Raiders Rumble! Raiders v Sharks Round 23 Preview

BY DAN

You may have noticed there’s been a bit of noise around following the Raiders’ weekend loss. Coach Stuart hit out the way the game is refereed. Social media did that thing where it turns screenshots into facts, and Graham Annesley poured fuel on the fire when he admitted the defenders in the 8 point try were ‘marginally’ offside, which said so much without meaning to. It’s all very Rugby League to create a maelstrom of hot takes.

The things about it is, for the Raiders at least, the referees weren’t THE problem. I’m not here to tell you they helped. Rather than being helpless in the face of officialdom, the solution to what caused Canberra problems lies well within the walls of Raiders HQ.

See the Raiders, as they did early against both the Roosters and the Storm, were a little too hyped about trying to beat a good side. They settled against the Storm when the game seemed gone. Against the Roosters it was in the second half. Against Manly the floated in and out of smart football, brilliantly working inside of the Manly jam (worst. spread. ever) around moments of going full hero mode (or worse – bad Joey!).

The good news is the Raiders keep learning lessons that will ready them for the business end of the season. Here’s hoping last weekend shows them the way forward because their opponent this weekend is no joke.

Well, some of the time. See the Sharks have been incredible in patches, and incredibly patchy in others. If there’s a team that I don’t want to play come week 1 or 2 of the finals it’s this team. They’ve been a top-4-quality side at their best, it’s just their best doesn’t come around that much anymore (shouts to Lisa Simpson). They put forty on the Warriors the weekend after struggling with the Dragons, who are so checked out of this season they might be the first team to have Mad Monday before the season ends.

It’s a similar test to Manly in a sense. Like the Silvertails Sharks punch you in the face (figuratively. That’s not permission Andrew!) with huge middles and attack through their edges on the back of that momentum. They’ll try to punish the Raiders with aggressive edge defence and test whether Canberra is willing to be patient and play “inside” the edge. It’s exciting to see Josh Hodgson throw 25 metre tight spirals. Just sometimes it’s better for the team if it’s only 2 metres.

This is another week of “already” finals footy. There’s so much talent across the park for this Sharks team and they’ll be playing in front of a packed house for Paul Gallen’s last game. Sounds like a challenge. A win here bodes well for September. Canberra can show that they’re ready to play the smart footy that they’ve been unsuccessful in putting together for 80 minutes against the best teams.

Unfortunately the Green Machine will he missing BJ Leilua. Yes he did have a ‘bad joey’ outing on the weekend, but those Joey days have been less frequent in recent times, and at his best he’s still one of the best centres in the competition. The Raiders needed him to be on the field in order to get his match fitness up – the 112kg he carried through the chase was probably a bigger contributor to his “knees in the back” than malice was.

Luckily for them Bailey Simonsson and Nic Cotric are ready to shift. Cotric has been quiet (for him) in recent weeks as he’s shifted around the backfield. I’d love to see him get a bit of early ball at right centre to give him some opportunity to get involved outside of yardage work and kick returns. The Raiders are already overly-reliant on the left side to get points (over 47 per cent of tries were scored on that side up to round 19) and have looked their best when they are a threat in both sides of the ruck.

Siliva Havili comes back into the 17. I didn’t see Havili get around for the Mounties this week, but I’m sure the extra minutes working will be important for the stretch run. He’ll bring a little flexibility to the Raiders’ rotations, giving them an extra ball player and allowing Josh Hodgson to spend more time playing in space.

Head to Head

If you just went on the statistics you would focus on the Raiders’ left side defence. It’s their worst side and leaks 50 per cent of the tries Canberra concedes (again up to round 19). This is a bad matchup for the impressive Sharks right, which is where 45 per cent of Cronulla’s tries are scored.

It’s going to be a big day for Jack and Jarrod in defence.

Green Star Award

Praise of Jack Wighton is a bit passé this season. He’s received so much (including from these pages) that it seems there’s little more to say.

But it’s important to note how useful he’s been in recent weeks, and how comfortable he seems in his role. Against Manly he set up two tries and should have scored his own playing intelligently in the face of super-aggressive edge defence. He was busy trying to do the right thing and play inside Manly’s jam (as Stuart later revealed was the plan) while his more experienced colleagues were trying to push the ball around the defence. Given he’s only been in the role for 20 odd weeks it’s astounding maturity.

As long as no one remember him squaring up with Jack Gosiewski.

In conclusion

It’s weird to say, but this year the Raiders are the consistent bunch, and the Sharks are the mercurial talents. Give me boring old consistency over flash any day.

Raiders by 4


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