Preview: Canberra Raiders vs Sydney Roosters

Do you know why such cruel fate befell the Raiders this week when both their halves were ruled out for over a month? It’s because the League Gods know that the world is a better place with Frowning Sticky.

Let me explain to the unconverted. The League Gods use Google too, you know, and when you, I and they type “Ricky Stuart” into Google these are the images that pop up:

There’s one whole image with a smile (it’s more of a smirk, really), and I’m pretty sure it was taken last week. Source: Screengrab from Google

They know that Google is simply an analytics engine that spits out the most popular search results, and you don’t even need to type in “Frowning Sticky” to get Frowning Sticky (I’m afraid to actually Google that phrase at work). In short, the League Gods and Google know what makes the world happier.

The proof of this is etched in history.To wit: you know what happened the year he won the spoon with Parramatta when he frowned like he’d never frowned before? Ed Snowden dropped his surveillance bombshells, Miranda Kerr came back on the market and Dennis Rodman met Kim Jong-Un. And the Roosters won the comp.

And this is what happened in the year Ricky Stuart won a premiership and forced a rare smile, in 2002: Nickelback hit the airwaves for the first time with “This Is How You Remind Me”.

The defence rests.

(Yes, the comp he won was with us. But it goes to show every Sticky Smile, no matter how much we selfishly enjoy it at the time, comes at great, long lasting cost.)

It’s just a fact: the world is a better place with Frowning Sticky. The League Gods saw Smiling Sticky, and were both shocked by the rare image and saddened by a disturbance in the Force. Its a horrible reality for Raiders fans that Sezer’s eye socket and Austin’s knee paid a heavy price for balance to be restored, but that’s the League Gods showing just how important Frowning Sticky is to that balance.

Now it’s up to the Roosters to restore some balance to their season, because the Gods abandoned them on Sunday.

(Note: clearly the above is a poor attempt at satire and is in no way meant to cheapen the good and bad things that happened in 2002 and 2013, of which there were many on each side in each year.) 

The Roosters.

Daniel Tupou returns to the wing in place of two-try débutante Joe Burgess who drops back to an extended bench. That’s the only change made to a squad that was beaten 42-10 by the Bunnies in round one, with many fans expecting that at least Sio Siua Taukeiaho would be promoted to the starting line-up at the expense of Mitch Aubusson or Isaac Liu. But nope, the same squad’s been named aside from the left wing and Mitch Frei being dropped as 18th man.

This Raiders pack they’re up against is a huge one, and Robbo may indeed elect to make some late changes to match fire with fire. Isaac Liu started solid last week but SST came on soon after and the club immediately lifted. There’s merit in using SST as a mid-game Ace up the sleeve against a tired defence, but there’s always the risk that you waste the Ace because you’ve folded before the turn.

1 Blake Ferguson; 2 Daniel Tupou; 3 Dale Copley; 4 Shaun Kenny-Dowall; 5 Latrell Mitchell; 6 Jayden Nikorima; 7 Jackson Hastings; 8 Kane Evans; 9 Jake Friend (c); 10 Dylan Napa; 11 Aidan Guerra; ; 12 Mitchell Aubusson; 13 Isaac Liu. Interchange: 14 Sio Siua Taukeiaho; 15 Sam Moa; 16 Ian Henderson; 17 Vincent Leuluai; 19 Joe Burgess.

The tactic of bombing from the mid-field has to change in this one. The Raiders have too big a forward pack for the Roosters to simply hand over unearned metres. And it’s definitely a tactic, rather than simply a called audible or poor ability on punts from the Roosters’ young halfback. As astutely reported by Twitter’s @JBolwell:


This is a tactic that Mitchell Pearce executes relatively well. For all the criticism he cops for “kicking it to ’em on the full”, what’s important is where the player was tackled as opposed to whether he catches it or not. The bomb allows the defenders to rush them fullback or winger and apply pressure while also, with the right kick, tackling them further back than with a grubber — the higher the kick, the longer the defence has to get under the ball and into the player. It’s obviously a risky play as a bomb can fall well short or spray off the boot and negate all the potential benefits.

But Mitchell Pearce has had years to practice this; Jackson Hastings is just 19. Pearce’s kicks go as high but definitely achieve more ground, and perhaps with time Jacko will get there too, but based on early evidence he needs more practice as the kicks were going a mere 20-30 metres at best, and when kicking from his own 40. That’s simply too much ground and not enough pay-off for the kick.

Personally, I don’t like the tactic. Adam Reynolds showed on Sunday that you don’t need that kick to trap fullbacks back; astute and stabby kicks work just as effectively and his chasers made the kicks as effective as they were. So here’s hoping Robinson and Co brush the tactic in order to “develop the kick with further non-game training”. Or something. It cost the Roosters dearly against the Rabbitohs, and with the pack that the Raiders have he are just as likely to be on the back foot with similar tactics.

Seriously, look at that effin pack: Boyd, FPN (who can damage when motivated), Papalii, Fensom, Vaughan and Lima. That’s an insane amount of size, and gifting easy field position to a team with the capability of getting on a roll with a hint of momentum is asking for a spanking. Again.

Otherwise, the Roosters need to target their halves on either edge, especially Lachlan Croker who probably didn’t expect to get a run this year with Austin and Sezer in the way. He’s in for some real traffic.

