When Jordan Rapana crossed in the right corner to cement the Raiders biggest ever comeback, Andrew Voss remarked “the day started as a nightmare; it may end up as a dream.” But in reality, the Raiders display against the Tigers continued to display their depressing limitations. Even in victory, there was nothing to suggest that the Raiders had overcome their weaknesses.
In taking a 22 point lead the Tigers demonstrated they were capable of watching film. After Rapana’s error on the Raiders’ second tackle of the game, the Tigers scored by exploiting the ever-present crevasse that exists in the Raiders right side defence. The Tigers were then helped out their own half by a penalty from the Raiders, and then made another break through the Raiders’ right, only for Austin to make an excellent covering tackle. A penalty followed and the Tigers went in again after Tilse overcompensated to protect the right, allowing Keith Galloway to stroll in unmolested.
The Raiders found themselves down 12-0, having had two carries in the first 8 minutes, compared to the Tigers five sets with the ball. The Tigers were routinely making 70 metres on each set and Aaron Woods was running unabated as Jesse Bromwich did last week. They weren’t tackled in the opposition half until Croker made a half break down the left in the 12th minute. In the 20th and 25th minutes the Tigers exploited the right side defence again.
The right side defence, and costly handling errors. It could have been any game this season. The nightmare was in full swing.
The comeback started almost by accident. The Raiders picked up two tries against the run of the play: Boyd barging over when the ball hit the ground in attack, and then Croker making an exceptional catch of a good kick from Austin to bring the Raiders within range. The attack in the back-end of the first half and the beginning of the second only came from replacement hooker Kurt Baptise, who probed well around the ruck. Baptiste’s deceptive ball-play out of dummy-half put Frank-Paul Nuuausala over early in the second half and suddenly the Raiders were within four points despite having played frankly awful up until that point. They should have gone ahead when Austin decided to dummy and go himself rather than pass the ball to an open Rapana.
When the defence held out for three sets on the line around the 60th minute even the most pessimistic Raiders’ fan (i.e. your humble author) started to believe. And when Williams and Wighton finally connected, all of a sudden the Raiders were in front. A clutch kick from Croker, a correct but controversial no-try ruling against the Tigers, the ‘cherry-on-the-top’ try for Rapana and the Raiders had a miraculous victory.
But let’s not get carried away. Yes the forwards, particularly Vaughan and Papali (particularly in the second half), were excellent. Baptiste provided creative play around the ruck, and when he returned in the second half, Hodgson was excellent in guiding the side around the park. Wighton also did an excellent job in the first half defusing bombs, as the efforts of Tedesco showed the difficulties with the swirling ball. Croker also provided excellent attack as always on the left, displaying his impressive ability to break the line even when it seems like nothing is on. He also nailed an clutch penalty from more than forty metres out.
But that’s where the positives end. Williams and Austin had the worst game as a pairing. Williams was particularly void of ideas when on the left by himself, unable to manufacture anything that resembled a threatening attack. His lone highlight was the admittedly perfect pass that set up Wighton’s try, and his usually exceptional kicking game was awful. One wonders if Stuart will show him the patience he failed to extend to Mitchell Cornish. Austin has yet to prove he can be a consistent playmaker. Lee and Waqa were both abominable – Lee looking like someone still learning the game and Waqa making uncharacteristic errors, including throwing the ball away early in the game when the Raiders needed it most.That the most potent attack came from the replacement hooker (Baptiste) and the forwards is not a good sign. That the starting dummy-half (Hodgson) was the only ball-player capable of kicking intelligently to space at the back of the game should be a great concern. The defence, around the ruck and on the right, particularly early on, was awful.
The Tigers’ helped the Raiders too. Their defence was abhorrent, and their attack seemed confused when the right side of the Raider’s defence tightened in the second half. Farrah did nothing but complain and New South Wales fans must be concerned if he is considered for representative duties this year. Moses and Brooks showed they have potential but were the focus of the Raiders attack on each side of the ruck.
That the Raiders came back from 22 down is impressive but says as much about the quality of opposition they faced. Next week a display like that of the first 25 minutes on Sunday will put the Raiders out of the game. But moreso, a display like the last 55 minutes won’t win them many games either.