Are you excited about this week?
It’s white-knuckle stuff. Canberra have to win. No ifs or buts. No waiting half a game to get started. The alternative is a quiet end to a weird season.
They’re playing a team that hasn’t won in over a month, who’s season has collapsed around an internal controversy. They’ve lost a host of players to injury, including two Trbojevics and Rueben Garrick. They should be eminently beatable. Of course, that may be a somewhat familiar set up, because the Raiders broadly were in the same situation last week and it apparently required Sticky having some strong words at half time to wrest them from the drunken stupor they stumbled around in for the first forty minutes.
Analyzing how and why they get distracted during games is an imperfect science. But it seems expectations plays a big role. The Raiders seem most comfortable when people think they’re out of it. Against good sides that means they can amp up and not lose any skin of their nose if it doesn’t work out. Against the bad sides it means they wait for the game. They drift. There is no time for that this week.
If the outside circumstances do play into their mindset it’s probably good that their path won’t be settled by the time they run around Saturday afternoon. The Broncos and Eels play Thursday, which will rule out one of the three pathways available to the Milk. The Roosters play the Storm Friday, and apparently we’re all Storm fans now. Only the Bunnies play after the Raiders, meaning that Canberra will play in the limbo they currently reside in. I guess that’s better than having nearly all their paths gone, or the opposite, being guaranteed a spot if they win out (which is what would happen if both the Roosters and Souths lose this weekend).
So instead we play that game we’ve been playing for the best part of a season now. Let’s turn on the TV (or up at the ground, you lucky sods) and hope *this* is the week they more hole than patchy.
The Raiders are 1-17 as last week. Which is nice.
Zac Woolford is named to start: I guess we’ll wait and see if that occurs. I didn’t think Tom Starling had a cracker last week, and something happens in his mindset when he starts. It feels like those are the games where he runs less and seems less decisive.
Joe Tapine continues to marvel. He shouldn’t have been as good as he was last week. He said himself he should have been out for three weeks. He is super-human at this point. I was glad he got a try-assist for the game-winner. If Papalii had found Fogarty on his outside that stat may have been accrued elsewhere, but the improvement in Tapine’s passing this year must be recognised. Sometimes it gets obscured by the grunt work.
Corey Horsburgh is still there on the bench and it’s good to see him back and surviving after his scare with pneumonia. He’s been one of Canberra’s best non-Tapine middles this year . While he’s had limited impact in terms of metres since he’s got back, each run has been showing glimpses that his best is coming. 30 minutes in each outting shows the club is rightly being conservative with his lungs. I wonder at what point they’ll open those minutes up.
What I’ll be watching
Daly Cherry-Evans is going to make our life miserable. Like Ben Hunt has done. Like DCE himself did ages ago. He’s just a smarter footballer, and if the game is close he will be the person most likely of the 26 on the field to do the right thing. It’s not really a matter of shutting him down, but Canberra can ill-afford to give him the space they did to Anthony Milford.
But a charging line is still a risk. DCE loves to use Haumole Olakau’atu to torment small defenders on the left side, or to chase kicks he dribbles in behind an aggressive line. Luckily for the Milk Jack Wighton is the solution to the first part of that story. But Xavier Savage’s kick positioning is going to be tested in a range of ways, but particularly through short kicks for Olakau’atu and others on that side of the field.
There’s a few things I’ll be looking for when the Raiders get the ball on the weekend. Hudson Young was asked to run a few more strong lines on the weekend. Often he stays in shape and is asked to be a supplementary creator to Wighton. He can do that, but it shouldn’t be all he does. Using him as a strong face ball is a good thing, even if it’s just as a decoy.
I was surprised to see Elliott Whitehead play the majority of the game at right edge last week. Corey Harawira-Naera’s 30 odd minutes a game on the edge was not seen. We’ve spoken before how important a hard line runner is to create space for Jamal Fogarty to involve Matt Timoko and Xavier Savage in space. It was probably a defensive decision last week. I’ll be curious if it stays this week.
How the Raiders can win
God at this point I don’t really know. I mean they should win, but after the last few weeks where they’ve turned struggling oppositions into world-beaters all I can think to do is point at at the first half of the Knights game, the back end of the Dragons game and those sorts of bits and pray it’s not that.
But in reality Canberra should win because their middle is much better than Manly’s. That should give Jack and Jamal the space to make this game there’s. Should. Should. Should. I feel crazy writing that. It’s like saying I should go for a run tomorrow. We all keep waiting for it to happen, and at this stage it reflects more on us for hoping that it’ll happen with no evidence to support it.
Even if the track is running out, we may as well enjoy the ride.
Raiders by 16.
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