Given what happened on the weekend it seems unfair to make the Raiders turn up again this weekend.
That’s seems like the hard bit of an NRL season. There’s no break. When things are going bad there’s no moment or timeout you can take from the season. It just keeps on rolling, and you need to find a solution on the run. After being beaten like a dusty rug on the weekend the Milk must turn up again this weekend and find a way to win.
If there is any consolation it’s that their opponents also had a rough day last round. 70 is a lot of points to concede. The pathway they went to get there was the same as the Raiders against the Panthers. Both sides competed with a better side for a period. Both sides collapsed, first through the middle, then through errors, and then on the scoreboard. The only difference was the magnitude of disintegration.
I doubt many Canberra fans will be chalking up an easy victory. The Raiders have made nothing look uncomplicated this season. Last week they couldn’t get out of their own end. The weeks before they couldn’t catch the ball. There’s a spirit to do the work that is admirable given the nature of things, but let’s not pretend the execution is there, let alone evidence of a working strategy
In short I’m not feeling optimistic. I’m not sure of the record of teams the week after conceding 70 points, but right now I’m terrified that the Milk might help the Warriors be the first winners there. I don’t want to say the Raiders are at rock bottom to further tempt the rugby league gods. Safe to say if they’re not desperate then they’re not paying attention.
Harry Rushton is 18th man, which is frankly infuriating. Apart from repeatedly showing he’s ready for top line footy, his skill-set is one the Raiders desperately need. When he came on last week the side was falling apart, so it feels unfair to suggest his performance was inadequate, because then Stick would be picking an entirely new 17 for this game. Alas it seems he was dropped for his compatriot Whitehead to return, and he remains at 18 in cover of him. Sticky clearly still has him in mind for first grade, which is some comfort.
Xavier Savage gets another shot, and here’s hoping he can get the ball in something other than yardage situations. His defensive positioning wasn’t excellent last week but he’s barely played any wing so more time hopefully helps the learning process. He also had a couple of drops in contact, and that’s something he desperately needs to amend. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad is at 14, which is not ideal. He did not look comfortable as a make-shift 9 late in the game, and if there’s concern about his form, I’d just as soon let him have a breather than make him fiddle around. Having said that, if there’s an injury in the backs I’ll feel pretty happy that he’s coming on.
Apart from that it’s worth noting Corey Harawira-Naera has been dropped to the bench. I suspect he’s paying the price for some less-than-enthusiastic defensive efforts in recent weeks. Elliott Whitehead has been named on the right edge, which is a return to the past. He’s not looked quick on the edge, but he’s a smart footy player and could help Schneider link to Semi and Savage a bit more.
What we’ll be watching
Canberra’s middle struggled at times on the weekend. Api Koroisau and Soni Luke really tested them with deception and creativity around the ruck. It played a role in both early tries, and set the platform for the Milk’s destruction. Wayde Egan isn’t Api, but Addin Fonua-Blake is always annoyingly good (and just annoying) when he plays the Raiders. Matt Lodge can be a handful. It’s a worthy battle that they have to win.
If the Raiders can’t win the middle, then Reece Walsh is going to be a helluva test for the edges (not to mention Shaun Johnson and Chanel Harris-Tevita). Both Euan Aitken and Bailey Sironen are capable of strong line running at harried edges desperately trying to cover for the problems inside them. The Warriors looked far more smooth in sweeping movements that Canberra did last weekend, and that’s despite them being beaten by literally 60. On the right I’ll be looking at whether Elliott Whitehead can help Schneider, and Semi Valemei can continue to improve his decision-making. On the left it’ll be whether Xavier Savage follows Matt Timoko’s direction in defence.
I was pleased to see Sticky split Papa and Tapine on their second runs last week. I also liked using Sutton off the bench; he provided some strong running that Canberra have lacked from their bench rotation lately. I wonder if a change will be made closer to game time to start Adam Elliott at 13 rather than Sutton. Elliott has proven the most enthusiastic middle forward recently .If only his effectiveness matched his effort.
Canberra couldn’t bring width to their attack last week, and with Smelly on an edge and Harry Rushton not preferred, I’m wary that the role of ball-playing through the lock is being abandoned. As I’ve said before, Adam Elliott can pass, but it’s tighter than what the Milk needs. That means the rest of the middles have to link. If they can’t bring the width, then an option is to give Wighton and Schneider a bigger role as first receivers on most plays. It may slow everything down a bit, but it’s hardly lightening at the moment, and putting Bradley at first may give him a chance to inject some width into the attack.
How the Raiders win
This is hard to write these days. You’ve got to visualise victory right? I can do it academically. Papa and Taps win the middle battle. Tommy gets some space to ball play and then good things happen. After weeks of barely touching the ball, Matty T, Semi and X get the ball in situations that aren’t yardage, allowing them to actually get a head of steam to beat defenders one-on-one. The Raiders kick smartly (it’s a pity Edward Kosi was dropped). I dunno. It’s been so long I’ve forgotten what confidence feels like.
Raiders by a wing and a prayer.
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