What the? The Raiders have won more away games this season than home ones… How frustrating it must be to support the Green Machine who for the past few years have been awesome at home, but dismal away.
If they had been impenetrable at home they would be entrenched in the finals zone, instead of teetering on the edge having already exhausted both of their byes.
With some great young players making headlines, the future could be bright in the national capital – but as usual this is contingent on them staying in Canberra.
At the halfway point they have a little momentum, having beaten two top-four sides in two straight games, but they must maintain it, particularly through the next three rounds.
If they can get a run of five wins (totally do-able with games against the Cowboys, Wests Tigers and Bulldogs), they will be in position to make a charge for the finals.
Are Things Going To Plan? Sort of… although the Green Machine would certainly have banked on a better home record.
After years of struggling to come up with a formula to win away games, the Raiders have been much better, winning half of their road trips so far. If they were able to combine this with a usually strong Canberra Stadium record, they would be doing significantly better.
Losses to Souths, the Wests Tigers and Melbourne in the national capital were all regrettably winnable, and it has set the side back a fair way.
Statistically they are conceding too many metres to the opposition, more than any other side in the NRL, forcing them to defend their line way too often.
Also, handling errors are rife – but worse, they have come at crucial times in crucial parts of the field.
On the plus side, the Raiders are kicking the ball long and with accuracy. They average 606 metres a game from the boot to be running fifth and find space 58.2 per cent of the time to be the sixth best in the NRL.
Injury Front… The side has missed skipper Alan Tongue in recent weeks due to a groin injury and the workhorse back-rower is hard to replace.
Other injuries have taken Travis Waddell, Joel Monaghan, Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, Danny Galea and Shaun Fensom out for periods of the season and as usual the depth in Canberra isn’t as good as some other clubs.
If Only… The side didn’t capitulate and give up big leads against the Wests Tigers and Rabbitohs in successive home games.
The Raiders led the Wests Tigers 22-4 in Round 4 not long before halftime yet were rolled 35-22 in an embarrassing collapse and then when they returned to Canberra Stadium in Round 7 to take on South Sydney it was more of the same.
Leading the Bunnies 24-6 at halftime, the home side looked like the local Woden Valley Rams unit in the second half, forgetting how to tackle as the Rabbitohs stole a 26-24 result.
Those two wins added to their total would have had the side pushing top four, rather than trying to keep up with the pack on the fringe of the eight.
The 17-6 loss to the Storm at home was also one that got away, considering the lacklustre execution against a side playing for very little. Greg Inglis had his only really strong game of the season, scoring three tries. Had he not been as dominant the Raiders could have found a way to win.
Who’s Flying… Josh Dugan is getting interest from all over the NRL with his explosive play from fullback.
The youngster is punching out an average 162 metres each week and has had some freakish touches. The try he scored against the Rabbitohs in Round 7 was out of this world, as he contorted his body inside the corner post.
Joel Thompson, playing centre instead of back row after an early injury to Joel Monaghan, has been a revelation. He leads the side in tries and line-breaks and has an impressive 49 tackle-breaks too. Once he shifts his offloading into full gear, he’ll be one hell of a player!
Prop David Shillington has also been good and was rewarded with Test and Origin jerseys, while rookie Shaun Fensom was great in the early part of the year before injury curtailed him.
Needs To Lift… He isn’t playing awful by any means, but Terry Campese needs to do more if the Raiders are to make the finals.
His kicking game is good, but the former Origin player isn’t running the ball enough this season and isn’t creating enough for his team-mates either. He has just 41 metres running each game and just two line-breaks for the year. With just five line-break assists, one try and five try assists, the pressure is on for him to do more.
A bit more penetration from the forward pack wouldn’t hurt the side either, with regulars like Trevor Thurling, Joe Picker, Scott Logan and Dane Tilse capable of at least a 10 per cent lift. Just a little effort from the side as a whole could make a huge difference.
Injured Captain Alan Tongue tells NRL.com… “We have a better routine in away games and it has helped, but we do need to be better on a more consistent basis.
“We have a chance to push ahead with momentum from the halfway point if we play for 80 minutes consistently.”
Predicted Finish… Eighth to 13th. The Raiders are a slim hope of making the finals but they will need to win pretty much all of their home games for the rest of the year and jag another road win here or there. The reality is… probably another early off-season.
Under-20s… The Raiders’ under-20s are right in the thick of things in the Toyota Cup, running seventh with just five losses. The side needs to be wary of getting ahead of themselves though, as they have won four games by close margins and their defence needs to lift to be considered premiership worthy.