Raiders Review: Shame


With mere seconds to go, and the only thing left to play for the infinitesimal amount of pride that comes from stopping a team from cracking fifty on you, Jaemon Salmon, the person whom the Canberra Raiders should have been most focused on stopping, careened on to a ball off the scrum. He ran straight and hard. Corey Harawira-Naera was slow covering across. Tom Starling couldn’t get a strong hit on him. Seb Kris got his body in front of him, but more in the sense of a person getting their body in front of a car. Salmon scored, screamed to the heavens and probably Ricky Stuart. The Panthers had fifty and what remained of Canberra’s pride had been steamrolled. All that was left was shame.

This wasn’t a loss. This was a capitulation. It was the most unedifying performance the Canberra Raiders have put together in recent times (the only companion I can think of in the Stuart era the 44-6 loss to the Titans in round 16 of 2021). While it was a game most expected them to lose to do it in the way they did, in front of the faithful, when they should have fought to the hilt was depressing. The Milk’s weaknesses were laid bare for all to see, the hopes of earlier this season and the excuses of recently just different outfits for a naked emperor. They were faced with a fight and offered nothing but meek apologies and confused justifications.

It wasn’t just the quantum of the loss that hurt (the first ever 53-12 game! Numberwang!) but the fact that every problem that Canberra have shown this year was on display, only with the volume turned up to eleven. The Raiders red-zone attack through the first forty minutes of the game was the same crash-ball heavy set-ups with a singular shift as a token or a salve to those readying their throwing shoulders and remotes to vent some frustration. Neither the crash balls nor the token shifts were effective. In the end it didn’t matter but when the game was competitive the Raiders had a substantial weight of possession in the attacking twenty and barely looked a threat. Through the first twenty minutes they had near 20 tackles in the Panthers red-zone and had as much to show for it as you or me.

Even when the Panthers were reduced to 12 men when Stephen Crichton was sin-binned, the Raiders managed to go an entire attacking set without shifting to that side of the field. Now don’t get me wrong. Sometimes when a team has an extra player they are too eager to attack that spot. You have to be smart about it, drag defenders to the middle or to the other side and then attack the gap with precision. On their first attacking set with the ball in this situation the Raiders crashed and clunked their way through a few tackles, tried to shift that way but only made it as far as the a face ball to the backrower coming back towards the ruck defenders. Zac Woolford’s perfect grubber for an Elliott Whitehead try was the finest lip-stick on the ugliest pig.

The Raiders did shift that way again with a numerical advantage, and genuinely had some success. It was beautiful to see Seb Kris in a bit of space (as it had been earlier in the game when he’d made a line-break basically playing as a centre with Jordan Rapana filling the traditional fullback role at first receiver ont he weak-side of the scrum). But these good movements ended in the same manner that the Raiders have ruined all your fun this year: with the ball hitting the ground in good field position. Albert Hopoate simply looked confused the ball was being thrown to him. Jamal Fogarty should have scored and levelled the game approaching halftime, but he couldn’t ground the ball. It was as close as the Raiders got to being competitive for the rest of the game.

Discipline had already been hampering the Raiders. While the game was competitive nearly all the Panthers points started with a Canberra error or a penalty to drag them out of their own half. The Raiders had 7 infringements through the first 22 minutes of the game and ended with 10 for the game. They made 15 errors. Of these perhaps two were someone trying to a make a catch in traffic on a shift or in hard contact. The rest were infuriatingly simple errors that suggested a collective focus that was anywhere but the ball that was in their hands.

This was most obvious in the first twenty minutes of the second half, a period of play so disgraceful that even the dark ages won’t hang out with it. If Canberra had fought their worst instincts to stay in the game through the first half, they lost the battle early in the second half. Error after error was only interrupted by the Panthers scoring points. The Raiders completed one set through the first 16 minutes of the second half, and though that ended with Hudson Young scoring, the game was well and truly over. Canberra had simply put their defence in too many difficult situations through errors and penalties.

The defence had actually been pretty impressive through the first forty. The battle in the middle had raged. The edges on both sides had made some excellent reads. Harley Smith-Shields even had a perfect read on a rampaging edge runner that would have scored if not for his decision being mitched with good contact. It was enough to get a man thinking that perhaps improvement was coming. The only Panthers tries had come from two kicks, one that followed some chaos ball and possibly the most clutch grubber ever (I kid, but it was perfectly weighted).

They survived their own worst instincts for a period, but as the second half wore on the didn’t have the energy, the ability, or the heart to continue to solve the myriad of problems created for themselves. So the edges fell apart, first the right, then the left. Neither were pretty. You can pick out people to blame but there’s no point. It was a team effort. Matt Timoko was at fault for one try. Harley and Matt Frawley for another. Jordan Rapana didn’t follow Timoko in on another. Maybe Seb Kris was in a bad spot for a kick, and on one he didn’t attack the ball with any aggression. Eventually the weight of possession (or lack thereof) and the drudgery of repelling an elite attack for the thousandth time in a game told on the middle, and some late tries fell through there like a wrestler falling through the commentators table. By the end of they missed 53 tackles, which is a lot. 40 of those came in the second half, which is unforgiveable.

