Coming into the season the Raiders faced a conundrum. They’d lost Nic Cotric to the Bulldogs, Jarrod Croker’s surgery return timetable was indefinite, and many were worried that Father Time was coming for Jordan Rapana. Meanwhile Semi Valemei was the incumbent and Bailey Simonsson’s 2019 felt like a fever dream.
In essence there was a bunch of questions and no clear solutions. The line up that they landed on always felt a bit temporary, as if the incumbents would only be saving a seat for solutions to be determined; either in the way of experienced players moving around (Charnze to centre! Aekins to centre! Rapana to centre!), or through the natural talent that existed outside the squad last year to thrust its way forth.
What has happened is actually surprising. The outside backs have looked somewhere between solid and spectacular.
The most impressive has been Sebastian Kris. He’s looked a damaging runner on the left edge, with some fast and powerful intrusions through the defensive line. Against the Sharks he showed he’s not just power by putting a two-step on Chad Townsend that would have made Ciara proud. In defence he’s been dependable in combination with Jordan Rapana and the Jack and Smelly show.
For his part Rapana has proven there’s plenty of glue in the old horse yet. He’s been the Raiders best yardage carry, punching out 163m from 16 tough carries in last weekend’s swamp. He may not have the top speed he once did, but he’s shown he’s still a top line winger as needed (as long as he can avoid knocking the ball out of team-mates’ hands).
Equally impressive has been the work of Curtis Scott. He was seen as a bit of a variable coming into the season, but he’s found his him with strong carries and aggressive but intelligent defence. He’s cracked 100m on the ground in both games this season. What’s more he’s shown a desire and a clear head in decision-making that suggests a much more settled environment for that young man.
It’s a bit of teleological reasoning – we know his life is more settled and are ascribing his performance to that – but it’s hard not to see the calm smile on his face in post game discussions with Elliott Whitehead and be pleased for the guy.
Bailey Simonsson looked a bit shaky in round one but was much more impressive in his second game of the season (save an inopportune drop in the second half). He was much more stable in defence, and showed that extra five kilograms he put on last summer can be used to great effect. He’s barely got a chance to show his unique talents in attack, but we saw what that can look like when he pulled down a bomb with an above-the-head catch and then flipped a pass to Hudson Young in round one. He’s worth persisting with.
It presents a problem for the Raiders – the kind that’s becoming more common recently but I’m yet to get used to. Canberra now have more first-grade quality backs than there are spaces. Jarrod Croker at his best is presumably a member of the Raiders best 17. By all reports he’s fit right now and presumably he’ll come in for Kris. It surprising how sad this makes me, but such has been the quality of his play this year. Harley Smith-Shields has also been named on the extended bench in each game this season and looked frankly stunning in the trial matches. He also wouldn’t be out of place either at left centre (theoretically his preferred position) or elsewhere in the backs.
It’s all a reversal of fortune for the Milk and further demonstrates the strength of the roster built by Sticky and Peter Mulholland. Where there was nothing but uncertainty and questions before the season now lies a bunch of answers.
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