Canberra star Blake Ferguson says the Raiders are working as hard as they can to win their biggest battle – against themselves.
“We know in ourselves that, whenever we go out there, if we complete our sets and don’t make as many errors as the other team, we can win,” Ferguson tells NRL.com.
Ferguson says the Raiders were their own worst enemies in recent losses to Cronulla (30-20) and Manly (16-10), and were good enough to win both games had they not made so many mistakes.
“Yeah, we could have won both, but there were some things we just didn’t do right,” he said.
“We’ve been working on it a fair bit in the video room, trying to find some consistency in our game. We want to become better at starting both the first half and second half solidly. If we can get that happening, we’ll be a lot better off.”
Those losses to the Sharks and Sea Eagles came between impressive wins over Newcastle (44-14) and Brisbane (30-18).
The victory over the Broncos at Canberra Stadium last Monday night put Canberra back in the top eight – at eighth. They are at home again for the game against 10th-placed Penrith on Saturday night.
It is a quick turnaround for the Raiders, but at least they don’t have to travel.
Penrith will be playing six days after a disappointing loss at home to Wests Tigers. The Panthers led 18-4 late in the first half against a Tigers outfit that was decimated by injury, but were outscored 16-0 from there and lost 20-18.
That setback came after the Panthers had ridden into the top eight themselves with three straight wins, over Melbourne (12-10), the Warriors (62-6) and St George Illawarra (19-0).
The Raiders and Panthers have already met once this season, back in Round 1 at Centrebet Stadium. That day, the Panthers scored a try just before halftime to go to the break leading 12-6, and they went right on with it in the second half to win 32-10.
“We got touched up in Round 1 by them,” Ferguson admitted. “But we’re looking forward to this weekend’s game. Last Monday, against the Broncos, we played really good in patches, but we’ve still got a lot to work on, which is a good thing.
“It means we’ve still got improvement in us, even though we won.
“Penrith have been in good form recently, but if we play a complete game on Saturday, we’ll come away with the win I think.”
In that first-round game, Josh Dugan played fullback for Canberra and Dean Whare was the No.1 for Penrith.
Since then, Dugan has been sacked by the Raiders for disciplinary reasons and is now playing for St George Illawarra, and Whare is in a more familiar role in the centres.
Rookie Matt Moylan has established himself as the first-choice fullback for the Panthers. He was not allowed to play first grade last week because of a second-tier salary cap issue, but is allowed to return this week because Wes Naiqama is out injured.
The Raiders have been deadly when their forwards have won the battle up front and their flying outside backs have found themselves in a bit of space.
Unfortunately, one of those flyers – winger Edrick Lee – is out for 12 weeks after breaking his arm against the Broncos, meaning Ferguson’s good mate Sandor Earl returns to first grade
Ferguson, fellow centre Croker, who has been back for two games after missing three because of injury, and winger Jack Wighton complete one of the most threatening three-quarter lines in the competition.
But, Ferguson says, the salary cap looms as a threat to the club’s ability to keep the quartet together long term.
“I hope we can all stay together, but it will be hard to keep all of us because Edrick and Jack are such good players,” he said. “Me and ‘Crokes’ are signed for the next two years, but Eddy and Jack – it’s going to take a bit of money to keep them, I guess, because they’re playing so good.”
Ferguson says that while he is happy with his own form, he still has plenty of improvement left in him.
In nine games this season, Ferguson has six line-breaks, eight offloads and seven tries, and it was no surprise when his form led to his selection for NSW on the wing in the State of Origin series.