Five rounds into 2019, the Raiders are in unfamiliar territory. And it feels good. With the exception of a brave but somewhat messy loss to the Storm the Green Machine has been in full control of its destiny thus far. There are some caveats – The Raiders first victims, the Titans, only recorded their first win in rd5. The Knights and Cowboys are equally hapless. The Eels posed a threat until they forgot to actually play football. On the flipside of that coin is the double shut-out stat, along with the 8.8 points conceded per game, with which the Raiders lead the league. Beating weaker teams may not seem all that glamourous but it is key to building a strong foundation leading into September, so that when you inevitably stumble you have the ladder space to correct what went wrong.
If the opening five rounds have demonstrated anything it’s that there are currently three tiers in the league: The Roosters, the Storm & Raiders, and then everybody else. Lower ranked teams are wildly oscillating between hot and cold, and it’s a mugs game trying to predict who will triumph in half the matches across a round. One team definitely in the doldrums are the Broncos. They managed to push Bennett out a year early and get their man Seibold, but so far it’s been nearly all for nought as they’ve struggled week after week to find form and cohesion.
2019 certainly isn’t getting any easier for Brisbane. Barring the Sharks in rd7 all their opponents up to and including rd10 are ensconced inside the top 8. By that point Origin is already casting its shadow over team lists (not that any eligible Broncos look remotely selectable), which means that the first half of the year could be a lean one for them.
The Raiders are the inverse of this. Routinely snubbed for Origin (excepting Papa), the Green Machines best parts are available to play at club level all year round, due in part to their high level of non-Origin internationals.
Early season games are never make or break, but they can very much be indicators of a teams future. The Broncos have access to a near fully fit roster, yet they’re playing like a top intrust cup side rather than a proper first grade team. The Raiders meanwhile are humming along nicely.
You know a team’s forwards section is stacked deep when youngsters like Emre Guler can’t even get back onto the reserves for a game. Round 6 sees JJ Collins get his first proper crack at the top level in green, and if he’s anything like the other youngsters Canberra has rolled out this season he should be good. The likes of Young and Horsburgh have demonstrated that Raiders management made some sound choices in their forwards investments for 2019 and beyond.
The Raiders will win this game, most likely, in the same fashion they beat the Eels – bash Brisbane through the middle until they collapse and then start sending quicker players at the gaps. Expect the Raiders to have more fluency in attack, as they’ll be keen to avoid the extended periods of hammering the defensive line like they did last week.
The Broncos are a team that can launch sudden long range raids, but recently they’ve looked disjointed. Milford and Nikorima are both responsible for this, and it’s important that the Raiders pile on as much defensive pressure as they can to stop these two youngsters from getting their bearings (another one of Sia’s crunching tackles should do the trick)
Head to Head
I combed the Broncos team list for a suitable match up and this is the only one I could find: Cotric vs Oates. Same frame and build. Same speed and strength. Oates has the edge in terms of experience, Cotric has an uncanny ability to spin out of defenders and then palm others off, causing havoc with defensive patterns. While they may not necessarily come face to face at all during this game they are both strong players who can turn momentum with a sudden break or pull of a critical tackle.
Green Star Award
Last week’s 17 in Green for defence.
The Raiders have the best defence in points conceded so far, and have twice kept opponents scoreless. Even Sam Williams managed a proper one on one effort against a much bigger opponent.
If the Raiders can keep momentum going herethey’ll really be on song for the back end of the year. Confidence is king in the NRL, and the path to the throne is littered with the broken remains of other teams.
Raiders by 14!