“The Litmus Test”
The Canberra Raiders sent out some strong signals in their round 1 shut-out effort over the hapless Titans. With the Gold Coast sans both of their key playmakers by the 15 minute mark the Raiders just had to stick to their reasonably basic wet weather plan – control the ball and kick early. By the end of the 80 minutes they had a completion rate of 74%, solid kick metres and a 21 point F/A.
While it’s easy to get excited after such a game one must remember past performances are not indicative of future ones. The Storm are the proverbial tough nut of the NRL, one of the few teams truly capable of weathering three or more successive sets in defence. The Raiders, historically, are the opposite.
Having said that, the defence shown on Sunday was a marked improvement over the average effort thrown up in 2018. The Raiders seemed much more cohesive and aware in their approach, and specifically keen on getting larger opposition forwards onto their backs. Debutant John Bateman was a workhorse in the tackle count, triggering memories of previous workmen like Fensom and Tongue.
The real keys to getting over the Storm will be cool heads and patience. The Storm are one of the top 3 teams for physicality in the ruck, and they will prod and test every rule and boundary in an effort to gain an advantage. The Raiders need to ignore the niggle and aim for a speedy game (Melbourne absolutely hate oppositions controlling tempo). If they can get to their stomachs quickly in tackles and rise cleanly they will undoubtedly catch Storm defenders in the act of interference.
The tactic of early kicking should also be used, within reason. The Storm will be watching for it, but if it’s deployed at random it can put them in two minds about where the ball is headed.
Ruck defence is another key factor for the Green Machine. If there’s another rake as wily as Hodgson it’s Cam Smith, who will surely be looking to send multiple runners into the line to test the Raiders resolve. Canberra need to move up in unison to shut these runs down.
Dan wrote about Sezer’s need to distribute more ball on the right, a thing that becomes even more critical with the return of Rapana. If Sezer can get it away to either Tapine or BJ quickly they can cause the Storm’s left side defence all kinds of problems.
Head to Head
How could it be anything other than Hodgson vs Smith? The man who has dominated much of the NRL for the last 15 years versus the
man who may well become the dominant playmaker once Smith steps down. Both players are able to see plays unfolding several steps ahead, and both are adept at misdirection close to the line. In fact the only thing that splits the two is Smith’s experience in the NRL and Hodgson’s fresher legs.
Green Star Award
John Bateman. I am fascinated by this guy. At 97kg he is a slight, lean lock forward. On the tv he is almost scrawny. But he is possessed by some sort of internal power source that allows him to make tackle after tackle in defence, and then run the ball into the line while taking three defenders with him. Now guess which previous Raiders lock has almost the same physical dimensions. Bradley Clyde. While he has a way to go before he reaches that level of recognition he definitely has the makings of something great.
Beating Melbourne is always a tough ask, but it is doable (2016 round 22?) The return of Rapana along with all the other positive changes certainly put the Raiders in a better stance to try.
Raiders by 8!