Naughty, naughty Raiders. The round 6 clash with Manly really should have been a gimme by the time Tom Trbojevic did his hamstring in. The Sea-eagles had already lost two before that, including Dylan Walker, leaving them short on staff and long on odds. But it was the walking wounded who dug deep and overran the men in Green who appeared quite nonchalant about slowly playing themselves out of the game.
The Raiders cannot afford a repeat of last week against the Eels. Even after losing to the Roosters in a knockout match the Eels still sit pretty atop the ladder, and their loss was quantified by their discipline and attitude against a rampaging Roosters outfit that is reaping the rewards from the rule changes. Canberra doesn’t just need to lift a gear, they need to move to a whole new plane of existence.
Following Sunday’s abysmal showing there has been a lot of chatter about who’s doing what, particularly in the backline. I myself was calling for the removal of a certain player, but as Dan, he of the cool and reasonable mind has pointed out there’s no point in ditching someone who a) has cost some fair coin, b) has signed on for a decent period and c) has proven very capable in the past.
Still you’d be a gentler soul than me for thinking that Sticky can let any half-assed performance pass this week. With Mick Ennis returning to Raiders training sessions you can bet the two of them will have set about attempting to fix some of the structural issues plaguing the Green Machine.
Of the Raiders engine room only two of them could muster more than 100 metres in rd6. Canberra desperately needs the big units rolling across the advantage line with Hodgson in quick pursuit so he can dart from dummy half and either find a gap in the retreating line or at least restart the tackle count. The fact that only Siliva Havili seems to be playing with any kind of supporting momentum is troubling, with others still standing flat while waiting for their hit-up.
Moving to the spine and the player or position clearly in need of triage is Josh Hodgson. The move to a 33% possession split between him and his two halves is stifling in attack, and it would benefit the side greatly if Ricky were to sit them down and initiate a proper chain of playmaking command. Given the ball-running skills of Wighton and Williams they should be pushing up in support of Hodgson, rather than waiting to receive a static pass from dummy half.
Again, we return to the key issue under the new rules – momentum from the play the ball. Even the dummy half can only afford a split second of stillness. The moment that ball is scooped up everyone should be in motion. Yes it will be tiring, yes players will have to return to re-join the attacking line. But it will be better than the Brown’s Cows scenario we currently have, where players seem to
simply mill around in a diagonal line until a pass comes their way. IF forwards aren’t starting their hit-ups 5 metres deep of the pass then they’re not achieving enough speed to hit the defence and bend it back. If players aren’t going with the play-maker/ball carrier then there’s no-one there in support when an opportunity arises.
As for the backline, well, communication is key. These guys need to be talking and making it clear to one another what is happening. Stuart can drill defensive discipline into them all he wants but unless they keep each other appraised as play unfolds then they’ll find themselves getting pumped set after set.
IN & OUT
It’s the same 17 this week, with Sticky standing by his choices and knuckling down for the long game. Given that he got a prior version of this side to the grand final last year I’d say he’s allowed a few weeks of tinkering to find the right setting, but he and his coaching staff will be acutely aware that they need to right the longship.
THE VAUNTED OPPOSITION
The Eels were unblemished until they ran afoul of the Roosters (sorry) and even then they looked like a side that was clicking well and enjoying their footy. RCG and Matterson have been excellent buys in the forwards, while Maika Sivo continues to redefine the meaning of winger. The only bummer for them (or a plus for us) is that workhorse lock Nathan Brown is out for two weeks on suspension.
Canberra have their work cut out for them. They need to stop the Eels forwards, stifle their halves and prevent their fringes from
launching attacks. They must be impeccable with ball in hand and stout in defence. They can either Bleed Green or bleed out.
Raiders by 2!