Last week against the Knights the Raiders took a game they should have won easily and ramped up the degree of difficulty. Against what was basically a NSW cup side, the Raiders proffered the opposition a twenty-two point start, and needed a boomeranged field goal and a freak-of-nature tie-breaking try to finish the job. In Matt Elliot’s words on Grandstand, it was a truckload of luck. Most of the forwards were disgraced, and one of the only ones that wasn’t (Josh Papali) is out this week.
Next Monday the Raiders come up against a North Queensland Cowboys side that will be missing their first-choice halves, their first choice prop combination and a second-rower. And just like last week, they really should win, and win easily.
Forgive us for being worried.
Battle of the Big Boppers
As silly as it sounds, it hard to escape the feeling that some forwards are playing for their (Raiders) careers over the end of this season. Paul Vaughan is the most talented forward the pack and he should be playing representative football. But last week, despite Shannon Boyd leaving with an injury after only 10 minutes, Vaughan was only trusted with 33 minutes by Coach Stuart. He’s sitting on the bench this week, with Boyd and Junior Paulo in the starting roles. Josh Papali’s place on the left edge will be filled by Sia Soliola, who might not be able to match Papali’s power running, but adds ball-playing and defensive line speed.
While the Cowboys will be missing James Tamou and Matt Scott, Jason Taumalolo is one of the most talented and productive forwards in the NRL – in his last start he ran for 155 meters in just 47 minutes of play. Ethan Lowe is also an excellent edge runner. Ben Hannant will play like a professional. The Raiders cannot afford to take this group lightly.
Your cue, Maestro
It seems odd to say the Raiders will probably have the advantage in the halves for this game. The connection between Aidan Sezer and Blake Austin has improved in recent weeks with them spending more time on the same side of the field. The understanding between them, and with Josh Hodgson, has begun to open up space for Jack Wighton to chime in on a more consistent basis. The position of Soliola on the left edge will also open up his ball-playing as an option. It says here that the Raiders will run the outside-in play that Hodgson and Sezer ran last week with Soliola, giving an even bigger hole for Wighton to run through.
Missing out on Thruston and Morgan means advantage Raiders. Lachlan Coote will no doubt take a bigger role in play-making. I reckon Granville is the third best hooker in the game behind Hodgson and Smith. So again, the Raiders cannot afford to take this group lightly.
Put your Back(s) into it
The Raiders backs have been impressive recently. Apart from the obvious (Leipana), the always understated brilliance of Jarrod Croker was critical in both attack and defence last week. Wighton’s form has impressed too.
Missing Justin O’Neil is a big deal for the Cowboys. But it won’t matter if the Raiders don’t aim up in the middle.
It shouldn’t be hard to get this talented roster to fire, but the Raiders haven’t done that yet this season. Paul Green has shown the ability to get his roster to do this. Maybe Sticky could learn from him?
Power of Three
For the Raiders the forwards will be the big deal. Can Vaughan, Fensom and Priest meet the workload of the other forwards?
For the Cowboys Granville, Coote and Taumalolo have a lot of weight to lift without Thurston and his associates.
OK Raiders. This is a game you should win. Do not mess this up.
*prays to Victor*
Raiders by 8