Hello trap game, thy name is Newcastle.
You know where it’s at. Canberra have turned their season around, winning four of six including three games against top 8 teams. The only teams they lost to in that period are serious contenders (well, after Sunday who knows what to make of Parra). They’ve pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and turned the season around. Now they enter the “easy period” of their draw, where they play a whole host of fellow also rans and use their good form to win big and find their way into eight.
Easy as. Right? Right?!
Ha. If the hairs on your neck aren’t already tingling then you must be new here. The Knights have inexplicably done well against the Raiders in recent times. Kalyn Ponga’s best games seem to happen against Canberra, same with Bradman Best. The latter won’t be playing this weekend, and the former is subject to concussion protocols so there’s no guarantee they play. There’s still plenty of talent on the roster, even if they’re not playing like it right now, having only beaten the Dogs and the Warriors since round two.
Who’ll be playing
Minor changes for the Milk this week. Jordan Rapana returns from his suspension in the place of James Schiller. There’s no utility back on the bench and the team looks mostly like we thought it would. That is unexpected, and so helpful for building the connections and cohesion that have yet to been built because of the constant change this year.
What we’ll be watching
The Knights score a good chunk of their points attacking to the left – or the right side for the defence. They do this mostly through getting Kalyn Ponga isolated against defenders who just aren’t as agile as he is.
You may have noticed that the Raiders right side defence wasn’t exactly looking spry last weekend. Elliott Whithead, Jamal Fogarty and Matt Timoko each found themselves on an island at times. Partly that was a cohesion issue, partly that was the defence bending as the Broncos attacked a little wider than the Milk were either used to or expecting. Canberra need that edge to hold it’s own in defence. That will get better with time – cohesion and connection aren’t built overnight, but I’d be lying if I didn’t see football mortality in Whitehead’s effort on Ezra Mam last week.
One way they can be helped is if the the pack makes sure the Knights massive middles don’t get a roll on. If you look at teams the Raiders have struggled with recently, it’s been big packs. The Broncos, Eels and even arguably the Warriors matched up well on size. It meant in defence the pack weren’t able to control the ruck, dragging defenders inwards, putting edge defenders covering an amount of space and numbers they weren’t capable of. With Saifiti and Klemmer in tow, this will be another challenge.
How the Raiders can win
If the defence can hold its part of the bargain – something they’ve done more often that not recently – then the Milk need points. Canberra’s best attack in recent weeks has come from the play around the ruck, either through interplay between the middles, some handy second-phase play, or some well-worked crash balls off Zac Woolford.
It’s a handy string to their bow, but an offence isn’t built on that alone. All season the Raiders have been inept at finding their outside men is advantageous positions. Matt Timoko has proven his worth, and Nic Cotric and Jordan Rapana know how to find a try-line, but as a trio they have the same amount of tries as Hudson Young, Josh Papalii and Elliott Whitehead. Canberra simply haven’t got the ball wider than their edges.
That again can be fixed by time, but there’s a lack of inventiveness or innovation in what they do. It’s an anchor on their further success. Interestingly the Knights concede most of their tries to their left edge (or the Raiders’ right side attack). This is an opportunity for Fogarty, Whitehead and Timoko to get right.
Raiders by a Fogarty try.
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