Just who are these Canberra Raiders?
In one corner we have the Canberra Raiders. They have won four on the trot and are on a roll and are sitting in the 8 for the first time all year. For the first time ever they’ve shown nerve and grit in tight games and have finally started to look like a team that can run a functioning offence. Corey Horsburgh is like Atlas holding the world on his shoulders except it’s tacklers. Matt Timoko is yet to meet a brick wall he can’t run through. The spine is finally on control, no matter which mix of them is on the field. They are primed for launch into the stratosphere, take over the league and send Jack Wighton to Sydney with a premiership medal in his rucksack.
In the other corner we have the Canberra Raiders. They have somehow won their last four games by a combined 15 points and four different heart-attacks. They have the Pythagorean win expectancy of a team that will win somewhere around 8 to 9 games for the season (per the Maroon Observer, a very good Queensland rugby league newsletter you should subscribe to). They’re Ben Hunt not throwing a face ball, a Hudson Young maybe knock on, and Jordy Rapana being the only person on earth ballsy enough to catch a Matt Burton bomb, from being two and eight and on the bottom of the ladder with the Wests Tigers.
The gross, way too ‘both sides’ take is here is that it’s somewhere in the middle, if only because your humble author has built two straw men with such precision you could force him inside and sacrifice him to the gods to ensure a good harvest (anyone seen 1973’s Wicker Man? No? It’s only 50 years old? Ok might update the reference). But let’s embrace the idea nonetheless. The Raiders aren’t a bad team, and have even had moments in the last four weeks where they have looked downright good. Their attack against the Dolphins and Dogs, while driven by friendly defence, suggested a bye week put to good use. They’ve shown an impressive degree of resilience more generally, especially in the face of a degree of off-field turmoil.
But there’s still to much give in this team. 4 tries from kicks in one game is crazy stuff, and while there was extenuating circumstances (it’s fair to say two required bounces that weren’t so much friendly for the Bulldogs as giving them a treat, a tummy rub and a warm spot by the fire) but they revealed a back three that still haven’t perfected their positioning. The goal-line defence feels as robust as the situation of someone having just ordered “extra ice” with their drink in the Titanic ballroom. Elliott Whitehead has been schooled two weeks in a row by more mobile up-and-coming backrowers (hold Simba up, it’s the circle of life). The left side defence is currently functioning because a player who’s body was so broken the coach asked him to retire is doing a job the supposed next generation of stars couldn’t handle.
The truth to me is Canberra have to get better. That’s hardly advanced projectile mechanics but it is still important to say. The team that has won four on the trot has glaring holes that need fixing. They’ve potentially fixed a couple recently on the attacking side, so that at least suggests they’re thinking about how to get better but it was against the two of the worst defences (in terms of points per game) in the competition. The defense, which is robust through the middle except at the pointy-end, seemed pretty functional early. It’s now a handbrake on progress. To quote M Night Shyalayman and Robot Chicken, what a twist! Game management issues have been glossed over by moments of madness (Jack Wighton’s pass against the Dragons) and brilliance (Hudson Young’s multiple one-on-one strips).
Coming up is a three week period in which we’ll get a very good idea of where they’re at. Eels (H), Manly (H), Souths (A) all present formidable matchups. Waiting on the other side of those three is a Tigers team that is better than the hysterical old rugby league media would have you believe. If Canberra is serious about staying in the eight they need to find two wins or better from these four games. The Eels will be as desperate as they come after losing Mitch Moses and and the game at Magic Round. Souths are just behind the Panthers as competition favourite and in much better form. Manly aren’t but better vintages of the Raiders have struggled with that team (with notable exceptions like last year’s demolishing of a Sea-Eagles team in freefall).
Call it a test. Call it an opportunity. Call it a lesson over a four week period. Canberra have somehow repaired a ship that wasn’t just taking on water but had become more tide pool than boat. Now we get to see just how good a job was done.
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Where else can i read about the Raiders AND get my Nicolas Cage or Princess Bride references at the same place? Every one a gem!
No one would say Ricky isn’t a capable coach
He’s like a kid with those square wooden blocks and that pegboard with the round holes,
The round blocks are in front of him…but he’s convinced he can make those square ones fit if he keeps jamming them in.
So painful to watch