Raiders search for answers
The beleaguered Canberra Raiders are hoping that a number of positional switches and a return to their home ground will result in a better showing after conceding 54 points in back-to-back matches.
The changes include shifting makeshift pivot Jack Wighton to his preferred centre position, where his running game made him a constant threat in the City-Country fixture, allowed skipper Terry Campese to return from halfback to his preferred role as five-eighth with 2013 playmaker Josh McCrone going from bench hooker to halfback.
There are a series of reshuffles in the forward pack as well with occasional stand-in Jarrad Kennedy getting a start in the run-on side after a handful of impressive performances off the bench in 2014, while winger Mosese Pangai makes his club debut at the expense of Bill Tupou after impressing for Canberra's NSW Cup side Mounties this year.
And with Mounties on the bye this week, it has allowed coach Ricky Stuart to name a gigantic eight-man bench which includes promising young halfback Mitch Cornish, who was widely tipped to make his NRL debut sooner rather than later at the beginning of this year and has also been playing strongly for Mounties.
"Obviously they're not the results we want, it's been very disappointing the last two weeks but we can't dwell on that, we've got to learn from it and move on," Raiders lock Shaun Fensom told NRL.com.
Fensom has been a standout performer in a beaten side over those two losses – 54-18 to Manly at Brookvale in Round 8 and 54-12 against the Warriors at Eden Park in Round 9 – making 94 tackles with just one missed tackle and 183 running metres in the two games, and is one whose position does not appear to be under scrutiny.
"We've just got to keep learning from our mistakes and not make them again," he added.
Stuart blamed a poor week of training for the Brookvale debacle but Fensom said that could not be used as an excuse for the Warriors game.
"Yeah mate we had a very solid training week leading into the Warriors game. We went over there on Thursday and trained the Friday over there really well," he said.
"We just need to be consistent for 80 minutes instead of just little dribs and drabs – there are periods of the game where we're going quite well then obviously the rest of the game we're not going so well."
He insisted it was not time to panic, especially given some strong results including impressive wins over Souths in Round 4 and against the Storm in the side's last home game, in Round 7.
"It's only two games, a lot can happen, there's still 14 or 15 games left in the season," Fensom said.
"There's still a lot of time left, it's not panic stations."
The Raiders face a rematch against Penrith just five weeks after going down 12-6 at Sportingbet Stadium in horribly wet conditions.
"It was a pretty solid match there when we played them at Penrith at the start of the year. It was a very wet affair and it was pretty physical so we'll just have to watch some video and work out what we need t do this week to beat them," Fensom said.
In a team update on the Raiders website, assistant coach Dean Pay said several players were excited to be moving to more familiar positions, notably Wighton and McCrone.
"We moved [Wighton] back out there [to the centres], we've got a couple of changes this week which is exciting for Jack, he's looking forward to getting back out into the centres and running the footy and trying to make a little bit of space out there for us," Pay said.
With McCrone and Campese having spent plenty of time together in the halves in recent years the resumption of that partnership meant it would be nothing new to them, Pay added.
"Josh is excited about getting back out in the halves and trying to create some opportunities for us."
He noted Pangai has "been playing terrific footy for the Mounties, as a number of the guys have".
He said the winger deserved his chance in the top grade. "He's played really well. He gets a spot on the wing and we're looking forward to seeing what he can come up with."
Kennedy is another who has been playing strongly for the third-placed Mounties in the VB NSW Cup as the side has notched up seven wins with just three losses.
"The guys playing in reserve grade are putting some pressure on first grade which is great for our club. Papa [Josh Papalii, who returns to the starting side in Round 10 after recently returning from an ankle injury] is starting to get back into that form we know he can produce and bit by bit he's getting better each week."
He said with Mounties on the bye and a huge bench for the Raiders, the final 17 is far from settled, and didn't rule out a debut for Cornish.
"We're not settled on our starting 17 so there's an opportunity there for those young guys, they're all young blokes and they're all keen and I'm sure if they do get their opportunity they'll play well."
With the match representing a return to GIO Stadium where the side were last-start winners over the Storm, Pay lauded the atmosphere and crowd on that occasion.
"The boys payed really well and the crowd had a lot to do with it. We're hoping to get as many supporters out there as we can and put a good performance in front of them."