Well that was fun wasn’t it? For 80 minutes of footballing perfection, the Raiders outdid everyone’s expectations – even most supporters – and put a proper hurting on the Tigers. But alas, despite the desire to bask in the glow of such a moment forever, the Canberra Raiders embark now on a three-game road-trip, one which will likely define their season. All three games are winnable, and if the Raiders are serious about playing deep into finals footy this year, they can ill afford to slip up.
This time they’ll be up against a much improved Penrith Panthers. The Mountain Men will be keen to atone for last week’s moral victory (i.e. devastating loss) to the Cronulla Sharks. As such motivation will be no problem for them. They’ve proven themselves much better than the side the Raiders beat in the first week of the competition.
This game is being played in Bathurst because the Panthers decided that Penrith was just too easy to get to.
Battle of the Big Boppers
My god I love Paul Vaughan. He was destructive early, and was the prime beneficiary of Hodgson’s creative service. It’s amazing how consistently he finds his stomach and a quick play the ball. With Shannon Boyd they form a dynamic 1-2 punch early in games. I can’t wait for Sia Soliola to return to provide further punch off the bench (or hell, starting. He’s still good enough). In the meantime we get to see what we have in young Luke Bateman and old Clay Priest (seriously, apparently he’s 27).
The Panthers have an excellent pack, led by Campbell-Gillard and Trent Merrin. They both perfumed excellently against the Raiders earlier in the year.
Your Cue Maestro
Sitting in Bay 71 on Saturday night, you may have seen a man rejoicing like a lunatic at the play of Josh Hodgson. That was me. It was awkward for all around me. To be fair to me, it was actually the first time I’d seen him play in person and he put on a show. In our write up we said three try assists because that’s what the NRL said. But in reality it was at least four, if not five or six. Basically if the Raiders scored in the first 56 minutes (and good god did they) Hodgson started it.
The curious thing about this was it meant that our halves were pretty quiet. They didn’t play poorly – there was just nothing for them to do. Blake Austin could be back this weekend, and it should be interesting to see if he and Aidan Sezer can ever actually establish themselves as a partnership. Here’s hoping Hodgson continues to play so well they never have to. Sam Williams remains the half named alongside Sezer though, and his solid, if unspectacular play makes him the hero of accountants everywhere.
The major changes the Raiders have to deal with in terms of playmaking is the return of Matt Moylan around the Panthers ruck. Playing out of fullback he is the epitome of the secondary ball-player that the Raiders hope Jack Wighton can become. Peter Wallace has also been excellent as a make-shift dummy-half this year, proving creative around the ruck and tough as nails in defence. He’s been named in the halves for this week, with James Segeyaro returning to the starting lineup. Presumably Penrith want to try and use Segeyaro’s speed around the ruck to take advantage of the Raiders’ big forwards. His appalling defence might also provide space for Hodgson to operate.
The Raiders have named an extended bench again, primarily it seems to spare Frank-Paul Nuuausala the indignity of actually playing in Mounties. Clay Priest and Luke Bateman did enough to keep Frank-Paul out of the squad for the weekend, even if it was against the wafer-thin defence of the Tigers. Nuuausala might also be cover for Joseph Tapine, who left last week with an injury, but apparently could have returned if needed.
Lucky Number Player Bingo
#7 Aidan Sezer
With renewed attention likely to be directed towards Josh Hodgson, Sezer will need to take a lot of creative control for the Raiders.
It’s hard to work out how much to take from last week’s victory. Were the Tigers that awful, or were we that good? My reading is that Jason Taylor will be sacked by weeks end, so maybe we won’t be so successful this weekend. Call me pessimistic but I’ll wait to see it done a few weeks in a row before I allow my head to follow my heart.
Panthers by 8.
 I don’t live in Canberra so chill out