Welcome to the back half of the season, where possibility and potential becomes cold hearted reality.
The Milk have eight games remaining and sit two wins out of the finals. Fortunately they only have two games against the upper echelon of the competition in their last set of games (the Storm this week, and the Panthers in a few weeks time). Apart from that they’ve got games against the Warriors, Knights, Tigers, Dragons, Manly and the Titans. In a world where I believed in anything approaching consistency from this team I would pencil in plenty of wins in that group. I would tell you we could win five of those, and squeeze one against the Storm, or maybe a Panthers team looking over the horizon at bigger problems, and be a real shot at the finals. The Raiders should be.
But their last two games have given more weight to the idea that hope can kill a man. At every point Canberra has gotten within sniffing distance of being a good footy side, they’ve slipped and slid back to mediocrity. As smarter people than me will tell you there’s every chance they’ll jag one over the Storm, or the Panthers, and hand it right back against the Warriors or the Tigers (well, probably not the Tigers).
This week we’re back in Melbourne for the first time in front of fans, and more importantly, the first time in front of me, since 2019. Come say hi and maybe we can make this feel like 2019 again.
If we were banking on sneaking up on the Storm, they’ve lost two in a row, which for them feels like a million. A fully-stocked elite side at home off a long rest seeking vengeance on a mediocre side wandering aimlessly into their sights? It feels like a recipe for disaster.
Not Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, who’s move to New Zealand has given him the now traditional Ricky Stuart goodbye. He’s playing Cup this weekend, apparently less useful than James Schiller, who’ll be the never wanted but always needed utility back. Xavier Savage is the future (until Chevy Stewart is) so he rightly is getting the minutes in preparation for 2023.
Stuart has persisted with two middles, a hooker and a back on the bench. Ryan Sutton is named at 13, and Adam Elliott on the bench, but there’s every chance they switch roles on game day because Sticky is a genius and I’m a clod with a laptop. Tom Starling played 80 minutes in Cup last week, proving once and for all that he can muster more than 35 minutes in a game. Stuart will be pleased with this news.
Fogarty and Wighton are back together again, and I hope they begin to make some sweet music soon. If Savage is the future and Charnze is playing Cup, similar pressure will start to form on Fogarty from Brad Schneider if some phat beats don’t start emerging from the Raiders halves soon. Watching old footage of the 2019 team recently made a stark contrast with this attack, as what we considered then a relatively conservative attack makes today’s look (even more) pedestrian. What a time it was. Let’s go back.
By the time you read this news will have arrived that Brandon Smith will miss this game. Which is good, but kinda like racing a car on foot and them agreeing to not get out of 3rd gear.
What I’ll be watching
Good god the idea of a rested Cameron Munster running at Jamal Fogarty and Elliott Whitehead terrifies me. Both have been found out in recent times. Ezra Mam, Moses Suli, and an all-sorts of people making our edge defenders show an agility and cohesion they don’t have. Fogarty was much better against the Dragons until he forgot to cover inside out from marker and Suli ran through the gap. Whitehead was great when he got his body in front of the runner, but too regularly these days he left standing there hoping for help as Xavier Savage admirably, but predictably, unsuccessfully, tries to make a goal line hit. Now they’ve got a man that more than once has single-handedly slain better teams. *Sighs*
On the other side of the field we’ll be watching to see if Jack Wighton can pick up the pieces after his worst game of the year came at the worst time. It felt like last round he just wanted to do it all himself, and became a victim of trying to do too much. I’m not sure Jack knows any other way, so let’s do the hope thing and maybe it’ll turn out for the better? On the plus side he’ll be running at Marion Seve, who has a lot of charms but none of them involve stout defence. If the Raiders muster a miracle, that matchup will have a lot to do with it.
How the Raiders can win
Canberra have done amazingly well against sides that have smaller packs this year (except for the Dragons, but that was hardly the middle’s fault). They’ve struggled with teams that are big, like the Knights, Broncos, Panthers, Eels, Cows, and of course, the Storm. These sides make their Milk’s primary weapon (Joe Tapine and his support cast) a win rather than a decimation, and it means the backs have to do more. They usually do not.
So uh that, and the edge defence v Cam Munster thing. It’s not good. And look I love Jack, but he can’t beat the Storm by himself. Add to that a fired up Storm on home cooking and it could be a rough night. Maybe it’s the sweet release we all need to give up on 2022.
Or maybe, just maybe they find a way.
Raiders by hope.
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