The last two weeks in Raider-land have been gruelling stuff from a fans perspective. The sliding doors moment is definitely Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad getting sidelined during the Panthers game – after that it’s been a steep downhill drop, punctuated by two first half tries against the Eels.
So Ricky went down to the garden shed and fetched his axe. He’s swung it a few times across the seasons, usually early on when a rep-level forward returns from holidays ten burgers heavier, or when a playmaker needs a reminder that sideways is not a viable direction in attack.
And swing Stuart did, although you can argue that he has somehow missed the true deservers this time. Somehow Scott, Rapana and Croker all managed to hang on to their sports, Ricky’s axe rebounding off Scott’s stupidly indecisive noggin and hitting Joe Tapine square in the neck.
Here’s where rant mode is enabled – Tapine improved in every metric between between the Panthers and Eels games, his post contact metres alone rising from 18 to 58 metres. To blame him for the mess the Raiders found themselves in when he returned to the field is stupid.
Croker and Rapana combined for some of the most woeful wing work in the last decade, constantly throwing the ball into touch. Defensively both edges are weak. The edges flaws are causing structures to buckle further in field. Hudson Young’s output is down because so much of his energy is directed to covering for Scott’s crippling indecision.
Stuart is tinkering now, trying to find the combo that can right the ship and get the Raiders going again. Although I think it’s too soon for full-blown panic positive change needs to happen now.
The Cowboys could tell the Raiders a thing or two about change. Having been mercilessly bashed over the first four rounds they finally found enough to fight back and overpower the Tigers and the Bulldogs. You can argue that this just makes them the best of the bottom quartet, capable of only beating up fellow cellar-dwellers. Confidence is born out of winning, and an underestimation of the Cows in Townsville could well prove fatal for a Green Machine with a broken timing chain.
BIG BOPPER WATCH
Ryan Sutton vs Lachlan Burr
Sutton has entered 2021 in form, having trimmed down in the off-season. He’s got more motor now, and is able to rack up the big numbers in both attack and defence. Whether or not he can generate Tapine-like beachhead through post-contact work remains to be seen. Burr himself is no slouch, dragging Doggies defenders for 48pcm, although he can be found somewhat suspect on missed tackles.
Tom Starling vs Reece Robson
Starling gets his chance to shine (version 2.0). His direct style of play resuscitated the Raiders last year, his dummy half running game often catching lazy markers unaware. His defence can quite often catch larger players off guard and he’ll need to be effective in tackles. Reece Robson has well and truly usurped Jake Granville as the Cow’s 9 of choice and the Raiders will need to keep a watchful eye on him around the ruck.
BACK IT UP
Sebastian Kris vs Kyle Feldt
Kris makes a welcome return to the top grade after being frustratingly omitted in favour of players in much worse form. He’s exactly what Canberra need right now – a big, rangy edge player with speed and confidence. The question is can Scott abstain from dragging him in on defence? Kyle Feldt has been at the Cows so long he’s practically petrified wood, but he brings truckloads of experience to a team knee-deep in a full-blown identity rebuild.
BENCHMARK TO BEAT
You have to feel a bit sorry for the Cows subs – no matter how good they are they’re simply not Josh Papalii. While he might not have been at peak performance the last two weeks he remains one of the best in the game, and he’ll probably be keen to offload some of the frustration from being run over by his younger namesake.
THE LAST TIME THEY MET
The Raiders pipped the Cows in a tight 14-12 encounter in 2020, the Cowboys having sacked Paul Green after their round 10 loss to the Panthers. The Cowboys have been logging reasonable score-lines in their two wins, which means Canberra need to be sharp in attack and solid in defence.
Raider #256 David Milne
Milne debuted in 2005, playing 52 games across 6 seasons for the Raiders. In that time he crossed the stripe for 23 tries, falling just short of 100 career points. Post Raiders he signed with the Cowboys and played for their feeder club Mackay Cutters before retiring and returning to his home town of Griffith.
THE FINAL SIREN
Look, Canberra need to find something this weekend. That little spark that drives them to the next tackle, that moment of situational awareness that has them wrapping up a threatening runner close to the line. The forwards need to bust through the line and the edges need to be there for the offload. The Cows will be ready, Canberra just has to be better.
Raiders by a tough 6!
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