The Raiders held out against an enthusiastic but uneven Titans side in round 4, arguably the toughest test yet. Round five makes last week look like an opposed training session. The Panthers are flying high, playing fast-paced, hi NRG footy exactly the way V’landys wants it. The Raiders, however, are on a different path. Where other teams are looking to overwhelm opponents with blitz attacks Canberra are more focused on honing defensive qualities (Dan has touched on this recently).
The Milk are on the right track. Blowout score-lines are all well and good but they don’t steel you for the business end of the season, or indeed the finals. In those games you may be required to hold out attackers for consecutive sets, which requires endurance and communication bordering on telepathic harmony. These skills can’t be fortified if you’re forever running in tries against those who can’t compete.
The Green Machine will undoubtedly get many chances to test their defensive mettle. The Panthers have averaged over 20 points per game this far, and have twice held opponents to nil. Canberra are not bottom-rung pushovers, which means Penrith will need to do more than just get to the edges and find a gap waiting for them.
BIG BOPPER WATCH
There are so many matchups across the forwards this round, but you can’t go past the return of Canberra’s super-lock Tapine. His agility moving through defenders is something usually seen on smaller outside-backs, and he’ll pose a threat once Penrith ruck-defenders start to fade. Yeo himself is no slouch, and the Raiders will need to treat him accordingly.
Joseph Tapine vs Isaah Yeo
George Williams vs Nathan Cleary
Williams was better last week, moving straighter in attack (after a few bouts of horrendous sideways runs). His short ball to Smelly to start the Raiders first try was great. Cleary remains the benchmark #7 in the comp, so pressure and tough defence are a must for the Raiders if they’re to neutralize him.
BACK IT UP
Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad vs Stephen Crichton
CNK was everywhere in round four – making breaks, try saving tackles and just generally being awesome. If he can bring that attitude to this game it will significantly bolster Canberra’s chances. Crichton continues to fill in for the injured Edwards, and he’s a custodial weapon in his own right.
BENCHMARK TO BEAT
Canberra continue to carry Starling as late game cover for Hodgson, and one feels that this isn’t longer so much about making sure that Hodgo is good as it is about a) getting Starling FG minutes and b) boosting Canberra’s attack at the back end of the game. Soliola, James and Havili are the perfect trio for rotation. Penrith have May, Leniu, Eisenhuth and Martin, solid, if not fantastic subs.
LAST TIME THEY MET
Penrith won the single encounter between these two in 2020, running in 16 more points than Canberra in Rd 13. They took opposing paths into the finals, with Melbourne finishing off the Raiders before overwhelming Penrith in the grand final.
Raider #279 Marc Herbert
Educated at Daramalan in the inner north, Herbert made his first grade debut in 2008 filling in for the then suspended Todd Carney. Herbert would make a total of 23 appearances for Canberra before heading to the UK to play for Bradford. These days he works as a project engineer here in Canberra.
THE FINAL SIREN
It’s the toughest game yet for Canberra, and Penrith have certainly become a bugbear type team for the Green Machine in recent years. Can Canberra’s style of methodical defence hold out the Panthers? If they can frustrate Penrith and hold back the midfield roll they’ll be closer to two points and a bucket load of confidence.
Raiders by a hard fought 4!
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