Here we are. The dark side of the moon. The run home. All to play for and all to lose.
The Raiders start to 2019 was fast. The middle has sputtered just a little. There’s nothing but challenges awaiting down the path to September. First up is the Dragons. If you were worried about the ability of the Raiders nimble pack to handle a physical challenge after what happened in Darwin, this will be a proper test. Paul Vaughan and Tyson Frizell have been named as reserves but I refuse for a second to believe they won’t play (and Ben Hunt for that matter). Vaughan and Frizell are both powerful runners, the kind that give the Raiders’ defence fits. Frizell in particular will be a handful on the edge, and it’s nice to know that one of the Green Machine’s best defenders will be there to meet him. It’ll be a big battle, one that Canberra have to win if they’re serious about 2019.
The Green Machine are as close to full strength as they are likely to this season (related: stay safe BJ and don’t push yourself too hard). Nic Cotric is named and I hope healthy. The only player that has a claim to the top 17 (outside of the Sezer/Williams debate) is Hudson Young, and he’s only got a few games left on his suspension. The Raiders should be ready to handle whatever the Dragons throw at them.
The Dragons have under-performed their roster this season. If there was a team made to exploit the Raiders weakness it’s this one. I would be wary of them. They will seek to use their massive pack to punish the Raiders right up the middle, and if they can they’ll use the pace of Matt Dufty around the ruck. This has often been a good way to punish the Raiders. If they don’t make a break up the middle they shuffle into some pretty standard blocks plays going wide. These are more comfortable for Canberra, but the edges have been caught out in recent weeks with some poor decisions when isolated after momentum in the middle.
Ben Hunt’s kicking game is as good as is getting around (except the random 3rd tackle grubbers he likes to send long), and Corey Norman always seems perfectly happy to operate standard structures until he doesn’t, and that’s usually when he’s the most dangerous. There will be plenty to account for.
Head to Head
Cam McInnes is profoundly underrated. He’s not as creative as Josh Hodgson, doesn’t provide the executioners precision of Cam Smith, nor the pace of Damien Cook. But he does almost everything right, and if the Raiders aren’t prepared he will exploit any space on the back of quick rucks.
The Raiders rake Josh Hodgon is a goddamn hero. He has been content to take a backwards step to Jack Wighton so far this season, and I’d like to see him take a bit more responsibility in attack. Dragging defenders into the middle is important to give Wighton and Sezer a bit of space to operate, and if he can manage to coax a decoy run or two, it could create points also.
Green Star Award
I love Charzne Nicoll-Klokstad. The dude is a dead set legend off the field and on the field is beyond the bargain of the year. He had nigh on 300 metres and a try last round, and I’m looking forward to what he shows after a week to rest his sore knees. He needs to continue to improve his ball-playing as the second-man on sweep plays, but it’s a matter of time and patience.
This is going to be a battle. If you believe that the Raiders gameplan is going to work in 2019 it’ll work in this game. While last round was a blip, I think the Raiders get back on track with a win.
Raiders by 4