Normally I wouldn’t jump in to discuss the team list but I think Ricky Stuart made some interesting statements about the depth-chart and style of play he wants to pursue going forward.
Before I get carried away, it’s worth noting the inherent uncertainty in the naming of this squad. Sticky loves a smokescreen, and there’s nothing to say he won’t do what he did last week, and drop players, bring in others, and generally make a mockery of those of us who put too much weight in these lists. We’re taking this on face value – you can twist yourself in knots trying to get ahead of Stuart’s thinking, so we’re not even going to try. That doesn’t even get into the precariousness of Head Injury Assessment protocols and what that might mean for the squad. This will undoubtedly be covered in more depth tomorrow by Rob in the world’s greatest Canberra Raiders preview, the Raiders Rumble.
Having said all that here are some quick thoughts.
It was interesting to see Sticky name Havili and Starling again. To me this suggests two things. Firstly, that the Raiders think they’ve sussed out the amount of strain the game is putting on middles, and that they can cover any strain to Papalii, Sutton, Soliola and James by extending either Havili or Lui’s minutes. Havili played big minutes on the weekend (sixty-seven of the suckers), which was much more than he’d played in the previous two matches. Most of that was in the backrow, which was not ideal, but it seems Sticky trusts him (and/or Lui) to extend their minutes and cover the gap left by Tapine’s injury. It potentially also shows that Stuart thought Starling and Hodgson worked well in their minutes together, and that he can lessen the defensive challenge when he can pick and choose the minutes this strategy is pursued in.
It was also interesting to see Semi Valemei named on the extended bench rather than Matt Timoko as cover for Seb Kris. Again, this could be a smokescreen, but at face value it suggests that Sticky prefers the combination of Rapana and Valemei at centre and wing respectively. This is surprising given Timoko’s talent, but also understandable given Valemei’s experience in first grade last season.
It was also interesting to see Emre Guler on the extended bench – presumably as cover for Ryan James. Guler has sat ahead of Horsburgh in the depth-chart for most of this season, and it’s been hard to tell how much of it is related to Horsburgh’s off-field issues or on-field output. In NSW Cup there’s been a trail game in which they both looked tremendous, a round one victory, a postponement, and then a walloping last weekend. Throughout it all Guler has been sitting within the top 21, while Horsburgh has been watching from the outside. This weekend appears no different, and it seems if James isn’t passed to play, it will be Guler who will get the go.
Finally, seeing Caleb Aekins in the 21 again worries me. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad gets through a mountain of work, and there were suggestions in recent weeks that he might be carrying a small injury or two. Aekins being there makes me think this continues to be an issue.
I look forward to Sticky completely changing the list over the next few days and rendering allt his pointless.
Up the Milk!
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