Well we said it would be like this.
Coronavirus has struck the Raiders again. A few days from playing a critical role in the victory over Cronulla, Brad Schneider has tested positive and Canberra are again looking for a new halfback.
It’s such a shame. After Jamal Fogarty was ruled put for four months, it was exciting to see Schneider get an opportunity. Sticky embraced the more exciting side of life, and the Raiders profited. Schneider repaid Stuart’s faith with solid edge defence, some handy kicking and a broadly error free first outing as starting halfback.
Now the Raiders will be looking further down the depth chart. Given he stayed in the team right up until game time (i.e. in the 19) for round one, the big money is on Matt Frawley being the next man in. He’s not flashy. He’s not quick. But he’ll do a solid job. We’re all familiar with his left foot from that one game he got a heap of repeat sets; it’s probably also worth remembering he led the side in kicking the ball dead last season too (despite his few starts). Sam Williams is also a possibility, and as we pointed out last week has a tendency to be Stuart’s binkie in tumultuous times. He’s a hyper intelligent footballer but athletically challenged, and importantly, can convert tries should we be so fortunate. Last season he had his own gravitational pull on the right edge, drawing attackers from all around in search of metres and a quick ruck. If one of these two starts I wouldn’t be surprised for Adam Elliott to start alongside them as a defensive bodyguard.
Neither of these choices are ideal but beyond them it’s hard to see useful options. Smelly has done the job before but he’ll be playing a similar role as the key ball-playing forward. In the interests of keeping disruption to a minimum it seems foolish to move him to plug that hole. It would mean the Milk are searching for two players to fill the role Whitehead is currently playing. And in the current structure, the frontline position might be more important.
Shit gets weird quick after that. Some may suggest moving Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad to the front line to bring Savage in and fullback. Again this is creating as many problems as it solves, and some minutes in a trial game is not really evidence that Charnze is ready for that role. He wouldn’t offer much beyond running the ball, and it would put a lot of pressure on the kicking game of Wighton (being the sole long kicker). But at the very least his defence would be fine and he wouldn’t panic. Jarrod Croker played some six in the trials, but I can’t see his defence or fitness being up to it. I can’t help but think Stuart might do something like start Adam Elliott as the nominal seven before bringing Williams or Frawley off the bench. Sticky is ready to risk it all this year, so it could be an interesting team-list whichever way he goes.
It also puts even more pressure on Tom Starling and Jack Wighton. Wighton was stunning on Friday, and Starling had a tremendous first half before tiring. They’ll both need to be the key creators against the Cowboys. Wighton won’t be able to wait for the game to come to him, and depending on who’s picked, could be asked to do an even greater share of the kicking.
It also really underscores how much the Raiders will miss Josh Hodgson over these next few weeks. We wrote about that today in the context of his role as support man for Whitehead, but starting seven is a role that he could do a reasonable job of.
This is not ideal, but at least the Raiders have the depth (and I’d say a relatively winnable game in Townsville but we don’t have the best record there). We were surprised to see them keep five halves on the roster at the end of last year. As per usual we were wrong and Stick was right. In a season that has barely gotten started, it’s another effing challenge for the Milk to overcome. It’s been pleasing to see how well they’ve adjusted so far. They overcame a summer outbreak. They managed losing their star recruit before a ball was bowled and still flipping beat a good team. They even overcame an upset spouse (again). Now it’s the return of Rona. My god I’m sick of sequels.
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