The Raiders returned to GIO Stadium after a tough road trip to take on a Bulldogs side scrambling to deal with an Origin late call-up. While many would’ve been buoyed by the Raiders success across the ditch it was clearly a win that came more from the Warriors ineptitude rather than a solid 80 minutes by the Green Machine.A solid 80 was definitely in required against the Dogs, but sadly the Raiders decided to stop trying approximately three sets into the first half, quickly allowing Canterbury to take control of the game. Luckily for the Green Machine the Dogs were on a Benny Hill bender, with some truly comical ball play close to the line. However they were quick to score once they found rhythm, blowing out to a 10-0 lead with little effort.
The Raiders hit back, first through a Leilua/Rapana combo on the right after a cross field shift, Leilua’s flick pass making it all too easy for Rapana to score. The visitors returned fire, bumping the score up to 14-4. Leilua grabbed a try for himself minutes before the break to make it respectable, but it was clear they still had an uphill battle on their hands.
Things didn’t get better straight away, with Mbye making everyone in green look totally stupid with a massive hot-stepper to stroll into the in-goal and plant the Steeden for 4.
The raiders looked to be under the pump, and then it happened: Kurt Baptiste joined the game. Hodgson stayed on. And from there the Raiders suddenly found a massive amount of go-forward, with Baptiste constantly darting out of dummy half and Hodgson taking up a more halves-type role. A side which had looked unenthused and outgunned roared into life.
While the Bulldogs were killing it on the offload front the Raiders finally found the forward button and promptly smashed it into oblivion – Leilua, Lee, Rapana and Bateman all began charging it up, Leilua doing his usually shtick of rebounding out of tackles into open space (the burger ban is amazing). Croker was immense, making solid tackles and two crucial and above all, intelligent breaks. His first one he got blocked by Graham, but it eventually lead to Leilua scoring on the other side of the field. His second one was the securing of the loose ball to travel 90 metres AND then take the tackle, allowing play to continue and Tapine to easily stroll over.
Wighton, who had suffered an altogether average first half was reborn in the second forty. Rather than put himself under more pressure with bomb defusal he focused on defence (smashing Perrett) and proper kick-return attack, his sighting of the weak fringe defence and subsequent pass putting Lee through for a long range try.
The addition of Baptiste essentially created a 5 man spine, which suddenly allowed the Raiders creative squad to spread themselves across the greater ruck. With Baptiste feeding it from dummy Hodgson had room to move, and run, which ignited the forwards. The Bulldogs found themselves back-pedalling, with the Raiders consistently marching down the field and into the Dogs 20 metre danger zone.
To cut my insane rambling short, if the Raiders can replicate the 2nd half into a full 80 minutes against Manly and beyond they can go a long way come finals time. Fringe defence is still an issue, as is confidence and spine integration, but heck, all we want is a solid 80 week in, week out.