19 weeks in and the raiders find themselves facing their round 1 opponent of 2015, the Sharks. Both sides have had a less than stellar run, losing easy games whilst claiming the scalps of genuine top 8 sides along the way. The Raiders have accounted for Souths and came achingly close to taking down the Cowboys. The Sharks meanwhile have managed to grind it out against the Cowboys, the Bunnies and the Roosters not once but twice.
The Raiders and Sharks sit 10th and 9th respectively, meaning that this should be one of the most balanced games of the round. The Raiders blew out to an early lead and then managed to fend off a sputtering Knights side, whilst the Sharks had their revenge upon the Dragons.
Only two competition points separate these sides (20/18), and with the cut off for the finals probably being at least 28 both teams will be keen to get two steps closer.
Big Three – Raiders
Kurt Baptiste: Once you’ve finished cursing Ricky to the four ends of the earth you can read this: Kurt Baptiste could be a smart move. He’s crafty, can run the ball and could start to poke around once the Shire forwards start to tire out. His inclusion however means that Hodgson will have to reach a new level, and quite possibly play out a full 80. Austin to will need to be more involved in structured play and the completion of sets for position.
David Shillington: Shillo easily outran his peers in the engine room, clocking up 160 metres off of 17 carries. He may be a titan next year but he’s clearly still bleeding green for the time being. His 29 tackles also helped in the Raiders massive defensive workload last round.
Edrick Lee/Jordan Rapana: The two young speedsters have seemingly taken it upon themselves to extract the Raiders from the red zone at the start of every set, and so far have acquitted themselves pretty well, rocketing the ball up or close to the forty and allowing the forwards chance to regroup.
Big Three – Cronulla
Paul Gallen: He may be nearing the end of his NRL shelf life but you get the feeling that Gallen could easily spend another decade running at people in the Super league ala Steve Menzies. His stats are quite frankly ridiculous, including 206 metres off 22 carries against the Dragons.
Andrew Fifita: Even more terrifying than Gallen, Fifita managed to run more metres in less time, a whopping 216 metres off 22 carries in just 56 minutes (Gallen 71 mins) A key cog in the Sharks forward pack, expect tremors when he meets likes of Soliola and Shillo.
Michael Ennis: Ennis is the proverbial pain in the arse, his constant niggling both a curse and a blessing for Sharks fans – if he goes to hard he concedes penalties, but if he nails it he can force costly errors.
You Wot Mate?
Sydney media and their mega boner for Blake Austin – we get it, he can run and has very good support play. Yes, we like him too. However we also recognise that there are at least 16 other players worthy of mention, who unfortunately due to the snobbery of the Sydney lot only ever briefly skim across the media atmosphere before hurtling out into the depths of space underrated and very cold.
The Raiders win a close game, draw level with the Sharks on the ladder and begin the run to the 8 – can they make it? Meanwhile Josh McCrone is picked up by a Sydney club and is hailed as the next big thing…