There is only one thing the Raiders need concern themselves with this week – ball control. Gone are the days when a player could carry a ball safe in the knowledge that a loss of control in a two man tackle would more than likely lead to a penalty for stripping. Referees now place the onus of proof on the attacking player, and unless a defender is seen blatantly ripping at the ball a loose carry will now most likely be called a knock-on.
Add to this the ability for supremely talented players to drop the pill stone cold and under no physical pressure and you have the makings of poor completion rates. Which is exactly what is killing the Raiders.
Even during their smashing of the Tigers in round 3 the Raiders did not have an overwhelming respect for possession – with the Tigers dropping the ball like a burning hot bar of soap the Raiders simply had to hold onto it better than their opponents.
The depressing thing for fans is that the basic tenets of ball control are taught to children playing junior league – carry it in two hands and always keep your eye on it. Jordan Rapana got ahead of himself against the Broncos when he momentarily took his eye off the ball while fielding the restart after his try. In less than a split second his hands were in the wrong place, and all the forward planning he’d done in his head had gone to waste.
Offloads are the other area where control, and restraint, can be imposed. The teams that have the best offload stats aren’t throwing or forcing passes willy nilly, but are simply adept at knowing when and where to offload. Two man tackles are ideal, but anything over that and you run the risk of your forearm being restrained, and the ball tumbling to the ground, your teammates grumbling at you because that’s the second time in this half that you’ve dropped it.
Luckily for the Raiders they face another team who is also currently struggling with this issue – the Parramatta Eels. After starting 2017 in fine form the Eels mojo suddenly left them 20 minutes into their game against the Titans, and it hasn’t been seen since.
Like the Raiders they’ll need to be lifting their completion rates (80% seems to be a pass mark) if they’re to be any chance over the next few weeks. Both sides have the talent and ability to easily make it into the top eight, but before they can access these things they need to make sure they’re holding onto the ball.
Between a pack and a hard place
Junior Paulo faces off against his former teammates, while Englishman Elliot Whitehead has to sit this one out due to suspension for tripping. Joe Tapine was a welcome addition against the Broncos last week, and his presence on the team list again will be a relief for fans. Dave Taylor re-joins the 17, while Priest takes Batemans’ spot at starting lock. Don’t think any less of Bateman though – against the Broncos he was effective, making 10 carries for 104 metres in 37 minutes.
If there is one Raiders forward who needs to run a bit harder it’s Shannon Boyd, and he’ll need to get his legs pumping against a Parramatta pack which can defend for ages where necessary. You know a pack has depth when the likes of David Gower and Peni Terepo are relegated to 18th and 19th on the extended bench. M’au, Alvaro, Scott, Brown and co may not be superstar forwards but they are all relentless in their efforts.
While the Raiders lay claim to two of the biggest bodies on the pitch they’ll need to be wary of Suaia Matagi. This boulder shaped forward was unstoppable against Manly in round 1, and he’s only slightly smaller than Paulo and Taylor
Two spines still evolving and bonding makes for some tantalising spectating prospects. The trinity of Hodgson, Austin and Sezer continues to grow, with Austin’s progress over the last month the most tangible, especially in the kicking department. If he is going to start floating bombs against the Eels he’ll either need to send them towards Takairangi and Hoffman or keep them short and hope for a bounce, as the Raiders will no doubt be keen to stop the duo of Jennings and Radradra from returning any kicks.
One can only hope that both Sezer and Hodgson have practiced (a) their communication skills and (b) their short kicking games as both were sorely lacking against the Broncos. More often than not the Raiders found themselves in the red zone on the attack, only for the set to fizzle out with a poor 5th tackle option. The attacking creativity was one of the things powering the Raiders attacking streak last year, and it needs to reappear sooner rather than later.
The Eels have a more than competent spine in Norman, Gutherson and Pritchard, and the Raiders will need to pressure them at every chance.
Put Your Back(s) Into It
Rapanas’ restart brain snap aside these five were their usual sound selves last week. The Sportress team was lucky enough to all be in the one room for this game, and our collective jaws dropped when Cotric took that diving intercept to fend off a certain Broncos four pointer. Wighton, Leilua and Rapana all had big metres, although Leiluas are more the result of his current MO as a 2nd rower who stands at centre (this is not his fault, and with Whitehead out he may have to come seeking more ball in the middle of the park).
Their opponents are French, Jennings, Radradra, Taka and Hoffman, all of whom are capable of freakishly amazing things when push comes to shove.
After battling with three top 8 sides, and pummelling one cellar dweller, the Raiders finally find themselves facing off against a side in the exact same headspace as themselves. While the Eels are one win in front both teams are struggling with their completion rates, and in turn their attack. Whoever can hold onto the ball best will take this win.
Raiders by 2!