The Raiders win in round 6 was one worth celebrating, as they shook off the gremlins of self-doubt and put a resurgent Broncos outfit to bed good and proper. Any sports fan knows that confidence begets victories, and Canberra will have harvested a truckload of confidence from that win.
Manly are currently residing in the lower half of the top 8, a result of some good but patchy footy. Given that Origin speculation already has its vice like grip around DCE they need to up their win rate before they lose their star half for the better part of seven weeks mid-season.
The Raiders have no such dilemma. Yes Papa will be called up for the Maroons, but that’s merely an acknowledgement of the stellar effort he’s been producing at club level. It’s pretty clear that the Raiders have the bench depth to cover this, and round 7 sees Sticky dip his hand into the lucky bag of forwards and pull out Emre Guler and Jack Murchie.
I personally have been somewhat surprised that it’s taken this long to get Guler back into first grade, but I also respect that Stuart’s approach to 2nd string forwards has been a lot more logical in 2019. Everyone of them has had a crack over the opening 7 rounds, and Stuart has resisted his frustrating habit of naming a four man bench and then only playing three of them.
The Raiders have a blueprint for dominance this year, one that sees a quick ruck give Hodgson the speed and space to get his big men hitting back in around the ruck defenders, tiring them out. We’re not usually prone to ref bashing in these pages but the ruck control from the refs in round 6 was abysmal. Raiders ball carriers were routinely pushed back down not once but twice on several occasions, which constitutes holding down the player in my book at least. Given that 2019 is all about increasing the speed of play this is definitely at odds with what the league bosses had in mind.
If you can’t go through it, you’ll have to go round it, which the Green Machine did to great effect early against Brisbane. Where other teams might find themselves running out of room on a sideline play the Raiders find themselves with the likes of Rapana, Leilua, Croker and Cotric. Croker’s deft pass for Cotric was a mix of experience and creativity, while Leilua’s first try was built out of footwork and sheer upper body strength – watch him as he targets Manly’s younger fringe defenders.
With Tom Turbo sidelined Manly have had to elevate some fresh blood, and with youth comes the slightest hint of uncertainty. I fully expect the Raiders to pepper Manly’s back three with swirling bombs, and to also try on a few cross-field chips in attacking raids.
The Raiders will need to be wary of DCE’s attacking kicks, and with CNK in possible doubt due to his knee damage Stuart needs someone at the back who can keep an eye on any grubbers fired in behind the defensive line.
The Raiders can really fortify their top 3 status this round, and they’ve shown in previous games that they can hold off teams that find their mojo after the Green Machine has generated a decent lead.
Head to Head
Jake Trbojevic vs Ryan Sutton. Trbojevic is the likely lock for NSW, while Sutton is demonstrating that Canberra’s investment in British stocks is fully justified. The newcomer probably has the edge in size, which he used to great effect against a floundering Broncos defence. Trbojevic is the epitome of the hardworking lock forward, combining a hunger for high tackle counts with strong offloads and tackle breaks.
Green Star Award
He may not even play in round 7, but you can’t argue that CNK didn’t earn a week off to sort his knee with his effort against Brisbane. Grimacing after Milford whacked his skull on CNK’s knee, the Raiders custodian waved the medi-cab away and continued to play on, racking up 200 metres and defusing 7 of the Broncos kicks.
The Raiders should get the job done here – if they can nullify DCE and the Manly forwards then they’ll have the requisite time and space to control the tempo.
Raiders by 8!