In the space of 80 minutes Canberra undid all their hard work and obliterated much of the good will generated by their three matches. Unlike the Knights, the Raiders showed up completely unprepared for a physical contest – the Novocastrians smashed through the middle and then pivoted to the Raiders much-maligned right edge. Canberra essentially bled to death in the first twenty minutes.
The Dragons and the Knights are both bearing down on Canberra, while the Sharks and (to a lesser extent) the Titans are frantically trying to step on the Raiders fingertips everytime they try and climb into the eight.
Aside from the Dragons the Raiders play three top eight sides (plus the Warriors). Given their performance last round they’d be hard-pressed to trouble New Zealand, let alone ladder leaders Melbourne.
After the Knights game I discussed with Dan the changes that were desperately needed – the key one has been made with Hudson Young shifting back to his second row spot on the right. He really needs to be here the full eighty minutes – that he was hooked for such a huge period of play last week was criminal. I recognise that his form has oscillated this season, but I feel much of the blame here lies with Stuart and his ceaseless tinkering.
Injury to Seb Kris sees yet another shuffle with Matt Timoko moving into centre alongside Smith-Shields, while debutant Elijah Anderson grabs the last spot on the bench. Stuart is notorious for giving rookies symbolic stints at the backend of games, and I hope for Anderson’s sake that he gets a decent run.
This of course means Canberra are limited to just two forwards on the pine – Coret Harawira-Naera and Emre Guler. Harawira-Naera may actually find himself playing at lock with Ryan Sutton possibly helping to rotate Papa and Tapine in the props (with Guler of course).
The Dragons welcome back a host of players, many of them names now infamous from the bbq breach. Unlike Canberra they’re running a proper four man bench which means they’ll be able to inject fresh legs into the battle for the middle with more frequency.
Provided Canberra can get down the pointy end of the field they have another obstacle to overcome – their stunted attack. Time and time again on the Knights try-line the Raiders found themselves milling around. Hodgson in particular looked frustrated with his charges most of whom were either standing flat-footed or appeared clueless as to what their role in attack should be.
The Dragons will be at least as competent as Newcastle in defence, and Canberra will need to actually offer up more than just one-out crash balls if they’re to cross the stripe. Wighton definitely needs to be more hands on at this point, as Dan pointed out he should probably be closer to the ruck to give himself more options on his outside.
This is the Raiders best chance to secure two competition points in the next three weeks. Melbourne are in rampant form and are liable to simply dismantle the Green Machine on their way to the minor premiership. Manly too are dangerous, while the crippled Roosters are still a threat to those who think they’re completely cooked.
This is make or break for the Raiders in 2021
Raiders by a hard fought 6 with Anderson scoring on debut!