It's always easy to be biased and green-eyed when your chad football team crushes the opposition. Or the other team insists on missing three clutch conversions to lose the game in embarrassing fashion. Losing is a different kettle of fish, because by definition your team didn't do enough, were outclassed or had other factors which resulted in your football team not winning.
Case in point, this week's second half fadeout against the Warriors. I'd be lying if I said I thought this outcome was suprising. Don't get it twisted, it's never easy to consider that your footy team wasn't the best of the weekend, but all you can do is grit your teeth and carry on. I'm certainly not going to sell my beloved team down the river, as all the other media organisations have already done that for me.
Other disclaimer, there will be no mention of the referees, criticisms of match officiating, or speculation of the legality of tries on this blog. In an article I should probably pen later, I believe that there is nothing to be gained from attacking match officials.
As hard as this is to come to terms with, if you want better officiating, the NRL and its fans must change their attitude toward referees.
With all that out of the way, let's rip in.
Raiders Dig Deep to Deliver Near Miracle
Let us be very clear - in the first fifteen minutes the Raiders lost three forwards. Leaving a bench of... Tom Starling. Just in case that doesn't mean anything to you, that means there were no forwards on the bench.
It's not hard to do the math. A warm day, a big warriors forward pack and no forwards to rotate. Early in the season with only pre-season fitness to get you through the day. Add to that, Curtis Scott playing with a fractured rib. I knew the comeback was coming as early as the end of the first half. In many ways, it was a miracle in itself to see the Raiders shoot out to such a big lead.
It is absolutely disappointing to cough up a 21 point lead. But it's not impossible and the changes to the game (fewer scrum restarts, six-agains and timers on dropouts) have significantly reduced opportunities for the game to be slowed and also for teams (who, for example, have no bench) to give their team a break and arrest attacking momentum.
So, let's count back. No bench, a faster game, a big warriors pack able to keep its key forwards fresh. And you have a recipe for exactly what happened. But there's slightly more to this story.
It is critical to note that the Raiders, despite this stacked deck, still managed to nearly win the game. It took a piece of individual brilliance from Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to seal it for the Warriors. If you want to be disappointed, be disappointed. But that is significant. At least in this pundit's opinion.
Raider Cooks Showing Signs of Sharing Kitchen
Last week I speculated that there were too many cooks in the kitchen and that the broth was suffering. Josh Hodgson's extended stint on the sidelines and resultant shift of Wighton and Williams delivering the goods changed the nature and shape of the attack. But every week the three-pronged Raider attack seems to be improving. Hodgson in particular delivered two excellent crash balls this week, displaying a firm understanding of what the Raider forward pack can deliver from close range.
There is certainly room for improvement. But if the attack keeps progressing and match fitness improves, the Raiders are on their way to being an excellent attacking side this year. Mayhaps even one of the best in the competition.
Raider Bench Shows Mettle
It feels odd to be praising the Raider forwards, considering they were unable to resist the fresher Warriors between the 61st and 80th minute. But that's exactly what I'm doing.
Again demonstrating what I noted in the first game against the Tigers. You can be prepared for Papalii. You can do video on Tapine. That just means the other forwards will hurt you instead. Tries to Sutton and Soliola show that the Raider interchange forwards are just as dangerous as those in starting spots.
The next few weeks will likely represent a test for the Raiders' depth. Provided they can avoid having their entire bench destroyed again, I have every confidence that experienced folk like Horsburgh, Harawira-Naera and Guler will add just as much punch.
The Parting Shot
This is supposed to be the segment where I ride off into the sunset and fire shots at the other team (who are supposed to be losers). But, as the Warriors won this week, this makes that difficult.
I could be bitter and say that I wasn't impressed. And in truth, I'm not. Yes it takes courage and willingness to keep trying when you're down. Yes, they scored first in both halves and yes their forward pack, when they finally gained the upper hand, showed what they were capable of.
But I have never been impressed by Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. And I never will be. Maybe when he finds me and king hits me for writing that, I may one day choke on those words, but the fact is that he was supposed to be this unstoppable, agile, tryscoring leader for the Warriors - he was supposed to combine with Shaun Johnson to take the Warriors to the promised land.
...and they've played finals once in the five seasons he's been there. A one and done, where they got smashed by the Panthers. They've also sacked their coach twice.
And whilst it would be unreasonable of me to heap the blame for this all at the feet of 'RTS', the fact is he hasn't been surrounded by mediocrity. The Warriors have had, at various times, the tools to perform well in that stretch and just... haven't.
Maybe in this, his final year, with their revamped forward pack and experienced young forwards they might finally do something. We'll see about that.
Vulkan Medal Points
Man of the Match - Ryan Sutton (2pts)
Who else could it be. In 75 minutes he produced a try, fifty tackles, ran for 200 meters and showed exactly why the Raider pack will be so good this year. A legendary performance from someone thrust into the middle who gave no quarter and dug deep to try and inspire his side. And in a normal game, he normally gets a rest.
Le Hidden Gem - Jack Wighton (1pt)
I didn't want to discuss this at length in the body of the article because as it turns out, I was really impressed this week.
It appears whomever has told him to just relax and stop trying so hard is not getting paid enough. The tryhard stuff that saw him make errors and cost the Raiders attacking momentum was instead replaced with an actual try. The entire day he ran hard, kicked well and delivered on the kind of potential and form that saw him take away the Dally M medal last year.
Just as Hodgson and Williams are learning to adjust, so is Wighton. It seems he's also on the 'improve every week' train too.
In conclusion, a disappointing loss, but one that was not unexpected. IT also shows that the Raider bench is impressive and that the attack is improving. A big test this week in the Titans, but somehow I think the Raiders will be alright.
Catch You Next Time,
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