Raiders Rumble! Raiders v Cowboys Round 6 Preview

BY DAN

If you still have hope after the last two weeks then god bless you and all you stand for.

It’s been a trying time. Manly were smart and Canberra were incompetent. The Storm were brilliant and while Raiders showed a bit of poke they were found wanting. In between it all they haven’t found a way to fire, and while sometimes it’s looked like it was just around the corner, all they’ve found after each turn was another boogeyman waiting to eat them alive.

Woah. Ok, bit dramatic.

The thing is if Canberra can somehow find a way to win this week they’d be 3 and 3 and basically around about 8th. Most people would consider that a win and perhaps good positioning for a run later in the season (until they see the Sharks, Bunnies, Eels and Roosters waiting from rounds 10 through 13. Ooft). All is not lost for the season, but if this is going to click later in the year, then they still need to make sure they bank some wins now. The loss to the Cows the first time around was a missed opportunity.

This week’s game is a similar opportunity. The Cows aren’t brilliant, but they sure as hell aren’t going to beat themselves. Canberra desperately needs two points, but it coming off a short-turnaround and additional injuries to Matt Timoko and Hudson Young.

Who’s Playing?

Xavier Savage, in a move that will placate most and confuse just as many. Savage is at 14, and it’s hard to see what his specific role will be. He’s not playing bench hooker (on account of the fact his 90kg frame might be destroyed by Jason Taumalolo). I can’t see him coming on as an extra set of hands around the ruck at lock for the same reason. He’s just not someone that should be defending in the line just yet.

The most logical explanation I can see is him coming on to the field to rest Matt Timoko’s or Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad’s tender ribs. I would assume either way it would be to play fullback, while Charnze moves to centre (or Matt stays there). It would mean Savage would be supported by the yardage work of Rapana and Cotric, reducing the pain on him to do the dirty work. If it goes well it may become a more permanent shift that unlocks untold riches for the lime green attack. It it goes poorly (or if he’s used poorly) it could upset whatever semblance of cohesion the back five have been able to cobble together this season, lead to another source of errors, and destroy the confidence of a hopeful star of the future. Like De La Soul said, stakes is high.

Just how and when Sticky brings on Savage will be interesting. Will it be because he has to or because he has a clear role for him? Will it be abandoned if the game is on the line? Is this just a Sticky smokescreen to make that move before game time and spare X the pressure of “saviour” stories in the meantime?

Seb Kris is at 18 in coverage for Matt Timoko should he succumb to the injury he picked up on the weekend. It’s a predictable move by Stuart. Kris is a closer match for Timoko’s style than Croker. Hopefully Timoko is healthy.

Smelly is on the left edge again, and should add a bit of fluidity to those left-side sweeps. His ability as a secondary creator will embolden Wighton to expand his repertoire of options. Questions about his pace, or agility in defence will be asked by fans and the opposition alike. Let’s hope he answers them well. He replaces Hudson Young who is named in the reserves, which means his “injury” isn’t keeping him out this week, just his form.

This is the second year in a row Young has started well before getting an “injury” that kept him out for a while. I can’t but help think there’s something going on between him and Sticky. A bit of tough love so to speak, because while Young wasn’t the best in his last outing, he’s not been the worst Raider (or, given Harawira-Naera’s abject indifference in defence, even the worst edge forward). We’ll watch this closely over the coming weeks.

Ryan Sutton starts again at 13, confirming the end of his exile that was unofficially ended last weekend. And it appears the Matt Frawley, opening nine, experiment is over.

What We’re Watching

The Canberra middle forwards have tended to escape the scrutiny that perhaps they’ve deserved this year. Amongst the hullabaloo about the Milk’s ball-handling and attacking options, they’ve perhaps sat out of focus. They’ve not been bad, but it’s hard to argue that they’ve dominated an opposition pack in any game this year (maybe the Sharks game?). The Cows handed it to them in week two. One wonders how much that was to do with heat and humidity, but regardless of the cause, it’s not something the Raiders can allow to happen again. Josh Papalii said this week he’s been unhappy with his performance this year. There’s no time like the present to turn that around.

We’ll also be seeing if Canberra can do better under kicks than they did last time out against the Cows (and most of this season). Charnze has dropped too many kicks that he should take, and while I’m not a massive Chad Townsend fan, you have to believe he’ll test him plenty. I think Nicoll-Klokstad will handle it, but I wish that was a statement of hypothesis rather than of faith.

The kicking game will test Savage when he comes on too. In reggies teams are careful to to swarm him on kick returns, in the knowledge that while he might break a run, he’s just as likely to surrender the ball as a result of strong contact. Assuming he’s ready for that, I’m looking forward to seeing him use his agility and quick step in the middle off the back of offloads and as a threat on the inside of ball-players. At the very least his presence around the ruck should provide some gravity that creates space for the other backs.

How Canberra Can Win

Don’t let the Cows win the middle. It’s not rocket science. Everything that works for them comes off the back of that. If Canberra can battle them to a draw then I back the rest of the side to find that cohesion that has been lacking and put some points on the board.

The Outcome

I’m not broken yet. The middle comes good and the good guys have a decent week for a change.

Raiders by 8

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