Raiders adapt to having strengths targeted
Canberra's potent attacking weapons – such as right-edge destroyers Joey Leilua and Jordan Rapana, coupled with their oversized, power-packed forwards – are having to adjust to rival teams more effectively planning to combat their threats this year.
Rapana and Leilua had a quiet three weeks leading into Saturday's 22-16 win over the Eels as teams (notably Newcastle in last week's upset win) stick to a plan of limiting their running chances and time with the ball and smothering their offloads.
Rapana and Leilua each got themselves on the scoresheet against the Eels but the match was still a close run thing, built on big efforts from forwards like Josh Papalii (171 metres, three busts, three offloads), Junior Paulo (209 metres, five busts, four offloads) and Elliott Whitehead (41 tackles).
Speaking after the game, coach Ricky Stuart said fans shouldn't expect the Green Machine to pile on points like last season.
"We're not going to be like last year and win by 30s and 40s and putting try for try on teams because we might have snuck up and got a few teams last year," Stuart said.
"We're not going to do that this year because teams are paying a lot more respect to our quality of attack. They're up for us and defending a lot better against us.
"We're seeing that. It's a very tough competition and you can see it by the results each week."
Rapana told NRL.com that while he was happy to have crossed for a try, the more important thing was to finish on the winning side, especially in skipper Jarrod Croker's 200th game.
"Absolutely mate, other teams are doing their homework," Rapana said.
"This year hasn't been I guess as easy as last year in some aspects, that's part of the game.
"Good players, you've got wonderful players like Cameron Smith and [Johnathan] Thurston who still do their job and teams do their homework on them. There's no excuses there, we need to be better and I feel like [Saturday] we got back to doing our best.
"We tried to change a few things, get back to running hard, the simple things. Quick play the balls and letting it all come off that, not pushing the pass. It felt like we did that."
Rapana is the type of winger who doesn't wait for the ball to come to him anyway, often searching infield for hit-ups and dummy-half runs.
"With our defence and our forwards being so tired I think it's fortunate for us we've got big outside backs," he said.
"Not just myself but Jackie [Wighton], Nick [Cotric], Joey, Crokes who can come in there and help the forwards out.
"It's definitely something I don't try and shy away from."