Friday night of last week was a stressful one – Not only was I driving into Sydney during the backend of peak hour in the wet, but I was also listening to the Raiders fumble their way to a frustrating loss against the Storm. While they may have improved their situation in the second half the Green Machine had given the Storm way too much headway, a slow start that would prove fatal.
Radio tends to magnify the mistakes, with every dropped ball on a dry pitch a stinging blow. By all accounts however the Raiders were much better in the second half, and it’s this form (and that of round 1) that they need to harness when taking on solid teams.
The Knights are returning to the label of solid. Weirdly they managed to be one of the Raiders bogey teams during the dreaded Spoon trifecta, constantly giving the Canberrans close scares whilst losing to everyone else by a margin of twenty or more. It’s taken the Novocastrians some time to rebuild after the Bennett/Tinkler carnage, but astute purchases now see them firming as at least a genuine top 8 contender. In other words, they’re right on par with the Raiders.
The Raiders need to win this one simply because momentum is key in the modern NRL – just ask the Tigers and the Eels (or conversely the Bulldogs and the Titans). To secure a win is not just being ahead of your opponents but also seven other clubs who couldn’t overcome the challenges of the round.
Head to Head
There’s a slew of key match-ups across the park but the one with the best narrative is in the five-eighth position: Wighton vs Ponga. Both are exciting fullbacks turned running playmakers, and it’ll be an intriguing battle to see who can get the upper hand in terms of physicality. Wighton is improving week on week in his role, and has already demonstrated his long range kicking ability on top of his ball running/playing skills. Ponga is on par with his passing game, but differs from Wighton by having a stronger short kicking game. Both players can break the play wide open – who will be first?
Green Star Award
Papalii and Croker – Big Papa laid it on in the forwards, running 138m off 13 carries (10.6avg) with 50 PCM, and a 100% tackle count out of 28 efforts all in the space of 49 minutes. Croker was the only scorer for the Raiders, crossing the line twice and converting one of his two tries.
The Raiders can win this, but they need to be mindful of the Knights halves and bigger units like new recruit David Klemmer. Canberra needs some crafty kicking to keep Newcastle in their own forty, and sustained pressure in both attack and defence.
Raiders by 8!