If you had asked me to name two teams that would be making strong statements in the early rounds of 2019 I would probably not have named the Raiders and the Eels. Well, I might have named the Raiders but only after optimistically outlining all the reasons why they might finally be good. On that note it is both genuinely pleasing and surprising that one of the better games of the round is between these two, and that it is the final game of the weekend. The two teams above the Raiders, the Storm and the Roosters, are playing the struggling Sharks, who Parra accounted for last round, and the hapless Cowboys, who were dispatched by the Raiders. The Eels trail the Raiders by just 8 points in differential, with both sides having amassed 6 competition points.
This is a game that will be won by tough defence. Both sides have improved markedly since their 2018 campaigns, and are now able to repel a lot of the set plays that would have had them clutching at thin air last year. If Canberra has one weakness in its line it’s Sam Williams penchant for pushing up too quick and leaving a gap in behind him for ball players to exploit. If Ricky can get him out of this habit he may be able to at least stall attackers long enough for his support to arrive on the scene and hold up a potential try. The defence does get a boost through the return of Tapine, with young Horsburgh getting a run in Mounties to boost his playing minutes (while I applaud the passion and effort of Horsburgh he did give away a few penalties against the Cowboys, something which should be avoided this weekend). Tapine combines a high tackle rate with some big shots, which could be essential in holding back the Eels forwards.
Usually we wouldn’t need to say much about the Raiders attack, but I think after last weekend it’s fair to ask for maybe a bit more composure during the middle act, where the Green Machine began to come unstuck due to some truly bizarre choices in offence. Some players seemed to be reading from a different script, to the point that the director of the side, Hodgson, became pretty unsettled himself. The best solution to this is to make sure that everyone stands deep at the play the ball, rather than as bunch of flat-footed sheep all milling around.
Former Raider and Idle Hands nominee Blake Ferguson is proving a good buy for the Eels, and the Raiders will need to be watchful of any of his raids down the edge. Junior Paulo will seek to plant some dominance through the middle, so Canberra will need the likes of Papalii to counter him. Shaun Lane needs to be wrapped up ball and all to prevent any offloads letting Eels flyers like Gutherson into the backfield.
Head to Head
Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad vs Clinton Gutherson. CNK is quickly proving he can cover all the aspects that have made Wighton’stime at #1 so strong. He’s good under the high ball and kick return, can tackle well and as an uncanny ability to almost always end his carries with his arms free and searching for an offload. Gutherson remains the heart of the Eels, and can often turn a game with a pivotal play. Expect to see him threatening the Raiders line on more than one occasion on Sunday.
Green Star Award
Elliot Whitehead, with an honourable mention for Dunamis Lui. Whitehead was everywhere in defence against NQLD, including some big try-saving tackles that helped the Raiders keep the Cows at bay. Lui wound up for some impressive hit-ups, often launching himself from deep within the Raiders offensive line. More please!
After the Storm this is the second hardest game for Canberra so far. The Eels are fellow top eight travellers at the moment, and both sides will be keen to keep their footing. For the Raiders to claim the two they’ll need to be more focussed through the middle stanza and shut Parra out with solid defence and cunning attack.
Raiders by 6!