The Canberra Raiders 44-6 loss to the Gold Coast Titans was simply a disgrace. A football team that has the talent to compete with the best was outworked and overwhelmed by a mid-table side. Every single fault of this side was laid bare, and the Raiders did nothing to stop it. These individuals may be good footy players, but this side is inept.
It’s heartbreaking to think that the Raiders again had every advantage in this game. They had a strong 17, with only one substantial change since the previous game. They were in their home climate, playing on a cold Saturday night against a warm-weather footy team, who had been simply atrocious in their most recent outing. The majority of the squad had a full fortnight to think about how to fix this mess. What they came up with was maddening.
This was a greatest hits of Raiders weaknesses. Everything that one could have considered a problem was exposed, a series of wounds for all to see and no one to dress. An vulnerable middle defence? Totally fell apart. Woeful edge defence? There for all to see. Bumbling, incohesive attack? As naked as the exposed rationalisations that Coach Stuart has made in defence of his side’s collapse. Every single problem that Canberra have came to the fore, and it’s hard to think there’s a way back from here.
The middles got rolled, and outside Josh Papalii (15 carries for 160 metres, 70 post contact, 3 offloads and 21 tackles with just 1 miss) and Ryan Sutton (14 for 111m, 46 post contact), no player should be proud of their effort. They were outgained by near 500 metres, with the Titans’ bench just dismantling the Raiders’ subs in the middle forty minutes of the game. Three bench middles cracked 100 metres for the Gold Coast; Canberra’s bench middles barely cracked 150 metres between them.
The Titans tore through the middle right when they shouldn’t have been able to: when the Green Machine had an extra player for the last 10 minutes of the first half. This came from strong running and smart work around the ruck, but it was aided by defensive frailties from every middle on the field at the time. Four line-breaks occurred in this ten minutes, mostly around the ruck, and the Titans doubled Canberra’s metre output while short a player. For every cold miss there were other players playing so tentatively that it put incredible pressure on other areas of the defensive line. For example you can blame Joe Tapine for a miss that led to the Titans third try of the game (and their second without Fifita on the field), but he was covering across because three Raiders defenders stood around the ruck without laying a finger on as an offload, and then a break, were made.
More dejecting was the edge defence. The Raiders right is always going to be a worry with the small body of Sam Williams up against the rampaging edge attack of David Fifita but it shouldn’t have been like this. The Titans routinely hit this edge to push momentum into sets and more often than not they found it. Every player on the right edge was responsible for points. The first try came when Fifita ran through Sam and Harawira-Naera, Kris and Rapana couldn’t stop him. The third try came when Moeaki Fotuaika took the ball from nine after a break and Rapana and Kris couldn’t stop him from scoring. Then the slowest half in football run past Williams and the game was over.
It was hardly better on the other edge. The second try came because Jack failed to pick up AJ Brimson coming out of the backfield. He doubled down a second later, unable to bring down Proctor on the line. Jarrod Croker overran one play that resulted in a try, and was brutally exposed late in the game by Patrick flipping Herbert. It was simply sad. So often Canberra was outnumbered out wide even when they’d controlled the ruck, and the Titans routinely went around them when they were short metres on a set. It spoke to errors being made in organisation of the defensive line.
They compounded this porous defence with errors and penalties. So many tries were facilitated by Canberra. Simonsson was out of position on a grubber and had to take it out of bounds. Moments later that set became the first try. Jack Wighton wasted good ball with an awkward pass to Elliott Whitehead that became an error, gave the Titans the ball, leading to his twin defensive errors and the Titans’ second try. Simonsson, Seb Kris, Semi Valemei and Jarrod Croker all failed to diffuse kicks resulting either directly in tries or sets that would become tries. When they did get defensive control of sets, they gave away late set penalties so regularly Metamucil is considering sponsorship.
There were stray good efforts in defence but mostly they highlighted the errors or lack of effort elsewhere. Dunamis Lui and Joe Tapine both chased down breaks they had no right to. Why there was no cover defence from the backs is beyond me. More often the defensive effort was akin to that highlighted in a try where Jarrod Croker dropped the ball in the in-goal, and 12 other Canberra players watched it bounce around while several Titans descended on it. I’d say it was unacceptable but at this point that’s too bold of a claim to make.
If the defence was deplorable the attack was no better. It was so bland and deprived of anything approaching innovation. It was the football equivalent of mayonnaise on white bread. The Milk played with no pace at the line, no cohesion, and nothing that tested and probed in any way (outside of Josh Papalii and his offloads). No spine player had a good game in attack; all of them playing to their worst traits. Hodgson overhandled early, made some errors and played to a game-plan that no longer works. He admirably kept trying to make something happen, and his kick for Dunamis Lui that was a goalpost away from a try was the closest Canberra got to points with the game in the balance. When he shifted out from the ruck he introduced width to the attack, but all that facilitated was frantic play as the Raiders tried to chase the game.
When Canberra tried to push sideways it rarely looked effective. The halves stuttered to the line, and Ryan Sutton operating as a link man was more of a threat to engage the line than the Williams or Wighton. Jack was all rocks and diamonds, as if he’d been subject to a Guy Ritchie style diamond robbery. He was given plenty of opportunities to create in the red zone in the first twenty minutes, and he shifted to both sides of the ruck on several sets trying to manufacture something. But all that came of it was errors and passes that had the commentators remarking on the quality of Jarrod Croker’s catching. The shifts to the left that had once been a strength of the attack instead looked like they were being run on the training park for the first time: hesitant, slow and unconvincing. Their last tackle options revealed a startling lack of innovation or execution, as the Milk bombed and hoped forlornly.
And so the Raiders had the collective arse handed to them. This wasn’t being beaten by the Storm or the Panthers. It wasn’t even a second tier challenger like the Roosters who smashed them. The Titans probably won’t make the finals, and the Green Machine made them look like absolute gods of football. There is no pretence of hope or mathematics that can save Canberra here. This team is who we saw tonight. Every mistake, every flaw, every stilted run or missed tackle has been there all season. The only difference is that this game had them all together, like some gross museum of their painful flaws.
For any other club there’d be unending pressure on the Coach. Canberra has fallen apart this year. They came in with a game plan that has failed to hold up, been unable to adjust when it didn’t, and Stuart has been powerless to do anything. Even in this game he left his only good player on the bench while the score went from 6-0 to 34-0. That’s simply decision paralysis. His best adjustments seem to be done in off-seasons, and there doesn’t feel to be changes he can make that will lead to different outcomes this year. That’s not to say changes to the 17 aren’t deserved. Very few players could feel aggrieved if their spot was lost after that effort, no matter how experienced they are, or how well they’ve played prior to now. We have thoughts on that that we’ll share at another time.
I apologise for being dramatic. All year I’ve held out hope that this would turn around. This team has talent. Plenty of it. It’s a well managed roster who has enough good players to be better than they’ve been over the last few months. They’ve shown in the past that they can play successful football. The individuals might be talented, but right now this team is not good, and it’s finding new depths to plumb. Turning it around isn’t something realistic to hope for. I wouldn’t blame you if you thought turning it off is the answer. Right now the Canberra Raiders are providing little other than pain and frustration. Stay safe and take care of yourself. There’s little to suggest things will change.