I like rest. I reckon you do to. I have an infant who has decided that his favourite things are walking, eating and screaming at 3am. So any chance I get five minutes to sit, and you know, do this *sits harder*, is something I very much appreciate.
I can bet the Canberra Raiders feel very similar. It’s been rare that the Raiders have had such a successful but difficult first half of the season. They haven’t been this far north of .500 at this point since 2003. It makes the decision of some players to forego the glory of representative footy all the more important for the Raiders chances in 2019. Coach Stuart was clear after the win over the Sharks that players with niggling injuries wouldn’t be released for representative duties. Since that moment Joe Tapine, Jordan Rapana, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and Dunamis Lui have all pulled out (or not been released) for duty. Combined with the decision to rest Sam Williams for load management reasons suggests this issue is at the forefront of the organisation’s thinking.
There’s a bunch of factors that have influenced just how tired they are.
Firstly, you may have heard that the Raiders have an undersized forward pack. I’ve said it a lot in these pages. NRL.com said it before the season. They even counted kegs just so you knew exactly how small the Raiders are. Fighting bigger people every week takes its toll. You can’t win rucks if you let bigger men run all over you (see the middle forty minutes against the Sharks) and you can’t win games if you don’t win rucks. It means the Raiders have to work doubly hard to battle the other teams bulge.
In addition, a series of injuries to key personnel and changes to the roster since 2018 has forced a bunch of people into bigger workloads than they’re used to. Silvia Havili went from playing 35 minutes off the bench as spare middle to playing 65 minutes as the starting hooker. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad has played more games in 2019 than he’s played in his career. Jack Wighton has gone from lounging at the back for most of the game to being one of the most physical edge defenders in the game. And all the while Josh Papalii just keeps chugging up the middle, taking the dirtiest carries at the hardest times.
This is all compounded by the importance of energy in the Raiders success of 2019. We’ve banged on about the Raiders ‘formula’ and ‘recipe’ on a bunch of occasions. Part of this is that Canberra have beaten teams with an enthusiasm for the battle that has lacked in previous years. Line speed has been a common attendee of games this season, when in the past it had been around as much as an absentee father. Physicality has been a hallmark, smashing teams into the corners after kicks. In short the Raiders have worked their asses off this season. The results are on the competition ladder.
The break this week, and the bye coming down the track is important. Apart from letting weary bodies rest, it will also give plenty of non-NRL time for Nic Cotric, Josh Hodgson and Jordan Rapana to get healthy. John Bateman’s face can recover a bit more, and maybe Elliot Whitehead can take a moment to not have to tackle everything in sight.
In the meantime, sit back and enjoy some representative football this weekend, minus many of the Raiders that earned selection in those sides. While it won’t be a win for greater game, this rest will be critical for the Raiders.
The only players that miss out on a break are Jack Wighton and Josh Papalii and this cannot be understated. Wighton has been nothing short of a revelation this season and is arguably the Green Machine’s most important player. Papalii has been one of the best forwards in the competition. They may need to be managed after the origin period, which means making sure the Raiders have won plenty so they can risk a game without both of their stars. There can be no repeats of the Cowboys game, where Canberra squandered a winnable game. Rest and win. That’s what matters for the next month.
And then maybe I can have a nap too.