The Raiders have hit that patchy kind of form where they’re just out of range of the top tier of the comp, but still out of reach of everyone below them. They’ve struggled in their encounters with two top teams (Roosters and Storm) and suffered something of a shock loss at the hands of the Sea-Eagles. In their six other games they’ve obtained wins ranging from “good enough” to “near-masterful”.
Unfortunately for the Raiders they’ve encountered the Roosters, and now the Bunnies, at the worst possible time. The Raiders casualty ward is starting to fill up, with easily $1.5M worth of talent sidelined in the forms of Rapana, Bateman, Tapine and Leilua. The hit to personnel has seen Stuart make some sizeable changes, especially in the backline. The team list released on Tuesday sees Cotric switched to the left to partner Oldfield, while Simonsson is paired with Croker out on the right. Youngster Sebastian Kris is rewarded for consistency in the lower grades.
The loss of star power means two things – the Raiders are without key back-liners who assist with early carries on kick return sets and are they are defensively weakened, especially on the right. Stuart needs to instil a degree of self-belief in these players, and quickly.
In their loss to the Roosters the Raiders got caught out by the NRL’s somewhat unbalanced approach to ruck control – what is one teams rolling advantage quickly becomes the other teams’ laziness to clear from tackles. The Raiders were regularly pinged for doing exactly what the big three of 2019 have been doing, moving them into a damned if they do/don’t scenario where peeling off too early affords the opposition momentum, but staying too long heightens the chance of a penalty.
The only real way to beat this is to make effective and dominant tackles on ball carriers – the Raiders must get Bunnies players on their backs and give defenders time to retreat to the line. We can scream all day about bias amongst the referees but it’s pretty pointlessgiven that the NRL never bothers to actually fix anything once the season is underway.
I wrote last week that early kicking is a good way to tire big teams and I stick by it. If the large Rabbitohs forwards are going to be doing big yards then the Raiders want it happening inside the Bunnies 40 as much as possible, with the big units turning around so much they lose some oomph in attack.Wighton has shown a knack for probing long range kicks, and while I don’t necessarily want him hunting 40/20s’ I’d like to see some long kicks landing in the 10 that force Souths to clean up under pressure.
The worst thing the Raiders can do now is abandon their template for success. Games will undeniably be harder over the next eight weeks, but if they can weather much of what is thrown at them they’ll be in good stead for when three of those big four players return (We miss you BJ!)
Head to Head
Josh Hodgson vs Damien Cook. Well duh. The schemer vs the speedster. While Hodgson hasn’t been at his peak best this season he still remains one of the top three rakes in the comp, and in this game he faces one of his contemporaries in Cook. These two are the yin and yang of top flight rakes – Hodgson is all about deception at the line, using multiple big men to put the defence in two minds, while Cook is about targeting holes for him to exploit, knowing that Souths speedsters will be there in support.
Green Star Award
Siliva Havili – Yes, I know he dropped a ball, but so did several other Raiders. He made up for that by doing some extremely hard yards in just over a quarter of the game time. Havili finished with 92 metres from eight runs (11.5avg), with 39 metres happening while he was taking defenders with him. Havili is a proper old school nugget, combining a low centre of gravity with tremendous leg strength that allows him to power into the line and then surge forward for at least another five metres on every carry.
Round 10 is just as tough as round 9, if not tougher due to the newer injuries. The Raiders need to adhere to their newfound defensive mantra and stop the Bunnies who will be probing at both the ruck and the fringes.
Raiders by 2!