Well, that happened. One moment you’re pondering the meaning of the Raiders trial form, the next you’re watching the season wither and die on the vine as the Rona decimates everything in sight. Not much happened in the shutdown except theNRLsackeditsCEO,theWarriorsgotstuckinNewZealand,abunchofplayersdecidedtheynewbetterthanmedicalexperts,PeterV’landyscompletelychangedthestructureofthegame,LukeBatemanretiredwhileJonnehBateman’sdickheadmanagerrusedguttertabloidtacticstoforcenewcontractnegotiationsincahootswithatalkingscrotumandBronsonXerrioftheSharksgotbustedjuicing. You get all that?
Normally the NRL can get through its early rounds without too much scandal but clearly the idea of a second, unwanted off-season was too much. Now, everyone just wants footy. There have been changes though, and the one most impactful on the Raiders in the near future is the revised draw and home ground location. Gone are the 8 well deserved FTA games that a grand finalist can enjoy, and in their stead are three supremely average games that Ch9 has hidden as much as is possible. You can forget Bruce or even Seiffert, the Raiders must now venture 2.5 hours up the Hume to play out of Campbelltown because this is just how everything is going to be. While the original draw was deemed to be somewhere in the middle of the difficulty scale the new draw has leaned dramatically into an almost perpetual finals like tempo with double helpings of the Storm and Roosters.
And because a compressed new season 2.0 isn’t enough the NRL (let’s be honest it’s just V’landys doing all this) has also decided to just rewrite two pretty important parts of the rulebook. The pocket ref is gone, dubbed too costly (the most hilarious thing this year so far) and penalties have been reworked to where a ruck infringement no longer finds your side kicking for touch but rather restarting the tackle count from where the penalty occurred. This will undoubtedly slow the game down to a crawl as teams wrestle in the ruck to the point where Vince McMahon extends an invitation, and repeatedly give away penalties until they can hopefully force an error from the ball carriers. All of this will then lead into a finals campaign being played almost a month behind its normal time frame. What fun.
Still, if the Raiders wish to hold that trophy high at year’s end then compete they must, and we can take some solace from the manner in which they dispatched both the Titans and Warriors in those first two isolated rounds. They weren’t flashy wins, not big blowouts, but they were built around defence, the same defence that took the Raiders so close in 2019. The Raiders need to take that defence and build a mobile fortress.
I feel at this point that everyone is “New Blood”. They’ve had to hit the ground running with only three weeks training under their belts and I’ll be intrigued to see which teams and individual players have managed the shutdown the best.
We were all saddened when Rapana bid farewell to take up a contract with Japanese rugby, but it seems fate had other things in store for him. He returned to Canberra having never played a minute of union, and now gets a chance at finishing the job from last year.
Bailey Simonsson could be set to step it up a notch in 2020. He provided pinpoint play in some clutch moments in 2019 and I’ve no doubt that Stick is working towards developing him into a more rounded, polished backline player. Expect him to come prodding on the fringes.
THE VAUNTED OPPOSITION
What a way to try out those new rules… Melbourne have long been the masters of dirty deeds where the refs can’t see, and with one less set of eyeballs on the Steeden you can bet they’ll be exploring how far they can push things now.
The footy is back, but I don’t think we’ll all believe it until we’re a few rounds into this new sprint of a season. The Raiders obviously need to build that platform, and there’s no better way to do so than jagging a win over the Storm.
Raiders by 6!