The Canberra Raiders have done it again, going to Melbourne and emerging victorious over the Storm, only, this time, it was in a qualifying final and grants them the right to a week off. It was a crazy game and there is plenty to discuss, so let’s get into it.
Can we please use the bunker to get things right?
Let me state to begin that the decision at the end of this game, where Suliasi Vunivalu was ruled to have made contact with the sideline after a short restart, didn’t cost the Storm the game.
The attitude of some “experts” and “analysts” following the game being just that is a joke. And a bad one at that.
The Raiders deserve all the credit in the world. They let in one try across 79 minutes, and were hardly a sure thing to give up a second if the Storm had of been allowed to keep that short kick-off.
However, that’s where my disagreement stops.
If we have a bunker, who have every single camera available at the touch of a button, then there must be rules brought in to let them intervene and get that call right.
There has to be a balance where the game isn’t slowed down any more than it is currently, but when there is a stoppage with ample time to get the right call, then it should be made.
In other sporting leagues around the world, like the NBA for example, we often see a game stopped in the final minutes so the video can be checked and the right decision made, and just maybe, that should be the case in the final ten minutes of an NRL game.
At the very least, this is what a captain’s challenge could be used for. It doesn’t work in try-scoring scenarios, but it sure could in situations like last night’s.
When you have a decision that is near-on impossible for a touch judge to get right, we should be doing everything possible to not leave a black mark on the game, and that means getting the bunker involved.
Raiders calmness under the pump could win them the competition
There was a lot that went wrong for the Raiders in this contest, but the way they fought through adversity and came away with the win was outstanding.
In fact, they could have fallen apart before the opening whistle.
It’s not every day – and nor should it ever happen again – that a player gets a piece of firework lodged in their eye.
Frankly, it’s a joke, and there should be a full investigation completed by the NRL into the issue, with extra safety precautions for players, officials and spectators introduced into the future.
But, back to the game. Bailey Simonsson didn’t expect to start, the Raiders didn’t expect to not have Joey Leilua out there for the first portion of the game, and yet, they started like a house on fire.
Reversing the trend of their previous two outings against the Storm where they found themselves 18-nil down in no time at all, it was the late substitute who scored first for the Raiders last night in what was a superb start.
And not just that. The Raiders then found a way to hold off the Storm, then keep in contact, and hold their nerve during a tense final ten minutes to score a try to come from behind, then hang on to take the game.
It’s that sort of coolness and calmness under pressure from the entire team, coaching staff and playing group that gets the job done in big games.
The Raiders had the talent, and now they have confirmed beyond all reasonable doubt that they have the cool heads under pressure to get it done as well.
Premiership dark horse? No, try grand final favourites.
Is that “the loss the Storm had to have,” or something more sinister?
You never want to doubt the Melbourne Storm, because they are a professional, talented organisation who normally catch their knockers with their pants down due to the fact they, you know, don’t lose many games of rugby league.
But they now go into knockout footy a week earlier than they want to, coming off a physical game where they had to leave it all on the park, and to be brutally honest, they looked a little frazzled at times last night.
In fact, they didn’t look like the Storm at all.
You have to remember though, that this isn’t the Storm of old. No matter how good their season has been (and it’s been incredible), the Storm no longer have Bill Slater, they no longer have Cooper Cronk, and Cameron Smith, the ultimate professional, is well past his prime.
Apart from the fact Smith could have really done with the week off at his age, the Storm have a new-look spine in the last couple of weeks which didn’t quite fire in this qualifying final, and many members of their forward pack still trying to learn the game.
The Storm will still be at home next week, so that’s a positive, and they will be expected to beat the winner of today’s Broncos and Eels clash, but they then have to go on the road a week earlier than they would have wanted to as well, for a likely match against the Roosters.
If there is one positive for neutral fans, we will get at least one new team in the decider this year, but make no mistake about it, the Storm’s premiership hopes took a major hit last night.
Why did Josh Papalii come off the bench?
This was a weird one, and I don’t want to debate Ricky Stuart too much, because everything he has touched recently has turned to gold.
Resting six players last week receives a big green tick, and given Papalii was immense off the bench, the Raiders started well and didn’t lose the game, this move gets a big green tick as well.
But, and it’s a bloody big but – Papalii is a freak. He is a giant of front row play, and has been one of the best in the competition this year as a crucial part of why the Raiders are where they are.
Now, the move has worked once, so again, hard to be too critical of the Raiders and Stuart, but I’d hedge my money against it working twice.
When you take on the top sides in big games, you want your best forwards on the field early on to set the platform for the side and make life easy for the halves as they try to settle into the game.
Papalii is what’s known as a best forward when you look through the Raiders roster, and while they have plenty of depth, there is no replacement for what Papalii provides as he illustrated when he came off the pine.
I’d be stunned to see him there for the preliminary final in a fortnight against either South Sydney or Manly.
Melbourne’s back five must fire for a premiership
If there is one thing that’s clear, it’s that the Storm are going to need near perfect performances from their back five, particularly Ryan Papenhuyzen, Josh Addo-Carr and Suliasi Vunivalu, if they are going to go anywhere near winning a premiership.
Should they scrape through next week, they book a date with the Roosters at the Sydney Cricket Ground, which, amazingly, will be their first-ever game at the venue.
But, when you look through the top teams, they all have ways of getting their sets off to great starts and capitalising on opportunities out wide.
When the Storm did look dangerous or on top of proceedings last night, it was because of this back three.
Josh Addo-Carr was particularly dangerous on the left edge, but Vunivalu and Papenhuyzen also contributed strongly, while Justin Olam was solid.
Will Chambers is the other in the back five, and he needs to be at his best for the Storm to mount a case over the next three weeks.
Josh Hodgson is about to take the mantle as the NRL’s best hooker
Frankly, he may be already there when you look at 2019 form alone.
It’s always so hard to go past Smith as the best hooker in the game because of the leadership, professionalism and excellent service he provides at the rake position, but Hodgson is catching him fast.
What the English import lacks in any one area on Smith, he makes up for in incredible vision and raw talent. His passing game is second to none, he kicks the ball well, picks the right options and more often than not, makes everyone around him play at their full potential.
Sometimes, it’s the little things he does without them even being realised that make him so good. When you don’t notice the dummy half, he is doing a good job, and that’s so often the case with Hodgson as he just provides excellent, fast service and allows the big Canberra pack to get on a roll.
He, alongside the rest of the Raiders spine, was absolutely critical in the victory to book a week off, and you can bet every last dollar you have that if the Raiders go the distance, he will be a contender for man of the match in each remaining contest.
Roarers, what did you make of the game? Drop a comment below and let us know.