Raiders (Trial) Rumble! Raiders v Roosters Preview

BY DAN

Hello and welcome back to the noble quest of believing it can all work out for the Canberra Raiders. How good is having the footy back? This good.

It may sometimes feels hopeless (maybe there’s too much hope Andy Dufresne), but here we are, ready for another year. At this stage we should probably all chat to a therapist (or donate to Lifeline after what was done to their bookfair) but frankly we’re all having too much of a good fun ok time.

The Rumble is back for another year to answer the macro question of whether the Raiders can win it all (in our lifetime). The more practical question is what is 2022 going to look like. We’ve speculated all summer, but the first bit of practical information will come this week, by way of the Milk’s first trial. This one is against the Eastern Suburbs Sombreros, otherwise known as the Roosters (are they the Sydney Roosters? Probably).

No matter how much Sticky protests, the outcome of this game does not matter. What does matter about this game, and the other trial match, are the hints we’ll get about how the Raiders will line up, how they’ll play, and what adjustments they might have made for 2022. This week won’t tell us the whole story – it is a trial after all – but we can start to build a picture from the crumbs of evidence we pick up along the way. So let’s get into it.

The lineups

Coach Stuart has been clear that this one is for the children. Or, more accurately, this is the game that will see many first string players sit out, while the second trial will be closer to what we’ll see in round one. Consequently we’ve got plenty of youth this week.

The first bit of interesting information is picking Trey Mooney and Adam Elliott on the edge. Our assumption to this point was that one or both of them would be playing at least some 13, but instead Coach Stuart has put Ryan Sutton there. One might see this as a sign that Sticky is still planning to be big through the middle this season, but it strikes me more as a situation of getting as many minutes into middles as possible before the season starts (see Corey Horsburgh and Emre Guler also starting and Peter Hola and Ata Mariota on the elongated bench). I suspect we’ll get a better idea of what Stuart wants to do with that lock position in the second trial. Mooney and Elliott will presumably be replaced by Corey Harawira-Naera and Harry Rushton at some stage. I wouldn’t read anything regarding the depth chart into that ordering. Rather, it will be good to see Mooney and Rushton playing alongside regular first graders.

It’s pleasing to see Xavier Savage getting a start at 1. Like the backrowers, I wouldn’t read much into him starting and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad coming off the bench. Indeed I suspect the Raiders would love for Savage to play as much of this game as possible. Conversely, everyone knows what Charnze can and can’t do, so I suspect a perfect scenario would be him sitting on the bench for the majority of the game.

Matt Frawley at hooker shows how shallow the Raiders depth is at that position should there be an injury to Josh Hodgson or Tom Starling. I hadn’t heard he’d be a makeshift nine this year but let’s see how he goes. Here’s hoping Adrian Trevilyan gets a bit of time, and that Brad Schneider gets as many minutes as possible playing in the halves rather than covering minutes at dummy-half. If either of those players is going to be a future star at their respective positions they need as much time as possible to develop.

I can’t decide what the situation is with Jarrod Croker. Perhaps this is a “soft launch” of his (hopefully) repaired knee and shoulder. I would have thought you’d save him for when things matter, especially given Harley Smith-Shields’ injury. But perhaps Coach Stuart isn’t sold on who will fill the left centre position, and is giving both Croker and Seb Kris time there over the pre-season. Matt Timoko’s conspicuous absence (and Semi Valemei being named out of position at centre) is hopefully a good sign the right centre position is sorted. I’ve heard good things about James Schiller and Brad Morkos (Hi Nick) and it will be good to see them run around.

The key matchups

While they (probably) won’t be playing first choice players many minutes, the success of the Roosters has been built on professionalism, and that no matter the person in the jersey, a certain level of performance is assured. This is a good thing for the Milk, because it means that this trial will be a useful test.

In attack I’m most interested in how Schneider and Savage go. Hopefully Bradley gets to sit on the right as he’s done in NSW Cup (when he’s played half), and test his development against a professional outfit, using proper weapons like Elliott and Harawira-Naera. Similarly I’d love to see how he works with his edge defender, and how robust that relationship can be defensively.

With Savage it’s mostly wanting to see how he returns kicks. When he played first grade last year he too often got monstered by kick chases and in yardage. He’s put on some weight in the off-season. Hopefully it means he’s more able to combat this physicality, while still retaining his red-line pace and agility.

Finally I’ll be watching Matt Frawley to see if he’s an actual part of the hooker depth chart, or if he’s more of an Aidan Sezer.

The outcome

It really doesn’t matter. But how about we say the Raiders win after Sam Williams scores the last 10 points in the dying moments of the game? Nice.

Raiders by 2

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