For a few weeks now we have been testing the boundaries of just how good this Raiders team are. For the optimistic amongst us it hasn’t been hard – there’s a laundry list of names and things one can point to make the case. At the end though it boils down to 3rd in the competition, 2nd in points allowed and 3rd in points scored.
Those still waiting for that other shoe to drop have one retort: who have they beaten? The Raiders are currently 0 for 4 against the top 5. Even their best wins were full of caveats and qualifiers. They formed a freaking wall against the Panthers, but then so did the Dogs the following week. They pantsed the Eels in round six only to have Parramatta return the favour in the Darwin debacle. They beat the Sharks but fell apart for forty minutes.
The good thing is in the next three weeks Canberra are going to discover just how they match up with the elite in this competition. Winning is important for their ladder position but also for confidence that they can measure up to the best.
The Raiders are going to be weighed and measured over the next three weeks. It says here they won’t be found wanting.
It starts this week with the reigning premiers and arguably the most explosive team in the competition. The 3 million the Roosters put on the Titans last week was noteworthy because it looked so. damn. easy. They barely got out of second, threw the ball around a bit and spilt 50. I know the Titans are crap, but the Roosters made them look like an SG Ball team.
The Raiders are welcoming back Nic Cotric and Ryan Sutton in the starting 17 and BJ Leilua lurks on the extended bench. Taking Sticky at his word (an incredibly risky proposition) gives us the impression BJ is a week away. If he does find his way into the 17 Cotric will shift to the wing, and Bailey Simonsson will drop out.
Whether Simonsson drops out of the squad altogether is an interesting proposition. In the corresponding fixture earlier in the year he played a bit of middle off the bench. In this game he could cover that, as well as allow the Raiders to shift around if BJ isn’t up to 80 minutes yet.
Whomever out of Cotric and Leilua starts at right centre immediately boosts the defence on the right edge, which is good news given the Roosters score 52 per cent of their tries there. The even better news is the Raiders right side defence might be the best edge in the NRL – no side has recorded fewer than the 14 tries they’ve conceded on the right.
Sidebar: All these stats come from the excellent work of Jason Oliver at http://www.statsinsider.com.au. You should go there and check out the site. They do great work. You should also follow Jason on twitter at @jasonNRL. He’s one of the sharpest NRL minds out there.
You’d also expect James Tedesco to be lurking around the middle like a shark; a quick ruck just the blood in the water that excites him. Luckily for the Raiders, their middle is also very good, only allowing 9 tries this season (second best in the league). The key obviously is not letting the Roosters get a roll in the middle. That old chestnut.
If they can slow the Roosters then the Raiders are well placed to play a bit of footy of their own. I don’t want to get carried away about pantsing a Warriors team that looked half interested, but Canberra has looked incredibly cohesive and creative across the ground lately. Early in the year they were left side dominant and with good reason – Jack Wighton was rapidly developing beyond anyone’s expectations. Injuries to Leipana also focused the attack to the left.
Lately though they’ve found their feet in the middle and the right as Josh Hodgson and Aidan Sezer begin to find some pretty impressive form. Sezer has got the right side humming, and god help the NRL if Bateman, Leilua and Rapana can hit their straps at the same time. The balance of this attack is a big deal. The Raiders averaged 20.6 points through the first 12 rounds of the competition. Since then they’ve averaged 28.3 (these numbers calculated partly in my head as I watch the Simpsons so grain of salt). Some of that is quality of competition (there’s no Storm, Roosters, Bunnies, or Manly in that second stanza), but plenty comes from an attack that has begun to find points from all trajectories.
Head to Head
The aforementioned Raiders right side defence v the Roosters left side attack will be a cracker, and go a long way to determining the game. But I’m also interested in whether the Green Machine can find a way to keep Teddy in check. They’ll do that by stopping the Roosters forwards.
If you remember last time around the Roosters middle forwards had 144 (Jared Waerea-Hargreaves), 263 (Siosiua Taukeiaho) and 110 metres (Isaac Liu). The Raiders simply have to do better than that.
Green Star Award
This week I want to give a shout out to Bailey Simonsson. After watching him in the trial games I was not positive about his ability to contribute this year. But holy hell what a player he has been. He’s 13 games into an NRL career and he’s already showed he’s a starting quality wing with plenty of upside. He might not get on the park this weekend or in the coming ones, but i’m really looking forward to his career, hopefully all with the Green Machine.
It’s going to be a cracker of an afternoon. If you live in or near Canberra, just get to the game. I don’t care if it’s going to be a bit chilly. The heat coming off the ground will keep you warm.
Besides, the cold never matters that much when the Raiders win.
Raiders by 2