A lot of words were used to describe the Canberra Raiders win over the Tigers. We said ‘ugly’. Jordan Rapana said ‘gritty’. However you spin it, the Green Machine had to work harder than they would have liked to win that game.
This week they come up against the red-hot Panthers. Last time we saw them was on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Wagga Wagga, where the Raiders handed them there proverbials and barely looked troubled in doing in (until I tweeted out that Canberra had it in the bag with five to go and it nearly all fell apart). It was the nadir of the Panthers season and the crest of the Raiders fast start. Two sides as far as part as they could be.
Things are much closer now. The Panthers have won so many games in a row that people at the foot of the mountain are starting to talk about them going seriously deep in September. It’s not clear just where they are yet. They’ve beaten some good sides in their streak – the Eels, the Bunnies, the Roosters and Manly – but Origin was involved. Manly didn’t have either Trbojevic, the Roosters didn’t have Keary, Mitchell, Warea-Hargreaves or Friend, and the Bunnies didn’t have Reynolds or even a solitary Burgeii. But they still beat them while the Raiders were losing to the Cowboys, the Eels and struggling with the Tigers. The hurt they put on the Dragons last weekend was impressive though, and it feels like they have found a vein of form.
For the Raiders they get another opportunity to put a gap between them and the bottom of the 8. Given their draw going forward that has to be taken. Moreso, the confidence of beating an in-form side is another opportunity, especially given they haven’t beaten any of the current top 8 since the corresponding fixture in round 8.
This game was going to be all about Kikau v Bateman round II. The first round was even on points after Kikau broke Bateman’s face, but then succumbed to his own injury. Unfortunately Viliame has been given a two-week rest by the judiciary, so we’ll have to wait to see if both clubs can find a way to meet in September.
For the Raiders the only noteworthy change is Sia Soliola coming into the starting lineup. Assuming Ricky isn’t playing ‘smokescreens!”, it seems that Sia is being rewards for his frankly excellent all-round form this year. He’s had 133 and 147 metres in the starting role in the last two weeks, and we should all be grateful the man has chosen to be in Canberra for his twilight. He remains incredible. Dunamis Lui moves to the bench, a worry for me because he’s less of an impact runner that Sia. Guler will need to play a bigger role this week as the punch off the bench.
Jack Wighton had his quietest game in months in the last start. He made a few errors early and was reduced to running (which he did very effectively) rather than creating. It wasn’t until the last 10 minutes that he started finding grass with his kicks behind the line. You can’t be awesome every week, and it luckily Sezer and Hodgson filled the attacking vacuum, but Jack will want to bounce back this weekend.
Head to Head
For me, the most concerning part of the Raiders performance on the weekend wasn’t their inability to get into the oppositions half, it was the way they invited the Tigers into theirs. The weakness that have Michael Oldfield instead of Nic Cotric brings to the Raiders’ right edge defence is important. Oldfield is a fine runner, but he isn’t the same physical presence that Cotric (and before him Leilua) provided in support of Sezer.
The Raiders caught a break when it was revealed Kikau wouldn’t be there to torment Sezer and Oldfield. But over the last few weeks Brent Naden has quietly begun to emerge as a damaging runner and smart footballer. Against the Panthers the first time around Oldfield spent so much time turning his shoulders out before the ball had passed him. I’m hoping this week he stays square and helps Aidan out at the right times.
Green Star Award
I love Josh Papalii and if you’re reading this you do too. 200 plus metres last week understated how important he was. All season he’s been our ‘break in case of emergency’ hit up taker. No matter how poor a set is going, he makes it happen. On more than one occasion last week the Raiders looked to be kicking from their 25 until Papa took 15 and made a set useful. He’ll have a tough fight this weekend against a bunch of big dudes, including some former representative players, but he’ll find a way. It’s just what he does.
This is going to be a cracker, and deserves it’s free-to-air billing. I’m more hopeful than anything.
Raiders by 1