The Canberra Raiders secured a comfortable 30-12 victory over the Wests Tigers in round one to get their season off the perfect start.
There were some good performances from senior players and the youngsters, while Ryan James produced the moment of the match.
1. The bench forwards stood up
Coming into the season it was clear the battle for positions in the forwards was going to be fierce given the depth in the Raiders squad.
With Corey Horsburgh, Corey Harawira-Naera and Emre Guler on the sidelines, there was plenty of pressure on the middle forwards to play well to keep their spots.
Josh Papalii, Dunamis Lui and Joe Tapine were in the starting side while Ryan Sutton, Ryan James, Sia Soliola and Siliva Havili were on the bench.
With the match in the balance at half time, the bench forwards really stood up and helped the Raiders build a lead in the second half.
Josh Papalii didn’t have his best game but is an automatic selection every week. The other of those players locked into the side is Joe Tapine who was outstanding in the middle.
Sutton was probably the most impressive player fighting for a spot. He made a big impression coming off the bench, running with real aggression for his 125 metres and surely secured his place in the side for next week.
James was playing his first game since April 2019 but looked like he’d hardly missed a beat. He produced the best moment of the match, barging over from short range and celebrated like a man playing his first game in 693 days.
Soliola also played well off the bench, running for 118 metres in 30 minutes and should be locked in for next week.
Havili is in the side as much for his ability to play dummy half if needed and will likely be on the bench as a utility for the foreseeable future.
Lui is probably the most likely to fall out of the side after starting and only playing 17 minutes. He didn’t seem to do a lot wrong in his time, but given the bench forwards outplayed him, his position could be vulnerable with Horsburgh available next week.
2. Jordan Rapana wound back the clock
Rapana was forced to play a multitude of positions in 2020 and struggled to find consistent form.
However, after his first full pre-season in four years and back on the wing, Rapana looked back to his best against the Tigers.
He scored two opportunistic tries to equal his tally from last year already and looked more comfortable defending on the wing.
Hopefully it’s a sign of what’s to come from the 31-year-old in 2021.
3. George Williams can do it all
Williams was involved in everything for the Raiders, setting up two tries, chasing down a winger and even slotting goals.
He was named man of the match for his outstanding performance and it could have been even better after having a breakaway try overturned by the bunker.
With Croker out, Williams stepped up and kicked 5 from 6 goals, his only blemish a narrow miss from the sideline.
While Croker is set to return in the next couple of weeks, it’s comforting to know Williams can do the job in his absence.
4. The outside backs answered some questions
The Raiders outside backs struggled last year and with Nick Cotric leaving, there were some questions marks around the group heading into this season.
Along with Rapana, the other outside men all produced solid performances.
After a turbulent 2020 season, Curtis Scott might have played his best game in the lime green on Sunday. He made some good defensive decisions on his line, rushing the Tigers attack on several occasions and forcing errors. He also pounced on a loose ball to set up Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad for a try.
Seb Kris was filling in for Jarrod Croker at left centre and played his role well. He looked to have scored the first try of the match before it was overturned by the bunker. He matched up well defensively on James Roberts as well.
Bailey Simonsson was another who had his 2020 season ruined by injury. He had one moment of brilliance that showcased his immense talent. Leaping high in the air to take a kick from Williams, Simonsson then managed to offload the ball while falling to set up Hudson Young for a try.
With Croker still to come back and Harley Smith-Shields and Matt Timoko waiting in the wings, the outside backs stocks are in good shape.
5. Hudson Young looks settled on the edge already
Young had some big shoes to fill replacing John Bateman on the right edge, but he looked fantastic in his first game starting there, even picking up three Dally M votes.
He had his hands full defensively matching up against the Tigers go to man Luciano Leilua but managed to nullify his influence in the attacking zone.
He looked strong with the ball as well, running for 117 metres, busting 5 tackles and making a line break.
He also did a great job of supporting Simonsson which led to him scoring his first try of the season.
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