Team List and the Schneider Surprise

BY DAN

The Canberra Raiders team list this week was always going to be interesting. Backfilling Josh Papalii, Jack Wighton and Josh Hodgson was always going to result in some interesting outcomes. But almost no one saw the introduction of talented half Brad Schneider.

The “easiest” solution of all the Raiders troubles was always going to be filling Big Papa’s presence, if only on the team sheet. Emre Guler will be starting up the front alongside Dunamis Lui, with Corey Horsburgh, Ryan James, and the surprisingly healthy Ryan Sutton (wow that went from 4-8 weeks out to 1 so quickly I didn’t even notice). The Raiders still lack a genuine tackle-breaker – Hudson Young and Ryan James are the only middles with double digit tackle breaks in that line-up – and will miss Joe Tapine again, but this is not a bad pack despite missing arguably their best two forwards.

Also unsurprisingly they named Sam Williams in replacement of Jack Wighton. At the moment he’s nominally going to play on the left, and if that is the case it will be because Coach Stuart doesn’t want to upset too many budding combinations on the other side of the field. Cohesion is a big deal, and the right side is showed penetration and promise last week for the first time since…George Williams got here? Maybe the Melbourne game last year? If the Englishmen stays on the right this weekend I suspect continuity will be driving force.

I suspect though that Sammy will play on the right, allowing George to swing to the left side. It makes sense in terms of fit for role. Sammy plays the right side, working with Starling to propel the right side and the middle up the field through those short interchanges in order to open up the left for the more structured parts of Canberra’s attack. George will be happy to line up on the left, and will revel in the space to ball-play while attacking the line with a bit of space and a head of steam. His connection with Elliott Whitehead won’t be what Jack’s is, but they’re hardly strangers.

But I’m burying the lede here, because the most surprising selection is the introduction of Brad Schneider. Shouts to my dude Stephen Gladwish who called this earlier in the week. Schneider is definitely one of watch for the future. He’s a talent that the Raiders acquired because Peter Mulholland is one of the best at his job, stealing him (and hooker Adrian Trelivyn) from Queensland (Kirwan?). Schneider has been mostly playing as a halfback for the Raiders, but has history playing as a utility (specifically as a nine), including with Canberra.

His 2021 NSW Cup statistics are nice reading. Two tries, six try assists, alongside a fairly handy defensive record (90 plus percent efficiency). He adds excellent goalkicking to a willingness to engage and ball play at the line. I wish I had footage of the first try the Junior Milk scored against the Knights in Wagga. Schneider took the ball at first receiver off the scrum, ran all the way into the line before throwing a perfect long pass to the unmarked winger (who still had a bit to do) for a try. I don’t know if we’ll see that this weekend, but it’s the kind of vision that halfbacks need, and don’t always have.

I suspect his role with be a slightly different version of what Josh Hodgson offered last weekend. Specifically, he’ll be brought on to provide an extra set of creative hands at some point in the second half. This worked remarkably well last weekend, and while it has some flaws, opens up the other halves to play a bit wider, and offers a bit of flexibility in how they attack. I doubt he’ll touch the ball as much as Hodgson did (19 possessions) as the primary ball player, but I guess we’ll have to see. In Cup he’s primarily played on the right and that would lend credence to the thought that Sam Williams will be out there too. Schneider will likely either replace him or play a supportive role. He’ll also provide cover for Starling at nine, but likely won’t be used in that role unless something goes wrong.

It’s noteworthy that Schneider is essentially taking Siliva Havili’s utility role. Havili has done nothing wrong for Canberra…ever… and you have to feel for him right now particularly given his contract is up at the end of the year. Some may be concerned that Schneider doesn’t provide the same coverage as Liva and that’s true. It seems the Raiders think that with three bench middles and Hudson Young in the middle Canberra feels they have all the forwards they need, and are happy that Schneider can provide adequate support for Tom Starling, or the backs, should it be needed.

It will mean Sticky will need to make sure all three bench middles get plenty of game time, because if there’s another second half collapse I will cry like a hungry baby there will be questions to answer. There’s also a risk, especially against a Storm sized pack, in having four smaller players (Starling, Williams, Williams and Schneider) on the park at the same time. Their pack is big, and even without Grant and Munster they have plenty of skilled players that can take advantage of rookie defence. It might be enough for Sticky to hold back Schneider as a straight swap for Williams, allowing him to play the end game supported in defence by Harawira-Naera and Curtis Scott.

This may also be a decision made with half an eye to next year. With George Williams likely departing, the Raiders need to shift their thinking to what that position will look like in 2022. There’s not much talent available on the open market, so starting to offer Schneider some chances to develop can help him prove he’s capable at the top level, and give the Raiders a chance to see what they have. It’s asking a lot to bring the young man in against a team as disciplined as Melbourne. If Schneider has a weakness the Storm will make sure we know about by the end of the game. I pray people don’t judge Schneider as a complete product based on what he delivers this weekend. But I’m confident that Schneider is up to the challenge. As his namesake would say….you can do it. (Sorry. I’m so, so sorry).

It’s all very exciting. The Raiders season is in the balance and the young man has an opportunity to right the ship. It’s the stuff legends are made of. Here’s hoping this is the start of a new one.

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