It’s hard to say the Canberra Raiders played well in their 42-16 victory over the Gold Coast Titans. The game never required it. Instead the Raiders were confronted with a side demoralised by injury and incapable of basic defensive reads. 42 of the easiest points later and the Raiders may have earned a victory but learned little in coasting to a victory.
The Raiders did it easy enough through the middle of the park. After a quiet start to the season both Junior Paulo (19 runs for 195m) and Shannon Boyd (12 for 141m) were ready to feast on poor ruck defence. Jo Tapine (9 for 105m), Josh Papalii (13 for 161m) and Elliot Whitehead (18 for 114m) all got in on the act. Aided by a more active and direct Josh Hodgson – in the first time he had 8 runs – the Raiders just rolled over the Titans. That Hodgson made it all function so easily should never be taken for granted. Showing more willingness to run the ball and possible more faith in his ankle and sternum, he manipulated the Titans ruck with ease. It resulted in carnage in the first half – the Raiders outgaining the Titans 955m to 443m.
When the Raiders forwards dominate like this points will follow. In the first half 26 of them did. So accommodating was the Titans defence the Raiders backline barely had to click out of first gear to score. The first and third tries both came from practically the same movement: the Raiders would sweep the ball to the right, both Paulo and Boyd running decoy lines to keep the defence honest on the inside. Fullback Jack Wighton would chip into the line outside five-eighth Blake Austin, show good hands to Bj Leilua who would get the ball early to Jordan Rapana to score in the corner. In between these tries the ball was kicked instead of sent through the hands, the result practically the same for Rapana’s third.
It was hard to tell if this right edge attack was actually effective. A better defence would have swallowed Rapana given the numbers he had to beat. But Rapana is making a habit of making the impossible seem regular. He had 232 running metres tonight and it could have been more. During the game we joked that the conversation about Rapana being the best winger in the game is over. And we were only half joking.
Moments later Wighton burst through what could only be described as a poor attempt at providing “Free Hugs” from Ash Taylor and the Raiders had put 26 lazy points on the Titans.
It says a lot about the Raiders that they can almost accidently score 26 points in a half without having to bring out any extension of their attack beyond ‘roll up the middle then send it a couple wide’. The Titans defence was so forgiving that when they got within earshot of the game early in the second half, the Raiders got a seven tackle set, camped down on the Titans line and – with the help of a bit of Josh Hodgson magic – scored again and the game was dead and buried.
In the meantime the Raiders made some errors when the Titans were on the back foot that resulted in Titans points. Austin threw an awful ball to Wighton that the Titans picked up and took 80 metres the other way, scoring on the next phase of play. Josh Hodgson was more focused on Ryan James than the dummy-half and let Karl Lawton score a disturbingly easy try. And Clay Priest fell off a tackle on the first set of the second half, allowing the Titans to go up the middle and make the game unnecessarily interesting for a brief period.
This is the second week in a row that the Raiders have let a match drift when they could have killed it. Even when they reasserted their authority in the second half they still seemed uninterested in actually ending the game, becoming too focused on replicating the easy tries of the first half than earning the points. In these moments the halves and Hodgson should become more dominant and direct the side to more intelligent outcomes. There is no doubt that Coach Stuart will be in their respective ears about this.
The Raiders got a critical victory against the Titans. They came through the tough part of their draw intact and have begun building towards the origin period. They need wins like tonight to ensure they are well-placed before they face a more challenging origin period than they’ve faced in years. The Tians were the first step. There are more to follow.