It’s now round 11 in the NRL 2023 season and the Raiders find themselves in a somewhat odd space – they’ve won four games in a row (punctuated by a bye) but still sit just outside the top 8 due to a negative points differential (almost all of which can be attributed to their round 5 loss to Penrith).
If you were to look at these stats you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Milk are a team surging just like the Bunnies are, but there’s something different going on in the nation’s capital. Canberra certainly had form when they upset the Broncos in round 6, but the three following victories ended up being close fought affairs, with two of those ending with the Raiders just managing to stave off a fast finishing opposition (the Dragons are a legit basket case right now).
You can just feel the Raiders itching to break free of these small margin wins and really unleash something on the competition. They got away from the Dolphins and Bulldogs early on, but both sides reeled it back in before losing to Canberra (side bar – there have been very few genuine floggings this year and conversely a lot of teams being run down for close finishes). There has to come a time when the Raiders pile it on in the first half AND THEN keep adding the points in the second half.
That could happen this week. The Raiders return home to host the hapless Parramatta Eels, who lost Mitch Moses to the dreaded 11 day stand down protocol after he picked up a head knock late in the final game of Magic round. Moses joins RCG in the stands for this game. This means that the Eels will be relying on a combination of Hodgson, Brown and Arthur to steer them around the park. Given that Hodgson plays limited minutes right now that puts a lot of onus on Brown and Arthur.
We’ve already discussed the Eels major change above so let’s drill down into Canberra’s lineup. A lot of people seem somewhat put out that Savage has dropped back to NSWcup, with Albert Hopoate slotting back into the wing spot after he stepped aside for a family event last round. This is, in my humble opinion, a sensible choice. Hoppa has been pretty consistent so far this year and demonstrates an in-game level-headedness not yet apparent in Savage. For those of you hoping that Savage might get to pivot back into the #1 jersey you may have to wait a while – Seb Kris may not be a genuine fullback but he has a 10kg advantage over X and can make good post contact gains on kick returns, something the youngster still has trouble with.
Ata Mariota holds onto his bench spot for another week, with CHN consigned to reserve grade for another round for the crime of *checks notes* “not playing enough minutes off the bench?” Sticky certainly moves in mysterious ways.
Corey Horsburgh vs J’maine Hopgood. Hooo boy. Two in-form lock forwards go toe-to-toe in what could be one of the positional battles of the round. Horse has ascended to another plane of footy over the last few rounds, busting out some whopping post contact carries whilst also providing crisp hands in attack along with brutal defence. Hopgood has likewise been a revelation at the Eels, putting in a lot of bustling yardage through the middle of the field to help get Parramatta into striking range.
Canberra and Parramatta are two sides of the same coin – close losses (the Eels flogging the Knights is an anomaly). The Raiders have found a way to eke out tight wins while the Eels continually find new ways to let victory slip through their fingers. Neither side is truly in red hot form but the Raiders at least have a little bit of confidence under their belts. If the forwards can make space look for early promotion of the ball to get at the Eels edges much like the Titans did last week.
Raiders by more than a heart attack!
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