The Red Horse and the Englishmen

BY DAN

The Canberra Raiders have received some shitty news in the form of Corey Horsburgh being ruled out of Saturday’s game with the Wests Tigers. A case of gastroenteritis is to blame. In his place comes Ryan Sutton for his first game in the top grade since last season.

Horsburgh is a massive out for the Raiders. His work rate on both sides of the ball has been critical to Canberra success in 2019, and has only upped in in 2020. He’s already the Milk’s second most consistent carry, averaging 117.1 metres a game in 2020, behind only Josh Papalii in the engine room. He’s the Raiders’ most consistent source of second-phase play from the forwards, with 7 offloads which dwarfs anyone else in the pack: Josh Papalii has 3 for the season, and teammates Emre Guler, Dunamis Lui and Sia Soliola have zero zero and zero for the season. He’s a very good link passer too, often tasked as the middle forward that operates as the link man on sweeping movements, particularly going to the left.

In addition to this, he gets through a mountain of work in defence at a good efficiency. A great example is just last week: in a game where the Canberra was struggling, Horsburgh got through a mountain of work, making 52 tackles in 60 minutes of game time. According to the great @carlosthedwarf on twitter, this was 36.3 per cent of all tackles the Raiders made in that period, and was the highest proportion of team tackles made by any forward who was on the field for more than 40 minutes, across the league. He still managed 12 important carries for 129 metres as well, showing that his motor isn’t sapped by the defensive work he’s often asked to do.

per @carlosthedwarf on twitter

This is a crucial out for the Raiders, a statement that just shows how far the young man has come in a short time. As we said there was evidence of this last year, and we were certain he would play Origin for Queensland before this season started (and remain so).

The man filling his role in the 17 is Ryan Sutton who has been curiously absent from a consistent role in the squad since tearing his calf at the back end of last year. He was left out of the squad without mention in the first three rounds of the season, was reportedly injured for the fourth, and now comes as the most likely to fill (much of) Horsburgh’s role as possible.

This is quite an ask for Sutton. As we said it’s been a while since he stepped on the first grade park (since round 25 of last year). He averaged 94 metres a game in 2019 according to NRL.com, and did it while breaking 16 tackles in 20 games (for comparison, Horsburgh broke 9 tackle breaks in 22 games last season, Papalii had 61 tackle breaks in 26 games). It wasn’t anything to sneeze at, but there’s no doubt that he fell down the pecking order as the season wore on and Emre Guler and Bailey Simonsson’s play made bench spots sparse.

Horsburgh has been so important to Canberra this season, there’s no doubt that Sutton cannot fill the numbers on his own. One would expect to see a bigger day for Emre Guler off the bench, and it will be interesting to see if Siliva Havili and Jordan Rapana get minutes at the back end of the first half as well as at the end of the game. It’s not clear yet who will start at lock, but Sutton has filled that spot before.

The role is made so much more important by the circumstances in which Sutton has to fill it. While the Raiders are 3-1, they have such a horrid draw coming over the next few weeks that they should be desperate for a win tomorrow night. They come up against an equally hungry Tigers side, who have brought four forwards into the match on their bench. Rather than bring back the ‘little man’ as V’Landys intended before he randomly made changes to the game prior to its return on May 28, these rule changes have meant that middle forwards, and their ability to sustain periods of possession deprivation, has become the key to winning games. Whereas once your bench forwards were a nice to have, now they are as critical to a team’s success as the rest of the rotation. There’s no easing back into it, and even if he only gets limited minutes, Sutton will need to be at his best.

This was a huge game for the Green Machine even before Horsburgh was ruled out. Now it takes on epic proportions, a telling early season test. The Raiders met these tests repeatedly in 2019. Here’s a big one for 2020.


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