The Canberra Raiders have provided surprisingly few changes for their game this weekend.
For all the talk of massive change, all of them were forced by injury or Origin absence. There was no change to the back five outside of bringing a direct substitution in for the injured Bailey Simonsson. There was no altering to the halves outside of a straight swap for Jack Wighton. In the forwards Emre Guler came in for Josh Papalii, and Ryan James for him on the bench. While Stuart couldn’t have picked the same side that lost to the Titans if he wanted, this is about as close as he could get.
One can’t help that the nature of the changes led him down the path of minimal change. Two changes forced in the spine means there’s little time to build new combinations, particularly given the short week. Frawley, Williams and Savage would all be familiar with each other from NSW Cup (although Savage only played a handful games at fullback there). I suspect this desire for cohesion and connection was a prime reason Frawley was preferred over Brad Schneider, along with Frawley being primarily a left side player. This again would keep change to the minimum.
I would have liked to see Schneider get a proper run in the top grade, as opposed to the 10 minutes he got in his debut. His upside is unquestionably greater. than Frawley. It’s not exactly inspiring to say you’ve put together 3/4s of a NSW cup spine to save the season, but this underestimates Xavier Savage’s potential.
The Return of Hudson Young
It’s good to see Hudson Young back in the top grade and on an edge, as is his preference. It’s been a while since he’s played on the left – you may remember the debacle against the Storm where George Williams (who?) hurt his hamstring in the warm up and everyone had to move around to accommodate. Young had a a disappointing outing that game.
He’s worked his way back into the top grade through good performances in Cup footy, with increasing yardage and post contact metres over his last few starts. This isn’t a permanent spot, but hopefully it marks the start of a period where he’s back up in first grade. Young has too much potential to waste in reserves.
We’ve got more thoughts on this coming (update: read them here), but it’s pretty exciting to see his outrageous potential in such an influential position. Here’s hoping he goes well.
For the second week running I’m surprised to not see Matt Timoko’s name in the top grade. As we noted earlier in the week:
In two starts he’s averaged just under 100 metres a game on less than 10 carries. He’s averaged 3 tackle breaks, which puts him behind only Jordan Rapana across the first grade squad. He’s added to that a line-break, line-break assist, and a try assist, all while providing bollocking runs line and relatively sturdy defence (52 tackles and 4 missed tackles across the two games) despite covering for the smaller Sam Williams.
It’s clear that for the time being at least, Coach Stuart still has Timoko behind Seb Kris and Jarrod Croker in the depth chart. I’m curious how long that will be the case.
No middle youth
One of the things that Sticky said in the press conference after Saturday’s loss was the need for ‘energy’. Many people, including me, thought that might mean more youth coming through, particularly in the forwards. I was looking at Harry Ruston as a potential bolter, and smarter people than me suggested Trey Mooney as an option. Stuart has instead gone the other way, bringing Ryan James into the squad for Josh Papalii with no other changes. Joe Tapine is still on the bench, alongside James and Sia Soliola. It’s more old heads than youth.
Perhaps what Stuart is suggesting isn’t that it’s a fitness or youth issue, but rather an attitude one. He’s turned to experienced players who he knows are willing to do what is necessary rather than the athletic advantage of youth. Given that Sia Soliola is one of a small group of forwards (with Papalii and Sutton) who seems to have been putting effort in recently, maybe he’s on to something.
More likely it reflects Sticky’s ongoing conservatism when it comes to selection. Most people saw a team that was without purpose last week. Sticky saw one that just needed tweaking.