If you’re anything like me, you’ve been taking a moment after Saturday’s victory over the Storm. Maybe you’ve watched the game again (and again). You’ve definitely plugged in to a few podcasts, read some recaps and hate-watched Phil Gould double-down on his takes, moments after they were proven wrong. Maybe you’ve been talking about the game on social media, to friends, to family, to that nice person that makes you coffee.
You don’t want to let that game go. You want to freaking bathe in it. Let it seep into every pore of your skin.
It highlights the challenge facing the Raiders. Just days after one of the most momentous wins in club history they have to play again. That game is now a useful two points, worth just as much as the victory over the Bulldogs in round 12 or the Titans in round 1. What’s more this week’s game brings a fellow top 4 resident to town in a game that means as much to their ladder aspirations as last week. How do you get up two weeks in a row? Good teams find a way.
This game matters quite a bit. A victory would go a long way to ensuring the Green Machine have a treasured second-chance come finals. It would establish that the Raiders are building something sustainable into September. And hell, how much fun would it be to get a big victory in front of near 25 thousand lunatic Canberrans?
It’s no small challenge. Manly are a very good football team who always seems to do well in Canberra. I’ll never forgive them for ending the Raiders record 17 game home winning streak in round 10 of 1995 – it ended with a Ricky Stuart interception and I still blame myself for sitting in a different spot to where I normally would.
Past debacles aside, this game is against a side who is the real deal. Manly have played plenty of games without stars due to injury and origin and are sitting right there with the Raiders. They’ve beaten Melbourne in Melbourne, split the season series with the Bunnies and pushed the Roosters without Tommy Terrific. This game is much closer than the punters seem to think.
Playing this Sea-Eagles side is like wrestling a jackhammer. They punch you through the middle with the most underrated middle forwards in the competition in Tapau, Trbojevic and Fonua-Blake. In the wake of them Cherry-Evans and both Trbojevics create in the middle, and an array of hard-running edges make hay.
When it’s rolling it can be hard to stop and it will be quite the test for the Raiders middle. Josh Papalii, Sia Soliola and Josh Hodgson got through a mountain of defensive work against Melbourne, and they’ll be similarly tested I can’t help but think that Hudson Young and Dunamis Lui are going to play a big role in slowing this down and likely why they are in the team instead of Siliva Havili.
Bailey Simonsson finds his way into the 17 again. Last week it was ostensibly as cover for the 112kg(!) BJ Leilua. There’s an element of that again this week, but it was interesting to see him spell Nic Cotric. Given the stakes of the game when he came on (Raiders still behind, around 10 minutes to go), it shows that either Coach Stuart has a remarkable amount of faith in Simonsson, or was worried about Cotric’s health or performance. Either way Bailey did his job. His presence ensures that Canberra have a plenty of flexibility to change on the run, and not face the injury issues that derailed them against the Sea-Eagle early in the season.
Head to Head
We’ve already told you of the necessity of stopping the Sea-Eagles middle. It’s not so much they score a bunch there (though 27 percent of their tries do come there, which is relatively high), but it is how they make their points happen. In addition to the aforementioned forwards, the Raiders will have to contend with Api Korisau and Manese Fainu running riot around the middle.
The Sea-Eagles concede 45 per cent of their tries down their right edge, which is handy for the Raiders because they score 47 per cent of their tries on that side. Look for Jack Wighton to go an inch further than he did against the Storm and find the line.
Sidebar: Again, these numbers come from the excellent work of Jason Oliver (@JasonNRL on twitter) and statsinsider.com.au
Green star award
Corey Horsburgh was incredible for the Raiders against the Storm. He got metres when the Green Machine was sputtering, found offloads others couldn’t, and played tough defence all game. But what I love about him is how crisp his passes are as a link man on sweep plays. It’s a hint that he might be more than just a hard-running forward. Horsburgh is still young, but every week he looks better and better. In a roster littered with good signings, he gets lost a bit, but he’s going to be a big part of the Raiders, in 2019 and beyond.
It’s going to be hard for the Green Machine to back up after last week’s incredible game. But it’ll be a beautiful day to be at the footy. 25 thousand people could just be enough to get them up for it.
Raiders by 4