Hello and welcome back to the Canberra Raiders rollercoaster. Please keep your hands inside the bars, and don’t get your hopes up. Both can result in pain.
This is a big game. Not a season-defining one, but given the Panthers and the Storm are in the future, given the bye is next week, and given the Dragons are currently in the spot Canberra want, it’s pretty massive. Both teams have got plenty of rest, and in recent times have started to find their best footy. You know how the Raiders are going, but St George had their best 40 minutes of the season last outing (though it’s hard to know how much to take away from a victory against the Souths at the moment, a supremely weird thing to type).
Winning would be handy for table positioning purposes. But it would be nicer to see some of the problems facing the Milk get fixed. They’ve papered over some crack recently because Joe Tapine might be a god, and because they’re conditioning, both physical and mental, as been surprisingly resilient. But there are weaknesses, in their right side defence, and in their attack that need fixing. And soon.
Jack Wighton is back, continuing what has been a stop-start process of building a relationship with Jamal Fogarty. They’ve not exactly nailed that combination yet – as we pointed out earlier this week – and they need to find some fluency soon. Against the Broncos he looked tired from Origin on the Wednesday (or maybe the early stages of the rona?). Here’s hoping a few weeks of proper rest has put him
Charnze is back too. He’s nominally starting on the bench – I’ll take the team at face value rather than assume a patented Sticky smokescreen. It’s not surprising. After a long lay-off last season he also returned via the bench, as he did earlier in the season. Does that mean Savage is already preferred? I guess we’ll see. As we noted recently, it’s starting to feel like Charnze’s time in Canberra might be winding up.
Ricky does love carrying a utility back, and in his defence the Milk have needed one in pretty much every game they’ve named one. There’s an argument that Corey Harawira-Naera could cover that and middle minutes, but smarter men than me (hi Jack) will point out that carrying one less middle just means Joe Tapine plays more minutes, which is a very good thing.
What we’ll be watching
Can the middle reduce the space that Ben Hunt has to operate in?
Ben Hunt is really good at footy. Somewhere along the line, presumably right after he dropped that kick off in 2015, it felt like everyone forgot that, or at least put him on the shelf to be forgotten. But he’s a rare talent, and one that has made life difficult for many teams, including the Raiders. They simply must limit his impact.
When Canberra have done well this season it’s been because they won the middle on both sides of the ball. The teams they’ve struggled most with are big teams, and while the Dragons have a solid pack, I wouldn’t call them big (Jack De Belin is starting prop for example). It’s one thing to win big metres when carrying, but if they can do the opposite in defence, it’ll go a long way to stymieing one of the best halves in the competition. And even if Elliott Whitehead, Jamal Fogarty and Matt Timoko haven’t solved the challenge of being the Milk’s right-edge defence, if the middle can put defensive pressure on Hunt from his inside, it’ll make their job so much easier.
The other thing we’ll be watching closely is how often the ball gets through the first receivers hands to the outside backs. A lot of factors contribute, but so often the jamming defence has meant the ball is stuck in either Fogarty or Xavier Savage’s hands. Can the Raiders find their centres and wingers? Width from the ruck, a bit more ingenuity and cohesion from the halves and maybe there will be more opportunities for the outside backs to prove their worth.
How the Raiders can win
First you win the middle, then you get the sugar. Then you get th…wait that’s not right. Take a step back though. Canberra are built to win the middle and then worry about the rest after. The Dragons aren’t big, and Josh Papalii, Corey Horsburgh and Joe Tapine have been in a good form. They’ll all be relatively rested, so I’m keen for them to empty the tank to make sure the Milk have a good platform, and they Dragons don’t have any space to play.
I also think the Raiders left side defence will play a really important role. Talatau Amone is a handy prospect, hanging around on the right, testing the defensive line with his feet and capable passing. With Zack Lomax and Mikaela Ravalawa hanging off his shoulder, it can be a real test for opposition defences (one that Souths did not pass last round). Fortunately for Canberra, they’ve been really robust on the right, and with Jack Wighton fully fit and hopefully ready to lay of few signature hits, it could force the Dragons to fight with one hand badly bruised.
Raiders by 2, this time it’s Ryan Sutton with a game breaking grubber for himself.
If you like our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or share this on social media we could be heroes, just for one day. Don’t hesitate to send us feedback (thesportress at gmail dot com) or comment below if you think we are stupid. Or if we’re not.