pulling that they will undoubtedly employ at every given chance.
A Mighty Fine Spine
Two of the games best hookers go face to face – the crafty experience of Smith against the creative sleight of hand from Hodgson. This could well be Smith’s last game against Canberra, and I’m sure all Raiders fans would love to see him fall short of toppling the Green Machine one last time. Hodgson has been simply superb since his return, and it’s fair to say that he and Cook will be the two most dominant Nines in the league for a long time.
Blake Austin and Williams did their best against the Sharks last week, but surely Austin is outclassed by the likes of Cameron Munster (at least on the field). I haven’t paid enough attention this year to know who Jarome Hughes is (Ed note: probably more fullback than halfback; great ball runner, handy ball-player).
Put Your Backs Into It
Poor Oldfield went from hero to zero last weekend, with some awful loose carries letting him down. Stuart has taken some of the pressure off by swapping him to the outside of Cotric, and it’ll be interesting to see what Super Nic does with the inside channel.
Leilua definitely benefitted from a week of critical self-reflection, and turned in a solid performance for the full 80 minutes. While you can argue that he and Rapana have lost some of the flair of their “Leipana” year they have gained much in the way of footballing wisdom and discipline – there are less brain explosions and more selfless team based play, especially coming out of the Raiders end.
Billy Slater is a Gammin Dawg and I hope Junior Paulo squishes him flat.
Off The Bench
Havili – The Running Rock remains a great asset off the pine, able to come on and instantly start hoovering up metres around the ruck.
Bateman – Always ready to chip in with a good settler. Has become the one of the Raiders “under the radar” type players.
Knight – Just keeps building on his platform. It looks as though Knight has beaten out some of his younger peers for that bench spot.
Soliola – All-round legend who leads by example.
The Storm have K-Brom, Glasby, Welch and Stimson to call on when fuel runs low.
Look, it’s a long shot. The Storm are building towards finals, while the Raiders are now holding on by a millimetre of fingernail. We know that the Green Machine can jag a win down at AAMI Park, they just have to know it too.
Raiders by a try after Billy drops it in the in-goal and Paulo sits on him while grounding it!