Raiders (Trial) Rumble! Raiders v Manly Preview

BY DAN

We shouldn’t take too much from trials. It’s a lesson we tell ourselves every year, and almost fail to adhere to every year. But we really shouldn’t pay too much attention to a trial match, let alone a game against a bunch of players that will spend more time playing for the North Sydney Bears than hanging around the first grade 17.

Having said that…

It was really good to see how far along so many of the Raiders young players were. Brad Schneider and Adrian Trevilyan proved that they are ready to run the reggies team and have plenty of space to develop as future first graders. Harry Rushton showed soft hands through the middle and plenty of punch when he ran the ball or tackled. Trey Mooney and Clay Webb didn’t have their happiest days defending mobile players on the edge, but it remains clear that there’s plenty of talent there. And of course, Xavier Savage made the Roosters left edge look silly.

The squad showed they’d adjusted their style from 2021, and this week it’s the first string’s turn to show they too have heeded those lessons. The passing between forwards was excellent to see, but will it be carried on by Josh Papalii and Joe Tapine who tend to be more offloaders than link men. Will that willingness to use width remain, shifting the point of the attack to punch holes alternating between the edge and middle? Or will the Milk’s attack centralise around the ruck, and focus on unearned side-to-side shifts (both things which plagued the Raiders attack in 2021)?

Who’s playing

The first string comes back this week (with the notable rona-based absences of Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and Jordan Rapana). The Raiders have named big squad, which we can consider a lesson learned from last week’s sudden drop-outs on match eve. Here’s hoping the NRL learns this lesson too, and allows game day squads to be increased, and not require players to drop out from the 21 until much closer to kickoff.

Xavier Savage gets another shot at fullback, which will do wonders for his match-fitness, which seemed to struggle in last week’s heat. It’s interesting to see Albert Hopoate on the wing in place of Rapana (update 1: nope. Now it’s Seb Kris) , and Semi Valemei at right centre (with Matt Timoko seemingly moving to the left centre if numbers are to be believed). Hopoate and Valemei both were solid if unspectacular in the previous trial (however Semi had a tremendous offload as part of the Schneider try). I’m not certain if this means Valemei will be starting there in round one, but it would mean he’s in the mix (a similar trajectory to Seb Kris’ strong performances in the trials of 2021). He’ll be a strong runner, and an aggressive defender (though possibly too aggressive). And we won’t have to worry about whether he’ll handle kicks there…probably. Jarrod Croker is on the extended bench. Only time will tell if that’s permanent.

The Raiders have given us the biggest hint about the make up of the backrow with Elliott Whitehead returning to right edge and Corey Harawira-Naera in the middle. Hudson Young is at left edge. It’s somewhat of a surprise to see Harawira-Naera in the middle. The few occasions he played there last year weren’t his best performances. Clearly Whitehead’s defensive acumen and ability to bring width to the attack is winning out there. I guess we’ll see how long that holds up. It’s also worth noting Trey Mooney is in the 17 and can play edge as needed. Adam Elliott can consider himself unlucky to be as low as 20 rather than in the first 17.

Update 2: Ricky decided that actually Smelly is playing lock and Corey playing edge. Also Corey isn’t playing because he’s sick.

We’ll also get our first view of the Jamal and Wighton combination, and what that looks like with both Josh Hodgson and Tom Starling. Brad Schneider showed just how close he was to first grade last week and he’s been named on the extended bench as recognition. In a just world Adrian Trevilyan would be there too.

We’ll be watching

It’s hard to go past Savage as something to watch. He was exhilarating last game out, and it so pleasing to see the Raiders have such a unique talent on their hands. It was also good to see him acknowledge post game the areas he needs to work on. There’s a clear head on those shoulders. One of the areas he identified was getting to the advantage on kick returns and yardage. In one of his few games last year Manly expertly nullified him on kick returns, manhandling him to the point that Jordan Rapana took to pushing him back towards advantage every time the Sea-Eagles got their talons on the young fullback. One would assume that tactic would be deployed again, and it will be a useful barometer for how Savage is travelling. In addition, Tom Trbojevic loves nothing more than to target undersized A defenders, on the goal line and elsewhere. It will be really interesting to see how Savage holds up in that challenge.

We’ll been keen to see how Josh Hodgson and Tom Starling rotate; and how they split the limited first team minutes available. Also whether Hodgson plays any 13 will be of interest. We’ll also be keen to see how they play together with the halves. So much was made of the ability to shift the point of attack last week, but that was almost exclusively done through the hooker and forwards ball-playing on the edge. It meant that Schneider often didn’t touch the ball until the 4th or 5th tackle. Will Fogarty and Wighton be similarly so patient? And should they?

Finally the main thing we’re keen to see is how the Raiders’ middle holds up in defence. People (including us) tend to focus so much on the defensive makeup and decisions on the edge, but they are often blamed for the sins of the middle. Last season Canberra fatigued within sets, and within games, with deteriorating performance the longer both went. If they are serious about finals footy in 2022, they’ll need to show they can hold teams, and who better to start with that a team that arguably had the best V’Landysball attack in 2021.

The outcome

Again, it doesn’t matter. I’m hoping for some green shoots to show, and no one else to get injured or coronavirus.

Raiders by 11 because why not

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