The Raiders suffered their fourth straight defeat, losing 34-20 to the Rabbitohs at home. Here are five talking points from the match.
Second half issues continue
Recent performances will be giving Raiders fans flashbacks to 2018 when the team was known as ‘The Faiders’ and were famous for blowing leads.
Canberra seemed to be rid of that tag after defence became such a strong point for the side in 2019 and 2020 as they become one of the toughest teams to beat.
However, over the past four weeks Canberra has been outscored 69-8 in their second halves in what is now an alarming trend.
After such a strong showing in the first half against the Rabbitohs which saw them take a two-point lead into the break, all their hard work was undone in the 20 minutes after half time.
The Bunnies scored three tries against a disjointed Raiders defence to open up a 16-point lead after 60 minutes. They did manage to mount a late fightback which was promising but the damage had already been done with that lethargic 20-minute period.
The Raiders have come out visibly flat in their recent second halves and Ricky Stuart needs to find a solution before the season really gets away from his side.
Poor right edge defence
The Rabbitohs ran amuck over the Raiders right edge defence of Corey Harawira-Naera, Elliott Whitehead, Curtis Scott and Bailey Simonsson.
Simonsson in particular was caught rushing in numerous times, most notably in the first half when Benji Marshall threw a pass to Alex Johnston unmarked on the wing.
They Bunnies scored their first two tries of the second half attacking the Raiders right edge which prompted Ricky Stuart to switch Simonsson to the other wing for Jordan Rapana.
The blame certainly doesn’t lie just with Simonsson as he was consistently left outnumbered on his wing.
The issue was exacerbated by the injury to Williams pre game, forcing Whitehead to defend one out from his usual position but it may mean Simonsson switches to the left wing for next week.
Finding the right balance in the middle
Heading into the season it seemed like the Raiders great strength would be their quality depth in the middle forwards.
However, a combination of players out of form and Stuart not finding the right mix has seen Canberra’s middle vulnerable in recent weeks.
Josh Papalii was rested for this game in a hope he will find his best form while Joe Tapine was dropped for their Round 7 loss against the Cowboys.
Those two along with Hudson Young formed a tremendous combination in the middle for the Raiders late last year but with Papalii and Tapine out of form and Young playing mainly in the second row, the others haven’t managed to step up consistently.
Ricky Stuart has thrown his troops around with Dunamis Lui, Sia Soliola, Siliva Havili, Ryan James, Emre Guler and Corey Horsburgh all getting time this season but there hasn’t been any stability apart from the reliable Ryan Sutton.
Papalii will likely come back in for Soliola next week with James the next one likely to drop out as Whitehead shifts back into the forwards.
It’s tough finding enough minutes for all the Raiders middles but Stuart has to find the right balance quickly.
The Raiders lost the game with a dreadful 20 minutes after half time, but they made a late fightback that was ultimately snuffed out by the bunker ruling out two Jack Wigton tries for obstruction.
The first call in particular caused plenty of controversy after Wighton sliced through to score under the posts which on-field referee Ben Cummins ruled a try only for Henry Perenara in the bunker to overturn the decision.
Perenara ruled that Benji Marshall was impeded by Emre Guler in the defensive line even though replays showed Marshall ran forward in an attempt to milk the penalty.
The second obstruction went against Corey Harawira-Naera after Wighton caught the ball on his inside shoulder and was deemed to have gained an advantage running around him.
Stuart clearly wasn’t happy with either decision and made his feelings known in his post-match press conference.
“It was smart by [Benji] Marshall to run forward and try and tackle a person that was going to help him get a penalty. Good gamesmanship,” Stuart said of the first disallowed try.
“There’s no way in [the] world they were going to tackle those players there.
“Anybody with common sense in regard to rugby league knows that they were two tries but while that type of interpretation is in the game it’s going to be a blight on the game, we’ve been talking about it for years.
“You can’t run forward and tackle somebody who’s in front of you and not try and tackle the person with the football.”
Starling in fine form
Starling had to bide his time in the NSW Cup at the start of the season but has impressed since taking over from the injured Josh Hodgson as the starting hooker.
His speed around the ruck was on show all night and he played a hand in the Raiders first two tries. He also made 49 tackles in the middle at 96.1% efficiency with several of his trademark tackles under the ribs.
It will be interesting to see what Stuart does when Hodgson is back from his calf injury, but Starling would be desperately unlucky to drop down to NSW Cup again.
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