Round 4 sees a meeting of two sides with very different stories across the opening rounds of 2019. The Canberra Raiders have been solidly good, if not great, in their two wins and one loss. The Cowboys on the other hand look as though life post Thurston may be a harder existence than they thought, especially with Taumalolo sidelined. The two teams differ in their makeup too – the Raiders have pivoted towards a smaller but also younger 17, while the Cowboys still host some of the oldest, and most experienced players in the NRL, particularly in the forwards.
It’s in the battle of the forwards where advantage must be won. NQLD ended up taking a pummelling from the Sharks last week, and they’ll no doubt be keen to erase those memories by putting both tough defence and attack on the Raiders. To counter this the Raiders need to pick at the Cows around the ruck – if they can tire out the older units like Scott with quick rucks and runs that angle back across the middle they can cause all kinds of headaches.
One effective tactic for the Raiders thus far is the early long kick to the corners, a move that has effect before you even go that option. Once you’ve put that first kick in and caught the opposition off-guard you’ve sown the seed of doubt in their minds, and they’ll spend the next few defensive sets trying to cover it off whilst also trying to keep their fringes intact. Wighton is a good striker of these (when they don’t go out on the full) and he is almost always first on the scene in the kick chase. Between the three Raiders kickers there should be enough ability to keep this in play throughout the game.
The Cowboys actually had surprisingly solid stats against the Sharks, but the one killer for them in the blowout loss was the amount of missed tackles, 33 to the Sharks 12. If there’s a team that can break tackles it’s the Raiders. Rapana and Leilua are known for this ability, but you can now add Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad to the list of Raiders who can spin, slide and bounce their way out of the opposition’s grip. Even when he doesn’t break the tackle he quite often ends up with his hands free and ready for an offload.
Head to Head
Matt Scott vs Josh Papalii. Two proud Queenslanders, one in the twilight of his football years, the other with a considerable amount of club and rep footy left to play. Scott has been a stalwart of both NQLD and the Maroons for a long time, while Papa surged into the rep side initially before falling away, only to re-enter the team as he entered his prime phase for the Raiders. As Scott nears the end of his career his output has started to dip, but he’s still a fearsome sight to either defenders or ball carriers. At age 26(!!) Papalii has a huge amount of footy left in him, and he currently shows the best of his ability on a weekly basis, with his main strength being the amount of sheer post contact metres he can wring out of each hit-up.
Green Star Award
If you thought this was going to be anyone other than John Bateman then you need to go back and look at what he’s produced across the first three games. Metres wise he’s gone 154/87/185 (avg 9.06 per carry/133m post contact), while on the tackle front he’s never dropped below 85% efficiency. Admittedly the numbers from the Storm game aren’t great, but nearly the entire Raiders pack bar Papalii slumped to low figures due to the Storm’s sheer amount of possession. Bateman has already demonstrated that he could be one of the top three locks by the end of the year.
The Raiders need to be mindful of a wounded Cowboys outfit on home turf, but not to the degree that they become fixated on what the Cows might do to them. Controlled kicking and directed rucks are key to wearing out the home side and potentially opening the floodgates for some sizzling Green Machine tries.
Raiders by 12!