I feel sorry for Raiders fans, this year at least.
The constant bleating from the coach about referees and players “struggling” and the stream of big losses (last week excepted) has made Canberra even more depressing than it already was. It’s been all Ricked up, and already fans are looking towards next year when they have a bit of fresh blood coming. I won’t feel as sorry for them then, but for now: commiserations ahoy.
But the majority of commiserations go to the captain. Terry Campese has been a valuable servant for the Raiders and almost single-handedly kept the club medicos employed, and now he has to face questions surrounding his future along with press conferences where he has to just sit there while his coach loses his shit:
Regardless, this Saturday could be a highlight of the season as fans and players alike get to travel to an actual city, a city with this thing to do called “stuff”. There’s bodies of water that weren’t built, restaurants that aren’t servos and pubs where patrons don’t double as dunnies.
The players especially will love heading to the Star Bar on George Street; it’s the bar that would feel most like home to them i.e. tacky and full of teenagers wearing hoodies and Eminem jeans. I fully expect to see them there after the game, shredding the dee-eff to the smooth sounds of Fatman Scoop or some shit.
Ricky probably won’t make it though. He doesn’t deal well with losses.
Team for Round 12: Anthony Minichiello, Daniel Tupou, Michael Jennings, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, James Maloney, Mitchell Pearce, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Jake Friend, Sam Moa, Sonny Bill Williams, Aidan Guerra, Frank-Paul Nu’uasala. Interchange: Isaac Liu, Dylan Napa, Mitchell Aubusson, Remi Casty.
The Roosters’ Origin trio of Michael Jennings, Daniel Tupou and Aidan Guerra have been named to face the Raiders. Mitchell Aubusson has been shifted back to the bench with Frank Paul Nuuasala starting at lock and Guerra in Boyd Cordner’s left side second row spot — but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Guerra go back to the bench in a late reshuffle, especially after his first Origin match.
(Well, my fantasy team hopes so anyway.)
Dylan Napa, who started last week, has been shifted back to the bench as well with Kane Evans dropping out of the squad.
The Roosters were back to their aggressive best and their defence on the line last week was largely leak free, albeit against a team without their regular halves. It was a welcome return to form for their forwards who were thoroughly hammered against the Cowboys a week earlier, and they need to maintain that aggression against a side that has had somewhat of an edge over this squad in recent times.
Last year they caused an upset in round five, and almost again towards the end of the year in Blake Ferguson’s last game before being given the arse. This year, though, the Raiders have been woeful — and the Roosters should win comfortably if they play to anywhere near their best.
How they’ll play
The Roosters are down Boyd Cordner on the left but aside from his injury, this is almost the squad we should see when everyone is fit — and Guerra can more than hold his own on the left (assuming he starts there).
That back row faces off against the rugged defence of Shaun Fensom — and the so-so defence of Jarrad Kennedy. The young back-rower still has a lot to learn about reading a defence and can be caught going one way while a player goes the other. He’s missed 23 tackles this year in seven games, per NRL.com, and that doesn’t count efforts like this (the number 12, he falls for the dummy from Segeyaro and takes the dummied-to player, opening up a huge gap):
It might seem a bit harsh, but it shows a ball-watching habit and inability to react that could be exploited by the Roosters’ dummy fiends in Jake Friend and James Maloney. He also defends alongside Terry Campese on the left side, who is just too slow thanks to an horrific injury run otherwise known as his career.
They will come up against Sonny Bill Williams on that edge. So you do the math.
Another target could be the wings, where Sami Sauiluma and Reece Robinson reside. Sauiluma has missed five of his 18 tackle attempts this year and comes up against Daniel Tupou (3.11 tackle busts a game), while Robinson has missed a startling 19 of his 50 attempts this year. For all their talent in attack they can shirt grab and don’t have great techniques, so the Roosters could exploit their propensity to come in.
Team for Round 12: Anthony Milford, Reece Robinson, Jarrod Croker, Jack Wighton, Sami Sauiluma, Terry Campese, Josh McCrone, David Shillington, Glen Buttriss, Brett White, Josh Papalii, Jarrad Kennedy, Shaun Fensom. Interchange: (from) Mitch Cornish, Joel Edwards, Paul Vaughan, Dane Tilse, Shannon Boyd.
Josh Papalii has been named to back up from Origin with Joel Edwards moving back to the bench and Shannon Boyd pushed back to 18th man. Mitch Cornish, a halfback, has again been named on the bench.
The Raiders slaughtered the under-manned Cowboys last week but had lost three straight games prior to that including two games when they conceded over 50 points. But prior to that, they beat the Storm by two — so whodafuck knows which team will show up this weekend. They have also beaten Souffs this year, quite handily too: 30-18.
They struggle away from home, even a place as far away as Sydney. They’ve won two from six on road trips, not a bad strike rate, but conceded 54 points in each of their past two treks.
How they’ll play
Papalii played by far his best game of the season in his last Raiders game prior to hiss Origin call-up, with 16 runs for 121 metres to go with three offloads. It was the first game this year he’s cracked triple digits in a season in which he’s largely been a myth. However, he may come in fired up after barely retaining his spot in Origin, and his form against the Panthers may be a precursor to the rest of his year.
As such, the Roosters need to watch him attacking that right edge if, indeed, he is back in form. He can barge over on the line when at full speed and he can also hit a hole, and he’ll come up against Jenko, Maloney and Guerra.
Guerra has been great this year in defence; he’s second at the club in one-on-one tackles (23, behind SKD’s 26) and he’s making over 21 tackles for every miss, a ratio that’s fifth at the club. He needs to be switched on to negate the potentially vulnerable defence of Maloney outside him.
We don’t need to discuss Milford in depth; we know he’s freakish on his feet and needs to be swarmed like a crop by locusts. What the Roosters really need to keep an eye out for is Fensom’s offloads. The backrower can spin in a tackle and can get his arm free, and could find some easy offloads running up the middle at Jake Friend, who leads the club in ineffective tackles this year (29). Fensom has 13 offloads this year and while it’s not the biggest strength in his game, an offload with McCrone or Milf in support could result in easy points for a club that has struggled for them in parts this year.
I refuse to believe the Roosters will be ambushed again as they were in round five and almost in round 22 last year. The Cowboys game should have served as the wake up call that — while every game will be hard as defending premiers — switching off is tantamount to rugby league suicide.
The Raiders, for all the shit they cop, do have some strike players and Milford is just exceptional. However, they do tend to over-rely on him to muster gold from fuck-all, and if the Roosters shut him down they should win.
The Roosters can give away penalties and possession like both are red-headed stepchildren, but their defence should simply be too strong for this mob.
Roosters by 13+, and they’re a good chance to cause their first shut-out of the year.
Man of the Match will be Sonny Bill Williams. Again. Like Kirsten Dunst in Interview With The Vampire, he got a taste last week and will “want some more”.
And yes, I’m scraping the bottom of the pop-culture references barrel now.