Welcome to 1 AH (after Hodgson).
Things are a bit messy at the moment. Apart from Josh Hodgson’s season ending prematurely, Canberra have also been missing Nic Cotric, Jordan Rapana, Harley Smith-Shields and Jamal Fogarty. Those that remained played with the spine of a dumbo octopus (don’t worry I didn’t know what that was until people smarter than me told me). And what had seemed so bright a week ago now feels like the depths of Mordor.
But! A week is a long time in footy. I mean we just learned that. It can work both ways. If the Raiders aren’t ready to fight for their integrity on Saturday night I would be shocked. Sticky will be feeding them a healthy diet of ‘no one believes in us but the people in these walls’. They’ll be home, in a climate that more temperate than the dirty jacuzzi they played in last weekend. There’s no way key players will be as bad as they were last week – for some (Hi Charnze!) it might not be possible to play worse. The reinforcements are here, and the motley crew that lost on the weekend has been replaced by something much more closely approximating a first string team.
Am I hopeful? Am I delirious? Am I so broken by the end of Josh Hodgson’s career in Canberra that I’m grasping at hope like dying fish gasping for air. All three seem likely right now.
Last time the Titans came to Canberra they paddled them 44-6 in a performance so listless it basically ended the Raiders 2021 season in round 16. They are not afraid of playing in Canberra. They pushed Parramatta to the edge in round 1
Jordan Rapana is back, which feels like the exact kind of lunatic reinforcement the team needs right now. They’ll be no lack of fight when Jordy is there. Nic Cotric returns too and suddenly that back three looks like they could do all the metre-eating the Raiders could possiblity need. Semi Valemei stays at centre, and it indicates to me that this is the back five Stuart has identified as first choice going forward.
Brad Schneider returns and it’s crazy how relieving that is given he’s played one game of top line footy. The Raiders couldn’t get anything going sideways on the weekend. That was because the middle got trampled, but also because Matt Frawley could not beat an egg in space (no one knows what it means but it’s provocative). Schneider can take on the line, and his kicking will have more impact than Frawley’s did last week.
Tom Starling is starting at nine. The challenge Tommy faces was clear against the Cows. He needs to find a way to have an impact on the game that isn’t predicated on the middle dominating. His passing remains an issue – his passing left to right is still inconsistent (witness hitting Corey Harawira-Naera in the shoulder five metres out from the goal line right when Canberra didn’t need it). Most of us are expecting big things from Tommy – but the difference is the pressure is on to do it now. I’m backing him in.
Sticky saw how slow Matt Frawley was at halfback and has made him the the back up 9. It’s curious and very Stuart to find a way to leave out a genuine rake for a makeshift one. I’m saddened that we don’t get more Adrian Trevilyan; I thought his ability to pass long from the ruck was sorely missed through the first 60 minutes of the game. On the plus side he’ll play plenty in reggies, which may be as good for him in the long term.
Frawley has been preparing as a rake for much of the pre-season (remember he was going to play there in the first trial) and so this won’t be unfamiliar to him. At least his lack of pace won’t be such of an issue, and his short kicking game could be handy around the ruck, and take some pressure off Jack (as will Schneider’s presence). I’ve no idea how he’ll go apart from that. I’m not optimistic (and a little perturbed at leaving Trevilyan out).
Emre Guler retains his spot on the bench and between him and Corey Horsburgh they’ll need to have more impact off the bench. The Raiders struggled throughout last game, but it was noticeably worse when Taps and Papa weren’t on the field. Harawira-Naera has been shifting into 13 for the second rotation, and Adam Elliott’s presence on the bench suggests that will continue. Ryan Sutton remains conspicuous in his absence.
What we’ll be watching
Hey so remember when a team with a host of massive dudes tramped the Raiders into a mess? The good news is they will have to deal with that again this week. Moeaki Fotuaika, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and David Fifita aren’t exactly shrinking violets. If the Milk can’t find away to win the middle despite the presence of these origin stars then last week might have revealed a structural weakness rather than a one off problem.
A good place to start addressing this is by turning them around a bit with some good kicking; and hopefully winning enough rucks that they can use a bit of width to shift the point of attack and keep the middle defence honest. For a big side the Titans can be a bit flimsy in the middle. I’ll be looking for Tom Starling to take advantage. Not allowing teams to march 60-70m down the field on every set would be handy too – line speed is useful for that, and not dropping the ball useful for line speed. It’s all interrelated.
Fifita is going to be a test for the Milk’s left edge. That’s been Canberra’s most stable looking edge but Hudson Young, Jack Wighton and Matt Timoko will have their work cut out keeping him in check. One way to lesson his impact is to make him tackle plenty which is good because Canberra would like to go left.
Jayden Campbell is quick and agile. He’ll be lurking around the ball, and will torment any tired ruck defenders, as well as make life hard for Matt Timoko and Semi Valemei on sweeping movements. The Raiders will need to keep a close eye on him. In several movements last week he caught the ball inside AJ Brimson, allowing the new five-eighth the “Jack Wighton decision tree (pass short/long/run). That’s worth watching out for.
. The know I know. Crazy. Raiders by 6