The NRL goes into semi hibernation mode this weekend with half the sides sitting out, Origin looming on the horizon. With not a single Raiders player drafted for the interstate biff it gives the Green Machine a prime opportunity to secure more wins to bolster their top 8 standing. The Dogs meanwhile are without Hodkinson, Klemmer, J-Mo, and Jackson and James Graham, with all but Graham suiting up in sky blue.
This however does not diminish the Dogs monster pack: Tolman, Frank the Tank, Beastwood, Kasiano and T-Rex combine as a formidable group, and the Raiders will have their work cut out keeping the Dogs pinned down. Conversely the Dogs need to keep their eye on a forward group which is firmly gelling into a cohesive unit. Fensom is equal to Jackson in every way, and Boyd, Shillo and FPN can match the Doggies for size and strength. If the Raiders can get outside the big men then the likes of Soliola and Papa can terrorise on the fringes. The Raiders will have a fine defensive line to tread: they need to work as one to maintain a defensive wall, but at the same time they need to pressure the Dogs and hopefully produce errors through frustration. The Dogs pack are renowned off loaders, and will need to be kept in check.
The backs, however, are a different matter. While the Dogs have a more than competent line up you get the feeling that the Raiders may have more attacking spark. Wighton needs to involve himself fully in this game, as the Dragons essentially drowned him out last weekend with well-timed bombs. If space can be created expect the likes of Waqa, Lee and Croker to find space.
Big Three – Raiders
Shannon Boyd: I try not to pick the same Raiders week in and week out, but Boyd is a freaking walking totem pole. His effort to score against the Dragons lead to me coining the term “clutch try scorer”, such is his ability to not just score tries but tries that seem to morally boost the side more than most.
David Shillington: Shillo appeared somewhat undercooked last round, and he’ll need to be 100% to combat the Monstars. Raiders fans would undoubtedly love to see Origin Shillo rather than Mounties Shillo. Fingers crossed.
Playmaker Quartet: Don’t worry, the Raiders haven’t signed some unknown dude with a freaky NFL type name. Hodgson, Cornish, Austin and Baptiste were shown what’s what last time out by the Dragons spine, and they need to show a bit more creativity in attack. The Dragons read Austin’s runs every time, and of the other three Baptiste seemed to be the most energetic. If Cornish wants to retain his first grade spot he’ll need to demonstrate some uncanny playmaking skills.
Big Three – Bulldog
Aiden Tolman: Tolman ran/tackled his legs off in the loss against the Roosters – 18 runs for 145 and 46 tackles with only two ineffective. Expect him to be instrumental in leading the dogs forward.
Michael Lichaa: With 49 tackles Lichaa is quite obviously the other half of the Dogs tackling engine. If he can bolster his 3 scoots for 25 metres from dummy half he’ll be very valuable on Sunday.
Sam Perrett: It’s a case of wisdom vs youth when Perrett faces off against Wighton. Perrett has the experience to not only take catches under pressure but to then also gain some much needed metres, something that was dearly lacking in Wighton’s game last weekend.
You Wot Mate?
NRL.com for calling out Waqa and Croker. Croker especially doesn’t deserve it, and one can’t help but feel if his no-try had gone the other way I wouldn’t be writing this sentence. If the Raiders can find space expect these two to fire up.
Fun fact: The Raiders are the points scoring machine of the NRL, with Croker on top as an individual. The Green Machine sit neck and neck with the Cowboys on 39 tries.
The Raiders spine clicks into gear and causes havoc, tiring out the big Dogs. McCrone has finally made his way home, living off dried Buttriss jerky, and now resides underneath GIO stadium playing a battered church organ.