Here it is: The Litmus test.
Can a Raiders squad on the up challenge and conquer a genuine top 4 side down on form? Round 14 sees the Green Machine reach the end of their unprecedented free-to-air tv run with a showdown against a struggling Broncos side at Suncorp. The Raiders have successfully strung together three wins, despite some scares and reshuffles, while the Broncos have dropped their last three games, due to a combination of Origin selection and the mid-year stutters.
The Broncos name a near-full strength squad, the only notable omission being Mccullough at hooker. The Raiders meanwhile have had to play mix and match due to the suspensions of Wighton and Boyd, giving Zac Santo his first taste of 1st grade in green, while Vaughan returns to the run on side in place of Boyd.
The Raiders might be on a three-win streak, but none of those victories have been comprehensive 80 minute efforts, something which will be crucial against Brisbane. Defence will especially be key – if Hunt and Milford are given room to move they will wreak havoc. It falls on the likes of Whitehead, Vaughan and Soliola to lead the way in creating an impenetrable defensive wall.
The Raiders had Manly on the ropes last week before going crazy and letting them back into the match – cool, calm and controlling will be the mantra from Stuart to his charges this time out.
Battle of the Big Boppers
A slightly depleted Raiders pack meets one of the most feared engine rooms around – Thaiday, Blair and McGuire will be tough to contain, and will prove a proper challenge for the likes of Vaughan, Papali and newcomer Paulo. If the Raiders can contain the Broncos forwards they’ll go a long way to hampering Hunt and Milfords’ staging space.
As usual expect Whitehead to be a tackling machine, with Bateman at lock and the youthful power of Tapine coming off the bench.
Your cue, Maestro
There were encouraging signs of life from the Raiders halves against Manly. While Austin did go missing during that dire final 25 minutes Sezer demonstrated some necessary skills, including his pin-point cross field chip for Wighton’s try. Aerial raids may not prove all that effective against the Broncos – Corey Oates is a form winger who towers over the opposition, a natural bomb-defusing expert. What the Raiders really need this time out is cunning passing, and perhaps a 40/20 or two courtesy of Hodgson.
Put your Back(s) into it
The Canberra backline was on form again last round, until the constant tries lead to a case of the silly buggers – Rapana in particular losing the plot a bit. Croker was a calming factor on his side, but BJ and Jordy need to control their excitement and help get the side to the end of sets in good position rather than chance it all on razzle-dazzle plays. Brenko once again fills in for Eddy (hammy), so he and Santo could benefit from some cool examples from the other three.
Ricky was not overly pleased with the final 25 of the Manly game, and neither were the fans. He’ll be asking for properly completed sets, strong defence and minimal handling errors – no biggie.
Wayne Bennett has entered genuine senior citizen mode and now just complains about anything that doesn’t suit his agenda. Jerk.
Power of Three
I’ve scrapped player bingo in favour of this new format – I’ll just name three key players for each side.
Raiders – Vaughan, Leilua & Soliola
Broncos – Milford, Oates & Thaiday
It’s been an OK run Raiders fans, but you just get the feeling that this round may be the reality check the Green Machine need heading into the back-end of the year – no more coasting through games with electric attack and average opponents. The Raiders have the squad potential to be a real team, it just requires 80 minutes of concentration each week. That said, it would be delicious to see the Broncos losing streak extend to 4.
Raiders by 4!