It’s been a bumpy start to the season.
Two wins in come from behind nail-biters and a loss in an out-and-out paddling make for a curious form-line. But the Rumble is forward focused so let’s shade positive. Last week’s first half wasn’t as bad it felt. Everyone functioned, it just ended with dropped ball. Two tries were proper blown, and other good opportunities wasted, mostly because the Raiders found catching difficult. Combine that with a good win first up and maybe we can write off being cooked in the warmth of Townsville. Feels a bit fancy to be honest. This is a work in progress.
Smarter people than me will tell you that this was to be expected as the team adjusted to a new structure, new halfback, and the injury of one of the key proponents in making Canberra go in Josh Hodgson. In addition the Milk have been dealing with suspension, ‘Rona, and injuries in their back five. In short the Raiders are not so much looking for consistency, but just constancy. You can’t build combinations and cohesion if you can’t get the same bunch of footy players traipsing the green grass together.
The result has been the horrific inability to put together 80 minutes of football. In truth it hasn’t been a strength since 2019. Even the relatively successful 2020 was full of games where Canberra went down a bunch before rolling teams in the second half. It wasn’t a sometimes thing – they even did it in the first week of the finals against the Sharks, and again (to their peril) when the Storm destroyed them through the first minutes of the preliminary final. So this isn’t new. Perhaps the reasons are though.
They can ill afford to have periods off this week. Manly may have started slowly but no fan of the Milk would feel comfortable with any lead when Tommy T and DCE are swanning about (get it? swanning? cos of his neck? Ahhh forget you, that’s gold Jerry). With Melbourne and the Panthers in their near future too, now would be a good time to reveal just who the real Raiders are.
It’s arguably the most stable 17 since we got involved in this mess. Nic Cotric is back in a straight swap for Seb Kris, but we’ve been hurt before, so we’ll wait for later in the week for that to be confirmed. Seb Kris is reportedly in Covid isolation, where he was a few weeks ago, so keep an eye on Xavier Savage and James Schiller’s movements over Friday and Saturday for a hint as to Nic’s health.
The back three were much better last week than previously. Safe under the high ball, got through good yardage. Rapana was everywhere, even places you wouldn’t necessarily think he should be (like chasing Tommy Starling down on his break to be the man that took the offload and fed Matt Timoko). Semi keeps his spot because, as he demonstrated when he became AJ Brimson’s dad, he’s all power and potential. I’m happy Charnze is there because he was looking very sore during the team song in the post game.
Matt Frawley keeps his place. He’s nominally the 14 but no one thinks he’ll start riding the pine. He’s made for a specific role. We wrote on the logic of that here, and after Coach Stuart’s typically forthright insistence that playing his as the opening rake worked, there was little chance he missed out.
Ryan Sutton remains a conspicuous absence.
Manly are similarly stable. They’ve studiously avoided the dumbest idea in rugby league history – moving Tommy Trbojevic away from fullback. I am shocked (I am not). Josh Aloiai sits outside the 17 for now.
What we’re watching
The Sea-Eagles haven’t dominated this year because the rule changes don’t allow them to turbo-charge their offence in the same way (pun not intended). Teams aren’t fatiguing the same. Tommy can’t attack helpless and gassed A defenders with as ease as he did last year. Packs are beating them up in the middle and the Sea-Eagles don’t yet have an effective response. So far they’re relying on their backs to do the grunt work. They had eight players with 100+ metres in the ground last week and only two were forwards. If they can’t tire the middle (which they may) they’ll try to go around the Milk. The Raiders defensive edges – particularly the right – will need to be ready to rock and roll in defence.
So much of keeping the Sea-Eagles in check therefore comes from kicking accurately and strategically. That means kicking to Jason Saab, making sure you monster him, allowing you to control the next ruck when Tommy takes a hit up (it’s the exact same game plan the Sea-Eagles have used both times they’ve played Canberra with Xavier Savage on the field). And then of course shading the defence to wherever Trbojevic is hanging out. Charnze’s organisation at the back should be a weapon here.
I’m hoping the last few weeks of having to battle big packs puts the Raiders in a good spot to physically dominate the Manly middle. Then I’m hoping we get to see similar good gear to what we saw in the second half of the Titans game, as Tommy Starling opens the up through the guts, and Jack and Brad Schneider continue their impressive efforts taking on the line attacking the edges.
Of course Canberra could decide to play dropsies again. The Sea-Eagles with a weight of possession will tear them apart.
I’m feeling excitable.
Raiders by 4
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