The Stress Test

BY DAN

The injury to Jamal Fogarty and the introduction of Brad Schneider is a test of the Raiders foundations and the hopes of their fans. A lot rides on the performance of someone who’s played 10 more minutes of first grade than me. But there’s plenty to suggest all hope is not lost.

After a 2021 served as little more than a pain-filled lesson of munching into a recently microwaved burrito too quickly, 2022 was meant to be better. There had been thinking done in the off-season. Better preparation. More appropriate strategy. Impressive recruitment. The Raiders had done as much right as we could tell from the outside. Alas, here we are. Melted cheese yet again singeing our collective tongue. All that following of instructions for nothing.

For all the pain, it’s not ridiculous to think there’s a way to muddle through. Into the Schneiderverse we go. This of course will be a test of Schneider, but more than that, it will be a test of so much that has come before him.

For a start, it’s a test of the newly developed attacking structure. This new system puts most of the early set decision-making in the hands of the forward at first receiver. That doesn’t mean the halves don’t touch the ball – both are critical ballplayers when the ball shifts – but rather that the decision of where the team is headed on a particular tackle (or set) is being made by Elliott Whitehead (or whomever catches the ball at first). This limits the problems that Schneider has to solve, and takes him into something more approximating a mirror image of Jack Wighton’s role on the left, with a simple decision tree (run/pass short/pass long). He’s shown in cup footy that he’s more than capable of making that decision at the line. Here he is playing long.

And here he is hitting Sia Soliola on the edge.

On both his willingness to play the ball in the line keeps defenders focused on him right up until the last moment. He’s also happy taking metres if the defence offers them – and he cracked 100m on the ground in the first trial game as evidence.

If the structure works then it’s less pressure on Schneider to be a fully developed contributor from the get go, shaping his contributions around what he’s best at. It also allows more experienced players like Whitehead and Wighton a greater influence in how, and where Canberra goes.

It’s also a test of the right side defence. Many expect Matt Timoko and Corey Harawira-Naera to be Schneider’s partners inside and out in the defensive line. Schneider’s defence has been pretty good coming through the grade – he had a 91 per cent tackle efficiency in reggies last year. He’s a big frame that will fill out even more with years of professional development. As Jordan Rapana told Nick Campton of the ABC, there are similarities with Wighton’s defensive game.

His defence really stands out. He’s a really good defender, a lot of halves get criticised for that but you look at someone like Jack Wighton who I think is the best defensive half in the game, not many backrowers like running into him and I would say Schneids is a mini-version of Jack

Rapana to Nick Campton here

But again, Schneider has had less time in first grade than most people will take to drink a coffee. He’ll need support, but neither man around him is really the person to do that. Timoko is still developing defensively, and Harawira-Naera’s strengths are on the ball rather than in defence. That’s three defenders on the right that are not perfect, meaning they’ll need to operate cohesively to succeed. It was always going to be a risk the Milk would need to mitigate, but with Schneider in the middle of this inexperienced line up, the risk is just that more pronounced. It may lead to Adam Elliott getting more time on the right to stabilise that edge.

Off the field Schneider forms part of a vanguard with Timoko and Savage of the next generation pushing in to the top competition. Trey Mooney, Adrian Trevilyan and Harry Rushton figure to get part of this movement, as was Harley Smith-Shields before his injury. None of these players were pushing for spots when the Raiders last made the grand final. They’re potentially the leaders of the next window but in their emergence they can squeeze the last drops of whatever remains of the current one. Schneider is just one part of it, but this represents a test of the Milk’s talent identification and development structures. If the Raiders are serious about extending this window or building a new one, it would handy to have a starting quality halfback. This next 10-14 games should be good insight into that. It’s the Schneider cut of work experience gigs.

As we wrote last week, asking a guy who’s lone foray into first grade was an elongated Subloo to drive the team around the park is a big demand. Canberra fortunately shouldn’t need a halfback to be the biggest voice on the ground. They’ve set up a system that should allow Schneider to play to his strengths, pick and choose his moments rather than have to create them. It’s not ideal – Sticky clearly had other plans until last week. But with the mix of what the Raiders have created, and what Schneider offers, maybe it’s not ridiculous to think this could work out.

If you like our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or share this on social media, I’ll tell you about the time I gave Willie Raston footy advice. Don’t hesitate to send feedback (dan@sportress.org) or comment below. Maybe I’ll respond in a secret code for you to work out.

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