It’s appropriate that the Canberra Raiders and the Wests Tigers meet this weekend.
27 years after what many consider one of the greatest premiership deciders ever, the Raiders host the Tigers int he annual celebration of that game. The Raiders find themselves in effectively the same hole they found themselves after 50 minutes of the 1989 decider. On that hallowed day they were down 12-2 , and things looked bleak. The Raiders had given their all and come up with nothing, and only a true Raiders fan would have thought they could come back from there. But as we all remember first it was Belcher, and then it was Ferguson. Then Chris O’Sullivan’s calmly slotted field goal and finally Steve Jackson dragging half of Balmain with him from five metres out. That depths of despair became just part of the narrative of triumph for the Raiders. When the chips were down, they dug deep, and we all remember them for it.
The chips are very much down for the Raiders right now. The stack, plump not but two weeks ago, now resembles Donald Trump’s IQ. After crushing the Bulldogs a couple of Monday’s ago, they’ve submitted consecutive stinkers, missing 20 and 39 tackles, been steamrolled through the middle, abused on the edges and found it nearly impossible to put points on the scoreboard. Sure they’ve played two sides that will likely end the season in the mix, but given we’d harbored ambitions that they might find themselves in a similar location at the end of the season, this is not an excuse. The first loss against the Eels could be forgiven because of the short turnaround. But when that same performance comes after a full week break? That’s a bad sign.
Battle of the Big Boppers
To say the Raiders forwards were patchy is an understatement. The Raiders resembled a Highland Kilt last week, the good moments of carrying the ball forward (particularly Vaughan and Boyd) equally matched by the reluctance to prevent the Shark’s forwards from doing the same. They meet a less formidable opponent this week, particular given they are missing their prime bopper in Aaron Woods. Grant, Lawrence, Halatau and Sironen are all serviceable, but Vaughan and Papali should be in the conversation for representative football this year. The Raiders have to prove they can dominate a pack like this.
Your Cue Maestro
The young Tigers pair of Brooks and Moses continue to improve and suffered heartbreak when Moses (right, it was Moses? I can’t tell them apart) managed to slice what should have been the winning field goal rightwards. They continue to improve and showed some very impressive set-plays when both located on the same side to attack the defence’s left edge. James Tedesco is in career-best form and slotting into these set-plays, as well as around the ruck.
Here’s hoping Sam Williams performs better than last week. Perhaps due to the lack of time with the main squad before Austin’s late withdrawal last week, Williams was barely sighted outside of his admittedly well-placed grubber for Sezer’s try. The Raiders managed to get little going in the way of set plays on either side of the ruck, and when they did the passes weren’t crisp. They can’t continue to rely on Josh Hodgson’s work around the ruck. They need more effective forays wide.
The Raiders have named an 82 man bench. I’m disappointed Tyrone Smith didn’t get a recall but then again we all have our favourites. Clay Priest (Mounties prop), Jarryd Kennedy and Mitch Barnett are all on that bench and it is likely Ricky Stuart just giving a warning to his middle men. From our view Barnett has the most potential, but we’ve never knowingly watched Priest play.
The Raiders can’t blame personnel for lacklustre play anymore. Blake Austin misses again this week, but Sam Williams should be an able replacement. Sia Soliola and Jeff Lima will be out for a while, but Luke Bateman and Joseph Tapine have proven capable – Tapine in particular. Josh Hodgson’s thumb, knee and ankle and hopefully all feeling better.
For the Tigers, Aaron Woods is still missing. Robbie Farah is now back as the full time dummy-half, and I sneakily am hoping that Jason Taylor will go back to picking three hookers where one will suffice.
Lucky Number Player Bingo
#9 Josh Hodgson
He was uncharacteristically ‘only’ good last week. The Raiders need better than good right now.
There’s two ways to look at things. Either the Raiders just got the kick up the bum they needed, or things are going to not be pretty going forward. Today I’m going to channel 1989 and go with my heart instead of my head.
Raiders by 5…..19-14.
 Top 5 of my era: 1989, 2015, 2003, 1997 (ARL), 1991
 10 points was a lot back in the day, what with the 5 yard rule, the less sophisticated attacking organisation and the fact that the ball was made of concrete.
 Why are the pretty ones always so stupid?
 Sneaky bit of history for you – invented by an English tailor and popularised by the ruling English as a mechanism of regimenting the populace for colonial domination. Read some Hobsbawn yo.
 I mean I’ve watched a bunch of Mounties. He’s just never registered.
 I say ‘should be’ because last week he wasn’t.