The Canberra Raiders suffered a tough 30-10 loss to the Panthers on Friday night, here are five talking points from the defeat.
CNK is vital to the Raiders
It’s amazing to think Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad wasn’t playing regular NRL footy before he came to the Raiders in 2019, but he has quickly become one of Canberra’s most important players.
He was forced out of the game early on after a high shot from Viliame Kikau, forcing the Raiders to reshuffle their backline.
Jordan Rapana moved to fullback and was found out of position several times whilst Elliott Whitehead and Jarrod Croker on the edge looked slow.
Nicoll-Klokstad’s nonstop effort and ability to run the ball back with power was sorely missed, but it was his defensive positioning that Canberra missed most of all.
Unfortunately, it can be very hard to replace an outside back, but the Raiders may need another alternative should the situation arise again. Hopefully that doesn’t eventuate, but perhaps even Jack Wighton back to fullback and Josh Hodgson into the halves could be a better option.
The 18th man rule
The NRL introduced the 18th man rule from round 5 onwards which allows team to substitute a player on when either three players fail a HIA or when a player suffers a match ending injury caused by foul play – and the perpetrator is sin binned or sent off.
Well, the rule seemed a little silly when it came in, but a hole was well and truly exposed in the system when Nicoll-Klokstad failed his HIA after a high shot from Kikau.
Kikau was penalised for the incident but wasn’t sent to the bin, meaning the Raiders were left without a key player and could not use Corey Harawira-Naera as their 18th man.
A simple solution for the NRL could be that teams can use the 18th man after losing a player to any foul play, whether it deemed bad enough for a sin bin or not.
The Raiders are off the pace
While the loss of Nicoll-Klokstad hurt the Raiders, Ricky Stuart admitted in his press conference that his men were simply outplayed.
The Panthers have been the benchmark over the opening 5 rounds and while the Raiders matched them for periods of the game, they couldn’t keep it up for the full 80 minutes.
There is certainly no need to panic for the Raiders just yet, but their attack needs to improve to match it with the top sides.
The Raiders are blessed with plenty of depth in the forwards, so it has been interesting to see how Ricky Stuart has opted to use his bench.
On the weekend he ran with a bench of Ryan Sutton, Joe Tapine, Siliva Havili and Tom Starling but the injury to Nicoll-Klokstad exposed its versatility.
Harawira-Naera is the one that could come onto that bench and not only provide versatility but also offer a spark in attack.
He can obviously play on the edge or in the middle forwards like he did last year, but with his speed he should be able to cover a slot in the centres if injury strikes again.
The inclusion of Starling on the bench probably means Havili is no longer required as the backup dummy half.
With Josh Papalii, Sutton and Tapine all starting in the middle, a bench of Starling, Harawira-Naera, Ryan James and one of either Sia Soliola, Emre Guler or Corey Horsburgh could be the best option for the Raiders at this stage. Unless they want a genuine outside back on the bench which could open the door for Sebastian Kris to slot in there once Curtis Scott is back from injury.
The form of Jarrod Croker
While he has been a champion for the Raiders over his 13 seasons at the club, Croker has been below his best since returning in round 3.
His missed try opportunity when the Raiders were leading 6-0 was a crucial miss and a chance he would normally take every time.
The stats show he his tackling at just 66.67% efficiency compared to 85.29% last year and is averaging just 59 run metres per game. Both stats are on track to be the lowest of his career.
In Croker’s defence, he endured an interrupted preseason with recovery from shoulder surgery limiting his ability to train with the team.
All Raiders fans will be hoping the star centre is just taking a little while to find his groove and a return to form is imminent.
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