The Canberra Raiders returned to the winners list with a comprehensive 20-4 victory over the Gold Coast Titans in Kogarah on Saturday night. Here are five talking points out of the game.
1. CNK is full of heart
Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad may not get the plaudits that the likes of James Tedesco and Ryan Papenhuyzen get, but he consistently shows that no fullback works harder than him.
His game is built on tremendous effort and that was on full display against the Titans with the fullback making a game-high 266 metres, but it was his defensive efforts that stood out.
Nicoll-Klokstad produced two try saving tackles in the first half to keep the Raiders in front and almost stopped the Titans only try with yet another desperate effort in the corner.
He has become such an integral part of this side and while there may be other fullbacks with more ball playing ability than him, it’s comforting knowing the Raiders number one will give everything he has each and every week.
Elliott Whitehead has often been thought of as the most underrated player in the NRL, but that title may have shifted to the Nicoll-Klokstad.
2. Papalii and Sutton
The Raiders middle forward combination of Josh Papalii and Ryan Sutton is quickly becoming one of the best in the competition.
After massive games last week where they were forced to play 70 minutes each, you could have forgiven these two big boppers for being a little sluggish, but they were simply outstanding yet again.
Papalii started from the bench this week and had a huge impact, running for 193 metre and scoring a trademark try from close range.
While Papalii is regarded as one of the best front rowers in the game, Sutton has every bit as good as him this year as he continues to mount a case for the most improved player in the competition.
After a monster game last week where he played 73 minutes and scored a try, Sutton backed it up with a 64-minute performance that featured 180 run metres and second try in as many weeks.
With Joe Tapine to return from injury in the next couple of weeks, the starting middle combination of Tapine, Papalii and Sutton can mix it with anyone in the league.
3. Outstanding defence
This game failed to hit any heights in an attacking sense but some of the defence from the Raiders was outstanding.
Along with Nicoll-Klokstad’s try savers, Jack Wighton produced the defensive play of the game when he knocked the ball out of Anthony Don’s hands in the first half.
While the Raiders missed plenty of tackles (39), their goal line defence ultimately won them the game.
The Titans were tackled 36 times in the Raiders 20 but hardly looked like threatening in the second half.
Canberra went in with a plan to attack David Fifita and it worked well with the star second rower struggling to have his usual impact.
While the goal line defence was superb, the true test for the Raiders will come on Friday night when they take on the flying Panthers in Penrith on Friday night.
4. Clunky attack
While the Raiders defence was tremendous, the attack still feels like a work in progress.
Wighton is yet to hit the heights of his Dally M 2020 season and probably had one of his worst games in recent memory with several handling and kicking errors. However, he is one of the best five-eighths in the NRL so expect him to bounce back quickly.
Josh Hodgson has been great for a long time but wasn’t having a great 2020 season before injury struck and hasn’t started 2021 that well either.
Perhaps it may just take a little bit longer for the returning Hodgson to properly mesh with Wighton and George Williams. However, one man that could help the stuttering attack is Tom Starling who was fantastic last season.
Named on the bench, Starling only played the final five minutes and managed to set up a try off the back of a Hodgson run.
Starling offers something different than Hodgson with his speed out of dummy half that could be dangerous late in games, particularly with the game getting even quicker.
We’ve seen glimpses of Starling and Hodgson on the field together over the past two weeks and it could be something Ricky Stuart uses more in the coming weeks.
5. The Raiders ‘home’ jersey falls flat
The Raiders 2021 heritage jersey featuring the classic Canberra Milk logo they famously wore during the 1994 premiership has been a massive hit with fans right across the NRL.
It sits right up there with the best jerseys in the league and has looks magnificent out on the field.
Unfortunately, the strip they wore in this match and their other away game (which is listed as their ‘home’ jersey on their shop website) misses the mark.
The large navy-blue strip across the top makes it look more like a training kit while the simplicity of the heritage jersey gives it that classic Green Machine feel.