Picking up the inches


There’s no denying it.

However they got there, whatever hurdles of fortune they’ve jumped to land there, the Canberra Raiders are in a purple patch. Five on the trot in this competition is a not just a streak. It’s a feat of strength. An achievement worth acknowledgement. Evidence that finals is now more than a twinkle in the eye of your father. The Raiders may not be perfect but man they’re picking up points. And this early in the year isn’t that all that matters?

It’s such a vast distance from where they were right before this streak. Back then we said all they had left was shame. Now they’ve pulled together five on the trot, sitting in the eight and in equal third. But despite how far they’ve come their position is still precarious – on wins and losses they’re as close to 13th as third. Building this season can’t stop now. This is the challenge. When you’re already picked up five in a row how do you keep improving?

Canberra have done a lot of good things recently. Tapine, Papa and Horsburgh have emerged as Cerberus, god of the footy underworld, terrorising even good packs with a mixture of fast feet, powerful legs and increasingly impressive passing and interplay. The backline have added a bit of razzle dazzle to their play with sweeping movements and structured footy that looks cohesive and deliberate. MATT FUCKING TIMOKO. Through this win streak the attack has averaged 26 points a game. The five games before that it was 14. That improvement is being driven by better ideas, execution and cohesion up and down the line. Defensively they’ve been aggressive, if not perfect.

In short right now things are looking good. But the thing is despite winning five on the trot the Raiders have so much improvement in them. Normally a good streak would involve a few big wins. Instead Canberra have preciously balanced confidence and insanity well enough to stay on the right side of the ledger. If they want to keep the good times Jim Murphying they still need to improve.

Offensive improvement has been the difference between winnings and losing. The repertoire grows every week, but it’s from a low base. These movements still can get caught by slow service from the ruck, imperfect passes from the key playmakers and tough choices for Seb Kris between throwing difficult passes and playing it safe.

What looked like a potentially decent defence early in the season has proven to be stilted, largely due to a continuing inability to clean up kicks, and avoid errors by their edge defenders. Canberra aren’t getting beaten up the chops. Teams are taking every opportunity to put Timoko and Elliott Whitehead on the right, and Jarrod Croker, Jack Wighton and whoever is the left wing in positions where they *must* make tackles. They’ve not always succeeded.

They must fix these issues. The good news is they are making headway. The structured play looks more cohesive each week. Every time Kris catches a ball as the second-man he looks a more comfortable and more threatening part of the offence. Hudson Young has even found himself hitting holes more often instead of having to maintain his personal space by deploying his Thanos mit. Jack and Jamal look more and more in control of what they are doing, almost like they’re operating with a plan. It’s hardly the 94 Raiders, the 2001 Eels or the Raiders against the Tigers at Leichardt but it’s a start. Just a start though.

Defensively there’s work to be done, but again they’re finding fixes. Indeed on the edges the expansive defensive zones that both Wighton and Young are capable of are often covering for imperfect contact elsewhere. Whitehead is working hard on the right to help Timoko, and the young man’s enthusiasm and willingness to work is plain to see. Additionally the middles seem both aware and able to help inside-out. But it’s a problem that the Raiders will need to continue to work at if they want to keep streaking.

Improving is the fun bit (well, apart from the winning). These minor things can be cleared up and maybe the Milk can keep adding points to their tally. It’s too early to get too excited but winning sure beats losing. Bank those points and keep improving. Pick up all the inches. Hopefully when it comes to count the Raiders are there and ready.

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