For a period early on Canberra were in the battle. It was a game with two strong middles trying to battle each other. The Raiders aren’t good enough to win if they don’t win the middle though. So while Papalii and Tapine took on their opposition in what they probably thought would be a grind it out battle, it became a ticking clock of what would break them first – their ill-discipline or the fact they couldn’t actually turn any good field position or possession into points. In the end they decided to work together to bring down their common enemy: themselves. I guess you gotta love it when a plan comes together.

The messed up bit is Canberra keep showing bits of pieces of a good footy team. A shift here, a run there, a defensive decision in the heat of battle that proves that young players are working things out. The first half they battled the Panthers to a stand still, and were only behind the game because their aforementioned inability to muster a coordinated or planned attacking set. I swear there’s a better team that this amongst these players. But the second halves in consecutive weeks have been the most disheartening football I’ve seen this team play. They are better than this. But when they are in the game, the opposite still nags. And then something happens, like Rapa kicking the kick-off when he should be catching it, and it all reveals itself to be the load-bearing jenga tile.

There is a way out of this, because the way into it has been self-directed. It’s easy to say stop dropping the ball and stop giving away dumb penalties. It’s easy to do too, but as yet Canberra haven’t found a way over that bridge. Harder to fix is an anemic attack built by and for a coach that is either bereft of ideas or ways to implement them. There will be calls for Stuart’s head this week, which are inevitable as the talking heads coming to his defence. This much is true: regardless of your feelings about Stuart, this team is ill-prepared, both in structure, and mentally, to succeed. If the players must lift, one should also ask similar of Stuart.

But for now all that’s left is to hope. Expecting success is no longer a privilege we can hold. Rationalising progress is not supported by any evidence. Instead all we can do is dream of the existence of a universe in which this team can turn this around. That they can find a way to hold the ball, to get off a tackle in time, to make the right read at the right time. Whereas once you’d expect this side to find their way out of their attacking malaise, all we have is the darkness of hope, a straining voice that maybe things will get better, despite what our lying eyes keep telling us.

It’s a depressing place to be after five weeks. If there’s an ounce of pride in this team I hope we see it. But after this game, I’m no longer expecting it.

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  1. I got nothin!!! I am numb, SAD and massively disappointed. I sat there thru 80 minutes, 40 minutes of just pure torture, tag players tackle harder than that. Correct me if I am wrong but isn’t Albert Hopoate a FULLBACK? So why are we persisting with poor old Seb who is never in the right position at the crucial time at fullback. Here is my team! 1.Hopotae 2. Valemei 3. Timoko 4. Kris 5. Rapana 6. Schnieder 7. Fogarty CAPTAIN ( TAKE CONTROL) 8. Saulo 9. Starling 10. Tapine 11. Young 12. CHN 13. Horsburgh….14. Guler 15. Mooney 16. Hola
    17. Whitehead 18. Croker…. Let Papali”i get his leg better and fitter, Let HSS get his confidence back, Stop this 2 Hookers rubbish! If your hooker cant play 80 send him for some fitness training. This in my opinion is the best team we can currently field. Whitehead is no where near his best and would be better used as an impact player now can fillin in the back line if needed, Horsburgh does not play enough minutes, Saulo is a young weapon and deserves his spot every week. I would love to hear your thoughts on this team.


  2. I won’t comment on the second half even though I was there and The Raiders weren’t. The defence was adequate in the First Half. But the attack is a one dimensional mess. Why are The Raiders so slow? Watch Penrith and the Melbourne Storm. Everything is done at top speed. The Raiders appear to be in slow motion. I may be wrong and there’s no way I’m going to watch it again to verify it but I didn’t see one old school run around in the first half. I’ve said it before on here and it’s never been more evident that The Raiders are leaderless both on and off the field. Their attacking play is ad hoc plus 30 seconds.


  3. Another one bites the dust,
    Someone (the coach?) messed with a good machine this year,and turned it into a wreck.
    Zac Woolford has either been out or watching from the sideline.
    Woolford should be playing 80 mins
    Seb Kris go back to the centre’s – Albert Hopoate takes over at FB
    Brad Schneider has to be given a go at 6…
    while he’s still in Canb.
    Oh..and James Schiller has to be on the field or on the bench.
    Last night’s hiding was unnecessary
    there is a good footy team there
    I agree it’s time to drop the 2 hookers thing
    Zac Woolford has to be at 9
    Last night was a Horror movie,but when your lucks not in the harder you try the harder it gets!


  4. Zac Woolford at 9, Schneider at 6, Albert Hopoate to fullback, Chris back on wing and Semei Valamei back at centre, both Rapana and Papali’i to bench for impact.


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