Raiders Rumble! Raiders v Souths Round 11 Preview

BY DAN

Enjoy the good times.

These are the words of the late Canberra local spirit purveyor and television star, Jim Murphy. Growing up in god’s country I came to associate that phrase with football, his jovial face turning up all the time plugging his liquor store (company? I clearly didn’t pay enough attention) almost any time I was plonked down in front of any footy game. As the Raiders successes faded and the club embraced more humble outcomes, what was once a celebratory phrase took on a more prophetic warning. A reminder that what once was wouldn’t be the same forever. That the memories of the past don’t sustain greatness. It must be earned.

It’s useful message now. The Raiders’ win on the weekend was as good as any in recent years. It was gusty stuff, inspirational even. In similar circumstances last year a tough win against Parramatta became a shitty loss to the Knights. These things lose their meaning if you don’t build on them. They become but a moment to enjoy. I’d prefer Canberra build a series of them so we can really enjoy the good times.

Who’s playing

Jack is back, and it’s Brad Schneider who makes way, which feels harsh. He stepped into a role that he hadn’t expected, and while the club hasn’t been perfect, it’s hardly been his fault. In recent weeks he’s sort to expand his play a bit, and his defence has generally been terrific. It’s been a stellar season for the young man so far. Even with Jamal Fogarty’s return edging closer, I don’t think this is the end of Schneider in first grade this season. He’ll be back, and hopefully more time to hone his craft in Cup footy is good for him. It’s important to remember this sort of back-and-forth between first grade and reggies is relatively normal early on in careers. It’s is by no means a castigation of the rookie. This also could be injury related, or just a dude needing to rest a body that’s toiled hard this year after barely any footy over the last two years.

It is also reflective of the esteem that coach Stuart has held Matt Frawley’s performances in. Frawley has been great, but his we are watching the best he can be right now, and he’ll be off to his least preferred right hand side this week. I’m not convinced Stuart has made the right decision here – I’d much prefer Schneider keep plying his trade in the top line. He’s ready, and every minute in the top line is only going to get him closer to his potential. This feels like sacrificing the long-term for a minimal short term goal. Further it’s yet another combination change, with Elliott Whitehead and Frawley defending alongside each other for the first time this year. But Ricky Stuart is smarter than me, and Frawley has been excellent two weeks in a row. Let’s hope it’s three.

Adam Elliott has also been left out. I presume this is part recovering from his sickness and part reflective of the fact his role as a hooker may have been stolen by Zac Woolford. The ‘virus’ was excellent last week, doing his job on both sides of the ball as well as any Canberra hooker this year (that sounds wrong but please keep it civil. This is a family blog). I’m not sure what the rules are that allow the Raiders to keep him in the top 30 (I’m sure it’s something like after round 10 you can bring development players into the top grade), but I’m hoping he can prove himself more than just a one-round-wonder. He’s got the skills and has earned the opportunity.

Elliott may have snuck a bench middle role to add a bit of flexibility to the pack. He was excellent in his last two games before his sickness last week, and even with Woolford in the game I would have thought he would be a perfect bench rotation to cover both back row and middle, particularly given the effort the middles expended last round. The Raiders have instead gone with straight middles on the bench with Starling and back coverage in Xavier Savage. I guess it was felt with Corey Harawira-Naera covering the middle, there was enough flexibility to cover backrow if something happens to the edge.

What we’ll be watching

How Matt Frawley goes on the right hand side against Cody Walker. Much has been made of Walker’s struggles this year, but his eyes would light up at the opportunity to use his power and agility against an edge of Elliott Whitehead and Matt Frawley. Frawley did excellently on the weekend against Briton Nikora and Nicho Hynes. Let’s hope he does a job again. In attack I know what Jack will offer, but I’m curious how often Frawley shifts left-side in attack. Canberra’s halves have shifted around a fair bit this season, operating on either side of each other on both sides of the field.

I’m keen to see if we get another performance like last week from the back three. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad has been much improved on his return to first grade (simply fuelling the conspiracy theories in my head that his down-turn was as much to do with his sore ribs suffered in the Titans game as anything), and he and Nic Cotric in particular proved how much good stuff can come from sets started with good yardage from backs. Their efforts started sets that ended in tries. Let the good times roll some more.

I’m also curious if Stuart decides to use Tom Starling and Woolford together. Last week we saw it at the end of the game, with Starling shuffling into a half style role. That felt less deliberate and more reflective of nothing but cooked bodies on the bench. I’d love to see if there’s any plan to use them together, and whether that frees up Tom to run with a bit more freedom.

I also am not sure who is going to kick goals. As Raiders fan legend and hero of the people, @gilby_gillard, will tell you, Corey Harawira-Naera went 1 for 1 in the terrible game against the Cows earlier in the year. Rapana has done it before too, and as pointed out to me by the best graphic designer in the business Jack Cronin, he was suspended for that game. One of those is our best guess.

How Canberra Can Win

Despite two wins in a row, the Raiders are still in search of the kind of fluidity in attack that characterised previous iterations of Mick Crawley coached offences. Canberra have stuck neither with a consistent stylistic approach, nor the stable personnel necessary to build the cohesion and dynamism that distinguishes good attacks. Instead the games they’ve won this year have been with effort, and what can probably be described as inconsistent and opportunistic attack. It relies on errors by the opposition, and effort from the Milk.

Souths will probably offer them errors. They’ve completed at about the same rate as the Milk this year. Both sides have had shockers with holding on to the ball this year. Here’s hoping it’s a problem that continues for the Bunnies and not the Green Machine. The real question is, as we noted today, whether Canberra can muster the kind of effort they produced last week again. It’s a tall order, but it’s what they need to bring to the table to cover for their limitations against good sides (of which Souths is kinda maybe not one?).

The Outcome

Canberra by a Zac Woolford field goal.

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