Raiders Rumble! Raiders v Newcastle Round 9 Preview

BY DAN

What a week hey?

After all the commotion coming from all corners of the media, it’s been a hard week to be fan of the Canberra Raiders The din has been such it’s easy to forget that people’s rugby league football team have a game this weekend, and a season to save. It’s only round nine and there isn’t much time to spare. But despite all the chaos surrounding the Raiders this week, it seems that Sticky might have the 17 he thinks are the best placed to dig Canberra out of this trench.

The boys are heading to Wagga and sadly I am not. McDonalds Park in Wagga Wagga is a wonderful spot in a beautiful bit of the world. The Raiders will be out of range of much of the rugby league media – except, notably, current Daily Advertiser and former Canberra Times and Raiders’ grind veteran Jon Tuxworth. Maybe some time in the country air is just what this team needs.

George Williams is back from his one match hiatus and for as much as we know healthy and ready to roll for the rest of the season (fingers crossed). Seb Kris must be made of whatever Wolverine is, because he’s lining up too. And of course, Joe Tapine has found his way into the 17. My hope is that he finds more minutes. Hodgson and Croker are injured…*coughs*. Whatever you think of the merits of selections and strategies, or the way that we arrived at this point, the fact remains Sticky has the 17 players he thinks are best available to him. If it’s going to happen for this team, it simply has to start now.

Canberra are either completely falling apart or they’ll be as ready as ever to play this game. For some reason I’m strangely hopeful. As I’ve written in these pages I’ve never thought this side was *that* far away, and that the second half collapses were as much to do with odd rotations as anything. Sticky can fix that himself. The Raiders will have all three players in their 17 that can get an offload, and a balanced squad that can cover most injuries. Is it crazy to think they can finally aim up?

BIG BOPPER WATCH

Josh Papalii and Joe Tapine are reunited and it feels so good it really important that they both fire, and get the minutes they deserve. Regardless of everything they’ve been Canberra best performing forwards this year, even if they may not have met the standards they’ve set in recent years. Tapine is coming off the bench, and while it may not please other observers, I get splitting them. Canberra need to make sure they’re coming just as hard in the middle periods of the match as any other point.

Papa and the pack will be faced with a big task, not just in their carries but in defence. So much has focused on the extremities but Canberra’s form slump comes from its middle defence, not its attack. The Knights middle features origin forwards galore, and some powerful edge runners that can really punch a hole in a defensive line; it’s the beginning of everything good the Knights do. If Canberra can hold the Knights pack in check more often than not it will go along way to winning this game.

SUBLIME SPINE

Kalyn Ponga oddly cops a lot of stick around the traps for being more sizzle than steak. But he’s an incredible talent, and given an inch of space will turn Canberra’s edges into mush. It’ll take all 17 to close the space down around him. Jayden Brailey is busy proving he’s the superior Brailey, and has been a surprisingly good creator. They’ll be without Blake Green (and Mitchell Pearce), so plenty of pressure needs to be put on their last tackle options. Mitch Barnett is sneaky creative on the edge.

As I said earlier in the week the split halves approach has been a boon for Jack Wighton’s involvements and I’ll be looking to him to (once again) drag the Raiders out of a tough spot. It’s been interesting to see Caleb Aekins get more involved in attacking movements, and if he can keep improving his defensive work then he can be a useful fill in for Nicoll-Klokstad.

BACK IT UP

Last time these sides played Bradman Best gave Curtis Scott an absolute bath that seemed to be the beginning of the end of his 2020. I’ll be watching the battle closely. Hopefully Williams can find Scott some early runs and hit more ball to allow him to test and tire the young Knight rather than just have to focus on tackling him all game. I’m backing Curtis to succeed here.

BENCHMARK TO BEAT

Hudson Young has been down the last few weeks. He was (wrongly in my mind) blamed for the right’s defensive lapses in the Panthers game, and has struggled to regain his form coming from the bench. He was a default starter last round, but had another disappointing game, being at fault for bad reads on two Bunnies’ tries. I’d love to see him get utilised more aggressively off the bench, potentially to really change the pace of the game in the middle. Tom Starling is always looking for him; let’s let him loose.

THE FINAL SIREN

Call me crazy I don’t care. I’m going down swinging here. For all the noise, the clamour and calamity, this footy team is not bad. Maybe after all the rancour they find succour on the footy field and finally turn it all around.

Or else they don’t, and well. Sigh.

Raiders by 4

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