August in the National Rugby League is not a time to rest.
The paint had barely dried on the masterpiece they painted on Sunday night before the Raiders were on a plane to their next game.
This one is against the ‘still-fighting-for-eighth’ Warriors. It’s a different challenge than Penrith presented, but it’s one that Canberra must overcome to position themselves to keep their top four spot come seasons’ end. Like last week, every game counts. A week ‘off’ now could have drastic consequences come September.
The reason the Green Machine were on a plane so quick is the short turn-around. They play first game Friday night, barely five sleeps and a different time zone from their last game. Combined with the physical toll the victory over the Panthers no doubt took, the battle they face against the New Zealand men will be a massive challenge.
The Warriors are in good form. They’ve beaten Knights and Sharks in recent rounds, drew with the Broncos, and barely lost to the Eels and Panthers. They are one win – like this game – out of 8th, and they will not for a second be an easy victory. Chuck in the fact they are coming off a devastating (and possibly unfair) loss, and it starts to sound hard week for the men in green. Add to the mix a crowd encouraged to dress as referees and bring whistles by their CEO, and well, this will be a capital ‘H’ hostile environment. You can almost ensure that the Raiders won’t get a helpful decision all night, and Josh Hodgson in particular is going to have make sure his stripping technique is absolutely perfect. It will be a challenge.
What will also be a challenge is turning the excellent performance against the Panthers into the start of something, rather than the highlight.
The Raiders will be running out the same 17. I suspect against the Warriors Canberra will play a bit more ‘traditional’ in their focus on the middle than they were against the Riff, and that means the middle men are going to get more opportunities. Josh Papalii is going to make metres. Sia Soliola will do so too. But I’m most interested in Joe Tapine. The sometimes leaden feet of the Warriors middle defenders can be exploited by his fast feet (except for Jazz Tevaga, who should be in the Alan Tongue ‘Just let me tackle coach’ All Stars). No doubt the form of Josh Hodgson will give this every opportunity to happen.
It will be nice if Jack Wighton can get a bit of space to ball-play this week – he’s spent more time in the last two weeks ball-running that creating. It’s been effective and smart – taking what is in front of him rather than playing to a pre-meditated plan – but it would be good for his development to get a few more chances to create. We might see him shift around to the right outside Aidan Sezer to get a bit more space to work. Aidan Sezer continues in good form and that not only makes us happy, but it gives the Raiders another dimension to their attack.
But like last week, what will win the game will be the defence for the most part. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck will tear any team apart if they give him a sniff of space, the the Raiders defenders around the ruck are going to have to be nimble and active. Isaac Luke won’t be there – his form has been so inconsistent that his absence could be both a blessing or a curse and we’ll never know. On the edges the big Warriors’ runners will take advantage of any weakness, which means Sezer and Michael Oldfield will have to maintain the robustness their edge showed last week.
Head to Head
The Warriors work from the yardage and finishing of their incredible back three. They are still without David Fusitua, but Tuivasa-Sheck and Maumalo had 500 plus metres between the two of them last week. I know right. Incredible.
The match-up here isn’t the Raiders back three, but rather Canberra’s kick and chase. It’s been tremendous this season, something they have weaponised on many occasions to win the battle of field position. In this game they must do everything they can to limit the number of times Maumalo or Tuivasa-Sheck can get the ball in their hands with any space Sezer, Wighton and Hodgson will need to put the ball into touch as much as possible. The other option is to bomb continuously to Maomalo’s wing, reducing the space he, and then RTS can move, with an effective chase.
This battle will go a long way to determining the outcome of the game.
Green Star award
Dunamis Lui is often the unheralded performer in the Raiders pack. He has started many a game this season, effectively there to do a metric f-ton of tackling and take the shine of the new ball. In the last few weeks he’s moved to the bench, and he’s thrived there also. Last week he made several critical tackles in the middle to bring down Nathan Clearly close to the line, and backed it up with good metres with the ball in hand. You need people like Lui in your side. They’re not big names and they’re not paid big cash. But they perform every week, even if no one notices.
Well we notice Dunamis. Keep at it.
If you’d asked me yesterday morning I would’ve told you I was pumped for this game. But the short turn-around, a fired up opponent and a hostile crowd make this game a very difficult proposition, and me a bit worried. I think the Raiders will get there but it will tougher than most think.
Raiders by 2