The Canberra Raiders’ left-edge defence is getting pretty used to being targeted.
You get that when you are the worst defensive corridor in the entire competition, having leaked 27 tries in 18 games, an average of 1.5 per outing in 2014.
But this week’s clash with the Warriors presents them with one of their biggest challenges yet, as Jarrod Croker and Sami Sauiluma brace for the wrecking-ball combination of Konrad Hurrell and Ngani Laumape, who this year have 86 tackle breaks between them.
“We are well aware of where they [Canberra] are struggling a little bit, and we will have a game plan around that,” Warriors coach Andrew McFadden said.
“But we have got to make sure our own backyard is in order before we really focus on the opposition.”
During last week’s 34-18 loss to the Rabbitohs, Canberra’s left edge was found wanting on several occasions, and was directly responsible for three tries which were plundered down their side of the field.
Poor retreating defence was the main point of concern, with a reluctance to come out of the line and make early contact ensuring Croker and Sauiluma were easily exploited by South Sydney.
If the Green Machine are to have any success repelling the Warriors’ right-side attack this week their first contact will need to improve drastically, with both Hurrell and Laumape lethal from close range.
“We are not the tallest blokes in the team but we back our strength,” Hurrell said.
“Obviously they [Canberra] have some good players on the left edge, but sometimes they don’t come up with the plays... but you never know what you will get this week.
“I know that [powerful running] is one of the things I do really well in the games, and I love playing with the 'nugget man' (Laumape), he is a strong runner and good defender as well.
“He is helping a lot by talking to me and I know he will be there for me. We trust each other to make our tackles, it’s pretty cool that we are the same age and are similar in how we play.”
Of late Hurrell has done much of his damage in the opening exchanges of games, and in his last four outings has twice scored a try inside the opening five minutes.
Last week the Sea Eagles had no answer for the Tongan international’s enthusiasm in the first 10 minutes, as Hurrell crossed for a try, forced an error with a crunching tackle, and earned a penalty with a quick play-the-ball.
By fulltime he had 97 run metres, five tackle busts and a line break.
“I just wanted to get involved in the game, I wanted to go in and go hard,” the 22-year-old said.
“We need to learn to start the game fast and the last couple of weeks we have been doing that well, but we need to finish it up.”
While for Laumape, simply being back on the field is a relief after spending more than a month on the sideline thanks to a three-game suspension coupled with a bye in Round 17.
“It was really frustrating to watch the boys play well and not be a part of it,” Laumape said.
“I was happy to be back out on the field playing and happy to be back out with the boys again rather than getting thrashed on fitness.”
Last week was the eighth time in 10 games that Laumape has run for over 100 metres this season, and the Junior Warriors’ graduate was keen to take credit for Hurrell’s improved form as well.
“I think me and Konrad have really improved from last year.
“Before the game I give him some words of wisdom and I guess he takes them on board… he came out firing last week, it really worked,” Laumape laughed.