Back in round five the Raiders made the Eels the second of their clean wins in 2019 and they’ll be hoping that they can summon another equally fortified defence when they face the Blue ‘n’ Golds in Darwin this weekend.
Both teams come into this game with the requisite winning feeling: The Raiders off the back of a hard-fought grind over the Sharks in Canberra, the Eels with a romping demolition of the Broncos at their new spiritual home BankWest.
The Eels at least have the geographical advantage in this contest – they’ve been taking a game to Darwin every season for the last few years, and they’re aware of the toll the Top End perma-high temps can have on both the individual and the team. The Raiders meanwhile are dragged from their now near-zero home battle ground to conditions that they only find in Townsville or crazy pre-season games.
On the upside they’re set to welcome back star rake Josh Hodgson, whose directorial acumen they’ve severely missed over the last few games. Hodgson is the key element to a sharpened attack inside the oppositions twenty, and without him the Raiders have had to rely almost entirely upon midfield creativity to find their points.
Over the last few rounds the Green Machine have found much joy in the use of tactical long range kicks that force opposing backs into the corners of the red zone, forcing to not only come forward but also try and return to the middle, or face being corralled into one sided advance upfield. The Raiders need to continue this tactic in Darwin, a place that in some ways rewards teams who have to do less offensive work, at least in terms of metreage.
Of course the Darwin heat is a double sided thing, and Canberra need to be mindful of how they expend energy – errors in ball control are double cruel here. Support runners need to be focused and aware of offloads, but they shouldn’t be thrown out at whim.
In terms of the ladder the Eels have more to lose. If they drop this game they could fall out of the 8, while the Raiders have a bye after this round that gives some cushioning if they should lose. The Raiders are easily the surer bet for a finals appearance, whereas Parra need to start stringing together consecutive wins and hope that the likes of the Sharks, Seas Eagles and Knights stumble in front of them.
Head to Head
Josh Hodgson vs Reed Mahoney. Hodgson hasn’t had the most stellar season to date, but he remains one of the elite hookers in the game, his cunning and craft only matched by Smith. Mahoney is one of a swathe of new young number nines who are abundant in raw talent and instinct, things which he utilises close to the lone in one man raiding missions.
Green Star Award
He might have had somewhat blundering debut in Game I and be somewhat responsible for the Maroons lone “try” in Game II but there’s no arguing that by the end of the 80 minutes in Perth Jack Wighton had well and truly arrived on the Origin stage. His club role of #6 simply gives him more depth and options in the centres in SOO and I can easily see him being a proper halves option in future series if NSW needs it to happen.
It’s definitely one of the tougher away contests for Canberra in 2019 – an enthusiastic Eels outfit in the miasma of the NT, but the Raiders have shown that they can overcome challenges in 2019 that would have been fatal in seasons prior.
Raiders by 6!