If you told anyone at the start of the season that the Raiders would rest players in round 25 they would’ve thought it would be to blood new talent. Yet here we are, resting players to make sure they’re ready for the finals.
What magic is this?
A rest (for some) will be unequivocally good. The Green Machine looked like they’d been out on the turps all night in the first half in the shire. Errors of execution, errors of judgement. It was all there, and one couldn’t shake the thought that a month of football against the best teams in the competition was taking a toll.
But fitness, defence and resilience (as well as Aidan Sezer) kept them around. The Raiders took the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and drop-kicked it straight between the uprights.
So four hard weeks were finished in extra time, and Sticky has decided a few people need a rest. Sia Soliola gets one after he worked his heart out (does he ever do any different?) in the back end of the game. John Bateman joins him, presumably because he probably can’t play in any other mode than all out. Jordan Rapana and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad join them on the sideline; both seemed to have been carrying niggles for weeks now and definitely need a break. I was surprised that Josh Papalii hasn’t joined them, and I suspect if Joe Tapine finds himself healthy then Big Papa might get a week off too.
That leaves a reshuffled backline. Seb Kris gets a run, but is on the wing. His performances at centre have always made me feel like that is very much his home. Bailey Simonsson is at the back; it seems like there’s recognition that he’s the back up custodian permanently. Michael Oldfield is on the other wing; and the centre spots haven’t changed from last week. I reckon that might change later in the week, with Oldie switching sides to stand outside Kris on the right, while Cotric and Croker stand on the left, but that’s just a guess.
There’s shuffling up front too. Hudson Young is starting for Bateman as he did when the Englishmen shattered his eye socket earlier in the year. It’s recognition that his defence is of quality (maybe not Bateman’s quality though). The Warriors score close to half their tries going at that side of the ground, so Young, with Sezer and Nic Cotric, is going to need to be ready.
Emre Guler and JJ Collins are filling out the bench with Havili and the Horse and suddenly the Raiders’ pack feels really big. If Isaac Luke of this season was Isaac Luke of years past Canberra would have reason to worry, and while Luke can still turn the clock back, it’s been rare to see him do it this season.
For their part the Warriors are in terrible form. According to the brilliant ELO ratings done by @pythagoNRL, the Warriors are the third worst team in the competition on current form.
Given what the Dragons and the Titans have been dishing up recently, it’s impressive that the Warriors are that far down. Even moreso when you consider it’s just weeks since they beat the Manly (which would have lifted their ELO rating). Identifying problems isn’t hard – just point in the direction of any bit of the ground that Tuivasa-Sheck, Maumalo or Fusitu’a aren’t standing in. They get beaten in the middle, they get beaten on the edges. It’s been a rough year.
Head to Head
When you play the Warriors you worry about the best back three in the competition. Tuivasa-Sheck has the most metres in the competition (4475) and the 5th most post-contact (1207). Maumalo has the most post-contact metres in the competition (1421) and the second most metres all run (4216). With Fusitu’a (who missed the last battle between these teams through injury), they are a back three you simply shouldn’t kick to.
It will be a test of what was probably the weakest part of the Raiders game last week. The kicking against the Sharks was atrocious (outside of Sezer’s field goals). The Raiders gave away multiple 7-tackle sets, and it didn’t abate even when they dragged themselves back into the game.
Apart from kick returns, special attention needs to be paid to Tuivasa-Sheck when he drifts across the field. He loves to get a step outside a defender, drag the outside man in and send a winger into space. He’s got 10 try assists this year, and most have come from simply having too much pace for an edge defender, particularly drifting towards the oppositions left edge. The Whitehead, Wighton, Croker combination will have their work cut out.
Green Star Award
How can we go past Aidan Sezer? It’s been so heartening to see him step up in the clutch. I don’t know where he’s going to be in 2019, but I won’t be sad if he’s still at Canberra.
Raiders by 10