The Canberra Raiders took a 12-10 win against the Cronulla Sharks in a scrappy affair at Kogarah Oval, Southern Sydney on Sunday 21 March to maintain their winning record for the 2021 NRL season after two rounds.
Raiders rue second-half error count
Canberra looked in control for the first 50-odd minutes of the match, cruising to a 12-0 lead before the tide suddenly turned.
Fullback Will Kennedy crossed over for Cronulla in the 54th minute, which saw momentum swing heavily toward the Sharks and the dynamics of the first half reverse.
In the opening 40 the Raiders completed 23 of 25 sets, coming up with just three errors while forcing 10 Sharks errors and a paltry 63% completion rate through immense defensive pressure.
But after such a clean start the Green Machine ended up making 10 second half errors.
With the Sharks coming home with a wet sail, the Raiders were uncharacteristically dropping the ball, failing to maintain possession or field position.
“We turned the ball over far too many times and got a bit like Cronulla in the first half,” coach Ricky Stuart said post-match.
While Canberra got out of jail against the Sharks, such a performance against a better side would see them punished for both their poor second-half and failure to fully capitalise on their early ascendency.
Before round one, predicting Curtis Scott and Seb Kris would play starring roles in the Raiders first two weeks might have raised some eyebrows.
Both undeniably talented, the 21-year-old Kris, a Tuggeranong junior, stepped away from the Raiders top squad last year and has since returned focused.
Scott underwent some very public off-field ordeals in 2020, and failed to deliver in his first year in green for understandable reasons.
Both Scott and Kris appear better for their experiences.
In last night’s match the duo ran for over 100m and managed a line break a piece.
Kris, a big-bodied centre playing at 100kgs, is a hard-running strike weapon who looks threatening carrying the ball.
He’s also been a solid contributor in defence standing outside Wighton and inside Rapana.
Kris even showed a bit of razzle dazzle when he kicked on the fifth tackle, chased hard and forced a line drop out; going on to bag a deserved try on the next set.
After two rounds he’s made Stuart’s job difficult with the return of skipper Jarrod Croker looming.
Scott appeared motivated, confident and strong in both attack and defence last night.
He made sound defensive reads and chased down a spilled ball that led to Hudson Young’s try before half time.
Playing at 95 kilos compared to the 89-91kg he was tipping last year, Scott’s extra size and strength has proved a big difference.
“He plays a physical game and you can’t play at that body weight or the lack of body strength he had so it is good he has put that behind him now,” Stuart said of him after the Sharks match.
Raiders spine still yet to click into place
Balancing the attacking dynamic between returning hooker Josh Hodgson and halves George Williams and Jack Wighton is still a work-in-progress.
With Hodgson back in at dummy-half having only played a handful of games with halfback Williams last year it’s understandable their combination will take time to form.
In the first half with an abundance of possession Canberra peppered Cronulla’s goal line with repeat seats but failed to break through until Kris powered over in the 23rd minute.
Throughout that period of the match Hodgson persisted with one out crash balls off the ruck, giving his halves slow ball too late in the set.
Given the wet conditions playing conservative football made sense, but on numerous occasions Williams and Wighton appeared stifled.
There were plenty of promising signs as ultimately it was tries set up by Hodgson and Williams that won Canberra the match.
In the first half Williams was able to pile the pressure on with two forced line drop outs too.
Wighton was unable to find much space on the run and came up with a few handling errors but made some good kicks and was sound in defence. it’s nothing to sound the alarm over.
It’s just a matter of time before the 2020 Dally M winner finds his feet and regains the game breaking form he’s become known for since moving to five-eighth.
Once better cohesion is established between the trio the Raiders will look much better in attack.
Playing on with a knee injury suffered in the first half, fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad was quiet when attacking the goal line.
He’s long done well running in support up the middle, but if Nicoll-Klokstad can develop his ball playing this season that will create another attacking option out wide.
“Faders” a thing of the past
The Canberra Raiders of years gone by would have found a way to lose to the Cronulla Sharks last night.
At the death Cronulla were coming at the Raiders hard, and just a few years ago Canberra would more often than not capitulate under those circumstances.
They won two of ten games decided by a try or less in 2017 and three of ten in 2018.
Flip that win/loss ratio in either year and Canberra finish the season right around the top four.
Such losses were often the result of getting out to a good lead just to be chased down at the death.
While Canberra started strong against the Sharks and tapered off in the second half, they held on defensively and maintained composure the way the top teams do.
Middle forward depth the real deal
A lot was made about Canberra’s middle forward depth on paper over the summer, but now two rounds into the 2021 season, the extent of the club’s stacked roster is becoming clear on-field.
When the bench middle forward rotations came on at around the 20 minute mark last night, Ryan James, Ryan Sutton and Sia Soliola stepped up and didn’t miss a beat after playing similarly against the Tigers in round one.
NZ international Corey Harawira-Naera is yet to return from suspension, while highly touted youngsters Emre Guler and Corey Horsburg wait in the wings.
As the natural attrition of the season takes its toll, having the likes of CHN, Guler and Horsburg ready and raring to earn a first grade jersey will only be of benefit.
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