To say this was a good victory would be a lie. Although the 34-18 score-line suggested the Raiders put together some good patches of play, what really occurred was the abject surrender of the Penrith Panthers ruck defence. Good players on each side of the field got injured, and the game turned into a battle of two degenerate ‘spoon’ teams. The Raiders ended up on the right side of the score but that should be little solace to Raiders fans.
It was clear early on that two things were going to happen this game. The Panthers were going to attack the Raiders right edge defence, and the Raiders were going to attack the Panthers around the ruck. The Panthers seemed to have the best of the running in the first five minutes, sending their attacking exclusively at Blake Austin and Brenko Lee on the right. The Raiders defence held, but hardly seemed rock solid in the face of some fairly side-to-side work by the Panthers.
When the Raiders got the ball, it became obvious just how poor the Panthers defence was.
The halves had the best of it early. After having been shut down for the best part of a month by teams too disciplined to let him get away with his patented inside-step-and-go move, Blake Austin suddenly found himself in space again. He found life much easier against a defence that provided him the leeway to run, graciously accepting the dummies he threw as genuine. Sam Williams also proved willing to run the ball, and scored in the 8th minute when James Segeyaro simply forgot to tackle him. Williams repeated the dose moments later when he scooted out of dummy half unmarked, found Edrick Lee in support who made a patient, and excellent, pass to Jarrod Croker who scored the Raiders’ second soft try for the night. Lee would set up a try for Sisa Waqa later in the game when the Panthers defence opened up like the Red Sea.
Faced with a defence that was showing no interest in performing in the Canberra cold, Josh Hodgson repeatedly probed around the ruck, with great success. In performing the hard-work the Raiders found it easy, Hodgson finding the space for the forwards to make metres. Vaughan (14 runs for 134m), Boyd (14 for 134m) and Papali (12 for 114m) did the most damage. Closer to the line Hodgson simply lined up forwards on the outside shoulders of defenders, sending Kennedy over to Koroisau’s right, and then Fensom over to Cartwright’s left. Both tries came from good work by Hodgson, but even worse defence from the Panthers. Baptiste decided to get in on the act in the second half, putting the game away by running in from dummy-half while no fewer than five Panthers defenders stood on and observed dispassionately.
The Raiders defence was hardly impregnable. Jack Wighton was outmuscled by diminutive Segeyaro for the Panthers first try. Their second came from exploiting an overlap. They continued to attack the Raiders right edge, even with the absence of Austin. Hodgson, forced into defending on the edge instead of the middle by the Austin injury, was simply run around by Will Smith, much as Austin had been by Cartwright earlier in the game. Smith did what Cartwright couldn’t and used his pace and a good step to get around Wighton to score.
There is little for the Raiders to take away from this game. The lack of quality of the opposition was grating, and made the game difficult to watch. But after weeks of watching the Raiders come close but lose, most fans would take a victory. No matter how awful the spectacle.