The clarion call for many right now is “bring in Xavier Savage”.
He’s not the only player people are calling for. In these pages we’ve called for Adrian Trevilyan. We continued to notice the absence of Ryan Sutton is the first string team. Others have wondered when it will be time for Harry Rushton. Or Trey Mooney. There’s others I’m sure I’m missing.
I’ve seen varying justifications for these. Savage will bring more speed on the outside. Sutton will give better juice to the second unit. Trevilyan will give them more width and more everything than Frawley. Rushton more agility through the middle. They need better line-speed, they need to fix their defence. Depth. Intelligence. Guts. Courage. The list of things the Raiders can and need to be doing is endless. But these are just names. They aren’t actually that important. There is little that putting in these different players that guarantees the Raiders can solve the key problem they face right now:
hold. the. goddam. ball.
In one half last week they competed 7 sets. Against Manly they completed 4 through thirty minutes of second half game time. Against the Cowboys they completed at 56 per cent for the entire game. It’s been an absolute schermozzle, and the fact that the Raiders have still won two games amongst this mess is a minor miracle.
This inability to hold the ball is not only losing the good guys competition points, but also stopping them from properly evaluating whether the attacking and defensive structures are working. In the first week they looked almost functional against a side that has turned out to be very good. They scored five tries in about 45 minutes of play last week. In two other games they looked less likely to score than the Socceroos in a qualifier (sorry guys, I’m hurting too). So often the major problem has been a lack of good ball, and a consequential lack of opportunity to build the cohesion and pathways that should be coming along gradually.
The defensive structures have held often, and succumbed at other points. But it’s hard to tell whether there’s insurmountable issues of defensive cohesion because the Milk keep subjecting themselves to such horrendous possession and positional situations. In moments where possession has been even, they’ve seemed like they’ve mustered something worth persisting with. But they’ve also been unable to save themselves from impossible situations. What do you do with this information?
Of course some errors have come from the new approach. Too many errors in the Manly game came from offloads gone wrong, or seeking to throw an expansive pass when something more simple was required. But as many have come from simple moments of madness – be it Jack Wighton dropping the ball at acting half, Tom Starling popping a ball a foot further in front of Josh Papalii than needed, or Emre Guler’s ongoing battle with playing the ball. There’s plenty of simple stuff Canberra are getting wrong, in a quantity I haven’t seen before.
It’s a fair assessment that injuries to Josh Hodgson, Jamal Fogarty and Harley Smith-Shields are wreaking havoc with the Milk. Gone are acres of football intelligence and experience, replaced by rookies and journeymen. It’s changed the dynamic of what was already going to be a slow build. Further change is unlikely to hasten the process without the Raiders performing very basic skills (like ones I can do) without error.
To paraphrase what Tom Starling told media after the game, the Raiders recognise the drops as a pattern of behaviour and that the fix – you know, not dropping the ball – is well within their grasp. It’s good to see the Raiders know what needs to be fixed. You’d have to be in severe denial not to. I suspect they think once the ball starts to stick more regularly good things will flow. So changing personnel in the hope it will hasten this is seems beside the point. I can see the argument. I hope it’s right.
Then again after last game, it’s fair to wonder if it could get any worse.
If you like our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or share this on social media you can have a snifter of the Japanese coffee whisky my sister just bought me. I’m also sharing heaps of photos on Instagram because it makes me laugh. I still don’t get the point of it.