Hello and welcome to a little more disaster.
The Canberra Raiders have overcome Covid-19, injury, Rona, disaster, ineptitude, the spicy cough, off-field shenanigans, and now finally, they are faced with that familiar foe, the novel Coronavirus. The dastardly adversary has taken Jack Wighton for the game this weekend.
Let’s start by sending our best to Jack. Covid is no joke, and even though he’s young and fit, we hope he’s gets all the support and care he needs. Shouts to the rest of his family too. Being a parent is hard enough without your partner being overtaken by a serious virus.
From a football perspective it’s not ideal either. The Raiders desperately need to win, and they’re up against a bogey-team. Well it seems the boogieman struck early. Jack Wighton wasn’t his best in his last outing, but it’s inarguable he’s a critical part of Canberra’s success. He leads the Raiders in try assists and line-break assists. When they’ve been at their best in recent years, Jack has been at the centre of everything. They need him.
They, however, have proven they can win without him. It seems pretty obvious to me that Matt Frawley will come into the top side. Frawley has done well this season and we’re just two weeks from Frawley and Jamal Fogarty engineering a victory against the Roosters. He’s an easy fit into Jack’s left side role, in position if not style. He’ll kick well to the edges, do his best in defence, and hopefully take the line enough to keep the defence obvious and free up a bit of space for Hudson Young to run into.
More pressure heaps on Jamal Fogarty to find his feet. There’s been a bit of criticism following the Broncos game of his performance, and frustration that the fit hasn’t been immediately seamless. I’m not too fussed about that. These things can take time, not the least when you’re coming off a four month knee injury. But if Canberra don’t win this weekend, or in the coming weeks, the pressure is unlikely to abate.
It does mean that the Canberra pack becomes all the more important. For all the names, the Knights are dead last in yardage this season, and with their style of play, and the quality of the Milk’s middle in recent times, there’s a real opportunity for the Raiders to take the game by sheer domination in that area. It doesn’t mean losing their nerve to shift or play with width, but it does mean with the right attitude and aptitude they may not have to rely on it.
Another ramification is that both Canberra defensive edges now take on a slightly less perfect hue. Fogarty, Elliott Whitehead and Matt Timoko struggled against the Broncos. Frawley, Young and Kris have proven relatively stable in the past, but they’ll have the athletically gifted Kalyn Ponga looking to take advantage of anyone he can. Normally he focuses working on the left (or the defences right), but with Frawley it presents a target for him on both sides. The edge defence already needed a vast improvement on last week. That is true for both sides now.
From a longer term perspective it does mean that the cohesion that needs to built between the halves will take longer to build. That’s frustrating, because it feels like the synchronicity and performance of the halves, particularly in their connection to the outside backs, is a ceiling on the Raiders potential right now. Every week stolen from them like this delays them finding their chi.
If there’s an element of fortune it’s that this is the least-worst time for this too occur. The Knights whoop Canberra’s ass on the regular, but at the moment their in about as poor form as you can hope for. Not playing for the Milk means Jack will also not play for New South Wales, removing one opportunity for further injury-based disaster. The bye is following, means Jack will have until July (3rd to be exact) before Wighton will be required for duty again.
So it’s not good, let’s not sugar coat that. It makes a winnable game less so, putting the Milk at a disadvantage for a game we can all agree they desperately need to win.
But hey, after all that’s happened this season, after all they’ve already overcome, what’s another challenge.