The toughest two weeks


If the hardest periods reveal the most then we’ll know everything we need to know about the Canberra Raiders in two weeks time.

In the next two weeks the Canberra Raiders play the current premiers, and then the form team of the competition. They’ll do it without their talismanic star Jack Wighton. That’s a tough two weeks at the best of times. At 1-3 Canberra would desperately love to steal a victory over this period. They won’t be out of the race at 1-5 but damn it will be close. A victory – any victory – over these two weeks will be more satiating than a Ritz cracker.

It would be tough to beat the Panthers and the Broncos without Jack at the best of times right now, but it’s even worse that the Panthers are coming off a loss last weekend. After an uncharacteristically slow start to the season they will view the battle against the Raiders as a must win. There will be no casually taking Canberra for granted. Worse, the Raiders are coming off a five day turnaround whereas the ‘Riff will have had 8 sleeps between games. If there’s an ambush to be planned, there’s no time to pull it together between now and Friday.

The last time the Raiders beat the Panthers was 2019, which now feels like a team, a lifetime, and a pandemic ago. No member of the Canberra backline who lined up that game will be in this one (Jack did, but alas). It’s so long ago that arguably the best lock in the game today – Isaah Yeo – was selected at second row, and arguably the best prop in the game – Joe Tapine – was selected at lock. Reddit manifested Jarome Luai wasn’t even selected in the starting line-up, playing as a utility off the bench because Jimmy Maloney around. Like we said, it’s been a while. Ricky Stuart hadn’t even called anyone a weak-gutted dog. Well, not publicly at least.

The Panthers also have a habit of being one of the most physical in the competition, making it a two-week battle. It’s not just playing them one time, the week after teams are still battling the impact of the previous week. That’s fine, and then you realise the Raiders will be up against probably one of two other teams in the competition that can compete with the Panthers on physicality. That team, the Broncos, has been irritatingly good over the start to this season, and with Adam Reynolds at the helm with absolutely refuse to beat themselves. How ungracious.

And now Canberra are without their leader and hero Jack Wighton. If the Raiders attack looked chaotic and insipid before this week god knows what it will look like over the next few weeks. Matt Frawley will undoubtedly start for Wighton on the left, which at least makes more sense than him playing ahead of Brad Schneider on the right in the Knights game. Frawley is a solid replacement, but given how flavourless the martini that the Raiders’ attack currently is, I’m not sure it’s the best approach. There is a need for points and with no Jack, no X, a host of other outs, it’s hard to see how four nights in their own beds will alter that.

Some silver lining is that the Milk will have two game managers out there, which hopefully means they play a bit smarter than normal. Maybe we need 13 game managers. Frawley has no misgivings about his ability to take on the line and only does so to keep the bastards honest. That means Hudson Young and Harley Smith-Shields (if he makes it through team-list Tuesday) will get more early ball. With the gravity caused by Wighton’s predominance in the attack gone, it may open up the Raiders to play with a bit more width, on both sides of the ground. Maybe Corey Harawira-Naera will get to run a sharp line at the edge. Maybe Matt Timoko will get some early ball. After the loss to the Knights that’s an absolute minimum.

After how they’ve played recently it will be a miracle if Canberra managed to scrounge a victory out of this fortnight. Instead what one can hope for is development. The green shoots of improvement. An acknowledgement that how they’ve started this season isn’t it, and that they’ve got a new plan, a better plan, one that involves more than hit-ups and hope. One that shows edge defenders that are aggressive and capable of making the right reads in pressure situations. One where the Raiders don’t blunder and bluster away good positions and situations. A man can hope or he can drink, and I’m getting low on sadness whisky.

Even that may not be enough, such is the talent gap that the Milk are facing over the coming weeks. Canberra could improve and still get obliterated. But if (and holy hell is that IF the size of Jack Wighton’s melon) the Raiders are intent on turning 1-5 or something like that into finals footy, it’ll mean there’s no time to spare on the other side of this fortnight. They need to get right, and quick.

If they don’t the toughest two weeks might turn into the season from hell.

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One comment

  1. If the Raiders do the unthinkable & do win both games without Wighton in the side what do the Raiders coaching staff do with Wighton in Round 9?

    Interesting conundrum, lose these 2 games & our season is just about gone, win these 2 games & our much lauded five-eighth might be starting off the bench.


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