Fate can be a cruel mistress. For the most part she has smiled upon the Raiders over the opening eight rounds of 2019, her gaze sometimes wandering until the men in green wrested it back to fall upon them once more. She’s still watching them now, but there’s an added air of curiosity. The Raiders are wounded. And this weekend, the inaugural “Magic” round, they face the Roosters.
The Roosters currently look like a genuine contender to claim the first ever back-to-back title in the NRL. The competition is now in it’s 21st year and no one has been able to secure that elusive second consecutive premiership. The Tri-colours however do seem to be in cruise mode as they outgun all rivals in their bid for glory.
Stuart has been forced to name three of his top flight youngsters for this game, with Leilua (neck), Bateman (eye) and Tapine (ankle) all facing short to medium stints on the sideline. Young slots into Bateman’s role, while Horsburgh and Simonsson fill out the bench with Havili and Soliola. Simonsson is the odd pick here, and I can only assume that Stuart is trying to cover off any potential dramas in the backline.
For the Raiders to have a shot at victory they need to double down on their emphatic defence that has opened their campaign (Dan has written about this earlier). With the exception of their round 1 blip against the Bunnies the Roosters have secured mostly convincing wins, including paddlings of the Broncos and Tigers – to clock off against them is to embrace scoreboard death with open arms. Hudson Young in particular will need to be 100% focused on keeping his section of the goal line intact.
The upside is that the Raiders attacked actually improved last week, with a boost in both physicality and tempo. There have been earlier games where things looked quite stilted, but Wighton is clearly warming to life at #6, while CNK is starting to chime in more from deep in the backline. Offensive kicking will be a key element – too close to the in-goal and you risk giving the best team a 7 tackle set from their 20, too shallow and you won’t get the forward momentum to challenge and get that ball back to playmakers. Expect to also see long range-finders that turn the fringe defenders around and tire out the forwards.
The Roosters of course will most likely be doing all these things and more. In every season there’s a team that never really hits the rev limiter until the end of season, and the Roosters are it. Half the time it looks as though they’re engaged in a lazy training run, and they still burn their opponents.
The Raiders meanwhile are definitely The Little Engine That Can, it’s just a matter of how much they can, and how long for.
Head to Head
Josh Papalii vs Siosiua Taukeiaho. Papalii has well and truly cemented his spot as the Raiders lead forward in terms of output and effort. In earlier, younger seasons it would take a while for the burgers to fall away and the potential to be realised, but he has entered 2019 at full pace, hitting the line and dragging multiple defenders with him as he racks up the post contact metres. Taukeiaho remains one of the form forwards of the competition and terrorises opposition defences in every game.
Green Star Award
Elliot Whitehead is the worthy recipient this week after his tremendous defensive effort against Penrith. He racked up 42 tackles at 93.3% efficiency, and those stats don’t reflect the amount of lateral movement he put in to cover off various defensive points. He also managed to whip up 4 tackle breaks, 1 offload and 31 post contact metres in offence.
Can the Raiders make some magic at Suncorp? It’s easily their toughest assignment of 2019 to date, and there’d be no shame in a close but courageous loss. On the other hand, maybe it’s time to kneecap the giants of 2019.
Raiders by a sneaky/shocking two points!