The Canberra Raiders face but one test before the season starts in March, and it is comprised solely of 80 minutes of football against the Newcastle Knights at Seiffert Oval (Queanbeyan) this Saturday evening.
Per trial game rules Sticky has named absolutely anyone he can see in a green jersey, and the list can be found here. The notable omission is of course captain Jarrod Croker, whom we all hope will be right to return around week 4 of the season (the people running around screaming doom and gloom need to get a grip).
Trial games are a funny thing – they have almost zero relevance to the following season, but you do still get some enjoyment from knowing that your side can start the year with a non-competition win under their belt.
Trial games are basically a way for coaches (and fans) to gauge which 2nd tier players are ready for promotion to the big leagues – cracking the Raiders 1st grade will a massive task for all those under the top 25 in 2017.
We’ve already had a taste of what some of the youngsters can offer by way of the Auckland 9’s comp, but this trial game offers a chance to see how they operate in a properly numbered side, rather than playing twenty minutes of tackling Oz Tag (no offence to Oz Tag and Touch, which are both rad games).
Saturdays affair may be somewhat lopsided, as the Newcastle Knight’s 1st grade side is pretty much a mish mash of their best NSWCUP and NYC players. Still, they have managed to make some decent buys in the last 6 months, notably their mid 2016 acquisition of Mitch Barnett (Raiders) and Jamie Buhrer (Sea Eagles). Real questions remain why they haven’t they made a bid for Shaun Fensom yet!
PACK IT IN!
You gotta feel a bit sorry for the Novocastrians, as they come up against one of the most formidable forward packs in the NRL: Paulo, Papalii, Tapine, Boyd, Bateman, Soliola, Priest, Lima, Whitehead and Taylor. You can argue that Taylor is still an unknown quantity, but given the effect that sudden weight loss and fitness gain had on Leilua, you can only assume that he’ll be better than he was when the Titans dropped him.
Boyd and Whitehead both starred for their nations during the off season and somehow the poor Knights have to deal with the fact that Paulo is suspended for round 1 but not this game (Buhrer is probably very displeased).
As we’ve written before the Raiders have dominated when their forwards go forward, and if Sticky sends out any notable amount of 1st string boppers simultaneously expect the Knights to feel the pain as they try and arrest their momentum.
For the Knights forwards it’s simple – knuckle down and make those tackles, hold the line around the ruck and play simple controlled footy up the middle. If they try and get fancy the Raiders will undoubtedly find a way to exploit a very young team. Barnett will undoubtedly lead the charge, and Buhrer should provide some much needed calm and experience.
TWO HALVES, ONE ENTITY
It is reasonable to argue that Raiders fans are still waiting for Sezer and Austin to fully deliver on the responsibilities of their respective roles. After a rocky start to 2016 they found some form of combination, but we all quietly know that they can reach that next level of 6 & 7 symbiotic intuition.
You could be forgiven for thinking that they didn’t make it to the Auckland 9’s, such was their game time, so the outcomes of their off season remain for now a mystery.
Can Austin kick better? Will Sezer take more control? If they have improved in these areas, and others, expect the Green Machine to an even more lethal try scoring operation.
The Knights… Poor old Trent Hodkinson must wonder what he did wrong to end up stuck in the Hunter, partnered by some kid named Brock Lamb after his 1st rung five eighth failed a drugs test (Mullen or Mullin’ up?). These two, like their forwards, need to follow a very basic plan. The Knights need a good run of consistency, and if that means their halves orchestrating sound but very vanilla plays then so be it.
RAKING IT IN
Danny Levi is the Knights hooker on Saturday. He has many achievements on his Wikipedia page, and looks as though he has the requisite skills to go on to be a good journeyman 9 in the NRL.
Danny Levi is not Josh Hodgson, which is unfortunate for both Danny Levi and the Knights.
THE FURIOUS AND FAST FIVE
Even with Toots the II sidelined the Raiders backline remains a force of speed and strength. Wighton had a few wobbly moments in the Allstars game, but once again that particular event is a poor barometer for performance during the season regular. Rapana continued his try scoring during the rep season, while BJ has been conspicuous in his absence (no Burgers!). Speculation about Eddy Lee has once again surfaced, which is mainly weird as he remains the best choice for his position until another player can demonstrate that they are, in fact, better than him. The only question then is who gets the coveted centre spot inside Eddy? Cotric, or Turner?
Either way the Raiders will once again find themselves overloaded with speed on the wings, which could make for a horror 80 minutes if the Knights can’t maintain fringe defence.
The Knights have Ross, P. Mata’utia, Gagai, Sio and Phythian at their disposal. Ross impressed on several occasions in 2016, but these five will need to be at their absolute best if they dream of stopping the Green Machine.
The Knights came dangerously close to beating the Raiders twice last year, and did in fact hold them to a draw the first time round. However the Raiders of round 3 2016 are much different team to the Raiders of now (in a good way) while the Knights have pretty much spent their last year in a downwards spiral.
The Raiders will probably be keen to field the untested talent, in a bid to keep top flight players wrapped up safe until the season proper. The Knights meanwhile will be looking to corner some confidence heading into what could be another awful year for them.
Having said that, I still expect the Raiders to crush them.
30+ to 6