Guerra, Aubo and SST need to get involved with their halves the designated matadors, and it’s up to the Roosters’ young halves to get it to them. Nikorima in particular looks the most comfortable in reading a defence and giving the ball up to his partner on the right edge with Guerra.  It fell apart a bit against the Bunnies but he knows how to draw and pass and get the short ball away at the right moment it needs to be released. AG just has to catch it — against the Bunnies he spilled it twice in a very unhappy game that included five missed tackles, four ineffective ones and two penalties. This after I bigged him up deluxe here and here.

In particular, if the Roosters continue with their flat-style of play, this play by the Panthers — utilising quick shortballs at a flat line with a simple run-around, a play Hastings seems born to run — could tempt the Raiders’ wingers to come in again:


And while Jack Wighton looked great against the Panthers in spurts, he did drop a late bomb in that game to give the Pennies one last shot at a win. He’s a manufactured fullback who has played Centre and 5/8, so bomb catching isn’t necessarily his thing just yet. In the absence of a play on the last within the attacking 40, the Roosters should test that out.

The Raiders.

The Raiders, first-up winners against Penrith in round one, have suffered a huge blow with star halves pairing Aidan Sezer (fractured eye socket) and Blake Austin (knee) both ruled out for five weeks. Sam Williams and neophyte Lachlan Croker to start in their stead. the rest of the team remains unchanged.

As my boy @RamirezJnr said on Twitter:

Frank-Paul will again start up front at prop — a position that he’s probably best suited to, as he’s forced into running it more in the front row than as the roving lock he was when he finished up at Bondi. He’ll need to step up, because Sam Williams and the rookie Lachlan Croker will need all the platform they can get.

1 Jack Wighton; 2 Edrick Lee; 3 Jarrod Croker (c); 4 Joseph Leilua; 5 Jordan Rapana; 6 Lachlan Croker; 7 Sam Williams; 8 Shannon Boyd; 9 Josh Hodgson; 10 Frank-Paul Nuuausala; 11 Josh Papalii; 12 Elliot Whitehead; 13 Shaun Fensom. Interchange: 14 Kurt Baptiste; 15 Iosia Soliola; 16 Paul Vaughan; 17 Jeff Lima.

Despite that pack, it’s going to be really hard for the Raiders’ halves. And while Sam Williams HAS had some moments in the past — which led to the Dragons signing him as their halfback before he flopped and they instead handed the reins to Benji — he’s no Sezer and definitely no Austin. The Roosters got unbelievably lucky here and need to take advantage.

However, the Raiders do offer danger across the park and don’t necessarily need a halfback of merit to exploit them. Because Shannon Boyd, that’s why:


Oh, and this one from the same game:


And before you say “WELL THAT WAS AGAINST THE TIGERS DERP DERP DERP”… yes, I am aware of the dearth of quality their opposition possessed when he scored these tries.

You need to also remember that a bloke built like a poor man’s James Maloney after 40 days without food in the desert (Cam McInnes) scored a much softer try than that against us, just last week. So if the Roosters are not on from the jump, this effin’ unit is going to jump them.

Short balls from Josh Hodgson off the ruck may also be in play, as the Roosters looked bamboozled on occasion against the Bunnies, especially off the line when the normally solid Guerra (who missed five tackles) was found out easily on this play:


Given he shares the right side with the diminutive Nikorima (six missed tackles against the Bunnies) it’s clear he needs to shoulder a greater defensive burden and switch on all game.

As a team they busted 40 tackles and got away nine offloads against the Panthers, and while the Roosters’ defence is normally solid they showed that second phase play can hurt them, as it did here because the backs are still largely learning the structure and Ferguson is not there yet in terms of positional awareness to assist in recovery:

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Additionally, Jarrod Croker is growing into his captaincy and was a rumoured borderline Origin rep for the past two seasons. He’s up against SKD and the rookie Latrell Mitchell, and partnering Jordan Rapana who didn’t look horrible last week. Expect some bombs coming that way with the halves perhaps a bit short of attacking imagination this week.


The Raiders’ halves being out is of course an absolute Godsend for the Chooks. Their combination is perfectly balanced with Austin free to run thanks to Sezer’s superb organisation and kicking game.

But that glee needs to be tempered somewhat. This Lachlan Croker kid is a star in the making, and after this game will have just one game less experience than Nikorima. He looks to be a fantastic support player with good size for his position:

Sam Williams is fine, I guess, but he’s always performed solidly for the Raiders and he’s an additional 49 games ahead in experience on our 20-game wunderkind Hastings.

Their pack is MASSIVE and the Roosters are short in the pack without JWH and Cordner. Additionally, the game is going to be played in that weird-ass weather down in Canberra (it’s forecast for a low of 17 and a high of 32, with 60% chance of rain) and their forwards with Soliola and FPN will be primed for a huge match.

Regardless, we should win, but I don’t foresee the thrashing many fans would expect. We have a lot of weaknesses that were exposed on Sunday that need to be addressed before we can start to expect floggings. The Roosters’ ruck defence and right edge needs a lot of work, and that will come with the development of combinations.

One can only hope they take a step towards that this week, and roll to a win by about 1-12.

Baby steps, y’all.


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