Last week was wonderful. For you, for me, for all of us. The vibes in AAMI Park were 2019. The hardy Raiders fans were loud. The team was courageous, beat the odds, the talent-deficit, and at least two refs (on-field and off). It was the kind of win that can define a season, like the Once-Upon-A-Time in Melbourne victory in 2019.
It’s also the kind of late(ish) season win the Milk have had in almost every season they’ve missed the finals. Last year it was Parramatta. In 2018 victories over the Roosters and Souths followed the a four game losing streak that saw Canberra fall out of finals contention. Us being Raiders fans, i’m sure you have your favourite painful win/loss combinations late in the season. I’d love to hear about them.
You know what would be great? If the Raiders backed up their great victory against the Melbourne Storm with a victory over a team they really should beat, the New Zealand Warriors. I know, crazy thought, but this team seems to think they will play finals (Jack Wighton said as much in the post game press conference). Well, if they’re serious, the fact they have something to play for should be enough to drive them to victory this weekend. It’s not that the Warriors are bad. They’ve been competitive on and off this year, like when they last beat the Milk. But they’re *this* close to 1-2-3 Cancun (what is the Pacific equivalent, Gold Coast or Bali? I’ll let you decide).
So Canberra *should* win and well, I’m annoyed with me for writing that. The fact I feel like I just jinxed the team (me, 600 plus kilometres from where the game will take place) speaks to the kind of certainty one has being a Raiders fan.
We wrote earlier in the week about filling that right wing position that Jordan Rapana had unfortunately vacated for the next two weeks. We thought Albert Hopoate was the likely choice, but also hoped that Nic Cotric, who missed last week’s win, would be available. He is, and Albert is too.
Captain Elliott Whitehead returns, which doesn’t surprise me. I do wonder if this will impact Jamal Fogarty’s game though. He seemed to reap the benefits of having a traditional line runner outside him. It created a bit of space for him to operate, and meant that Matt Timoko got the ball in situations that were more organic. The Raiders scored twice heading right and if that edge gets smothered as they had every week before last, then maybe some awkward questions will have to be asked.
Sticky has also for the first time in a while, not picked a dedicated utility back. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad is playing reserve grade instead. Corey Harawira-Naera would likely to be asked to defend at centre if it comes to that, which it probably will. Corey Horsburgh isn’t in the 17, which suggests whatever the illness (presumably non-rona, because then they would say right?) is more than just a cough.
The Warriors have weirdly put Reece Walsh on the bench, starting Chanel Harris-Tevita at fullback and Daejarn Asi at six, instead of Ronald Volkman, who I thought has been quite good.
What We’ll Be Watching
Canberra does well when they win the middle. They battled well against the big Storm pack. Each member had some strong moments, and they’ll have to do a job again this week against what is a pretty mobile pack. They’ve done well against other similar packs since they last lost to the Warriors, but then again they lost to the Warriors. Goddamnit.
In addition to seeing how often and how successfully the Raiders head to their right edge, I will be watching the continued development of Xavier Savage, ball player. He’s got quick hands in passing, and where the decision is clear like his beautiful, fast hands to Matt Timoko on James Schiller’s first try. I’m not convinced he’s quite creating on an edge yet – and that’s fine, we’re 11 games into his career, but he keeps ticking off developmental goals. It’s great to see. There’s still errors, but every weakness in his game has either been address or is improving (like his goal line defence) so rapidly that you can’t help but be a little excited.
Defensively I’m also curious as to how the right edge holds up with the return of Whitehead. It was a mess early last week. Surprisingly Adam Elliott didn’t provide the reinforcement I thought it would. It improved as the game wore on, for a range of reasons we covered in the review, but it can’t spend 20 minutes each week leaking like a sieve.
How the Raiders can win
Win the middle. Remember they’re allowed to go right. Make sure their right edge doesn’t give their opposition a start.
Raiders by 7
Sorry this is late, I had a family emergency. If you do us a solid and like our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or share this on social media i’ll tell you why we never give a serious prediction. 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.