Somehow, despite the myriad of loose and broken parts, the duct tape repairs and proper opposition the Green Machine have managed to notch three wins in a row. The roster changes weekly, the victim of circumstance for this round being young Semi Valemei. The Raiders just scraped home against a Cowboys side that had potential but no execution. If they’re to topple the comp leaders Penrith they’ll need to be vastly improved.
The Riff are winning because they have a forward pack capable of driving huge beachheads into the defensive line, giving star half Cleary huge amounts of space and time to organise, compose and execute. They have the ability to switch between scripted play and organic broken-field improv.
The Raiders on the other hand have served up three wins of diminishing quality – they were tremendous against the Roosters, ample against the Bunnies, lucky against the Cows. To beat the Panthers they need to return to the strengths they held when putting the Tri-colours to the sword.
There are a few small beams of sunlight poking through. Bateman showed last week that he is still one of the most talented, hard working second rowers in the league (Isaac Moses should be deregistered for life for his role in the Bateman fiasco) and his return has helped repair the link between Williams and whoever is filling the right centre/wing pairing.
Corey Harawira-Naera proved willing if a little rusty, and it’s key that he’s brought up to top performance before Bateman returns home. Given the Raiders prevailing right edge issues expect Stuart to focus on CHN’s defence.
Another key spot for this round is hooker. Havili had an unusually poor showing against the Cows – he looked uncomfortable at #9 and had little rhythm when he returned as a forward. Stuart may be hoping then that Starling will be capable of a full 80 sooner than he’d like. His appearance at dummy half definitely straightened things out for Canberra.
CNK resumes his spot at fullback, much to the relief of people who like seeing kick returns taken on the fly. As much as we all appreciate Rapana’s stint as custodian there were far too many hearts-in-mouth moments against NQL. It does mean that Jordy can resume his spot on the wing where he is far more efficient.
Defensively Canberra need to smother the Panthers early hit-ups. If they can stifle the likes of Kikau (easier said than done) and Yeo they can deprive Cleary of valuable time. This will require a huge amount of expended energy from the Raiders pack, and some astute game management from coach Stuart.
Once again the Raiders have a chance to cement their credentials, but they’ll have to do it against a team that’s brimming with confidence. If they can pull this off they can do anything.
Raiders by 4!