Raiders, Knights feeling the pressure

Jordan Rapana and the Raiders will face Newcastle in a must-win match at Wagga. Photo: Mark Nolan/Getty Images
Jordan Rapana and the Raiders will face Newcastle in a must-win match at Wagga. Photo: Mark Nolan/Getty Images

There is nothing more disappointing than falling well short of expectations without being able to put your finger on exactly what has caused it.

Two clubs currently sitting in that same boat - Canberra and Newcastle - just happen to be meeting each other on Saturday, in what shapes as a real crunch game in Wagga.

The winner of the clash will no doubt feel like they may have climbed out of the hole they've been digging for themselves, with enough confidence and positive thoughts to potentially turn their season around.

In contrast, the loser will feel like the joint has crumbled down around them. I tipped the Raiders to win the comp this season.

Not through blind loyalty to my old club, but because I genuinely believed they had the talent and depth and hunger to take a step or two further than they have over the past two seasons.

I thought the return of hooker Josh Hodgson, one of the game's best dummy halves, after he missed a big chunk of last season would take them to another level.

But for whatever reason, they just haven't fired. They won ugly early without playing great, which I thought at the time was a good sign but it turns out it wasn't. The losses have piled up and the confidence and belief seems to have disappeared. That's when questions start to get asked and all the little dramas that get glossed over when you are winning get exposed and magnified.

Ricky Stuart has been pro-active through the slump, dropping some big names who haven't been performing and trying to shake the place up a bit. I thought there were some signs, particularly in the first half against South Sydney last weekend, that the hunger and desire was back. They just couldn't sustain it for the full 80 minutes.

The Knights, who most people expected would kick on after ending a long finals' drought last season, have also been in a bit of a dark place. The inconsistency in their performances must be frustrating the hell out of their coach Adam O'Brien.

The big one for them has been the loss of Mitchell Pearce. He's their experienced playmaker and on-field leader, but the biggest thing they have missed with him not being there is his intensity and fighting qualities. As it stands with them, if Kalyn Ponga doesn't create it either for himself or someone like Bradman Best, it doesn't happen. That has made their scatter-gun attack predictable with the opposition realising that doing a decent job on the fullback will just about shut the Knights attack down.

But it's their lack of resolve in defence in games that would have O'Brien losing plenty of sleep. To allow an under-strength Sydney Roosters side to dominate them like they did in the opening 20 minutes last weekend suggests there are some real leadership problems at play in Newcastle.

On the strength of their performances last week, I'd be more confident if I was a Raiders fan going into this one, but it's difficult to predict what's going to happen.

Given the nature of the competition and the way the premiership ladder looks, it won't be the end of the line for the loser on Saturday. But another defeat will make it that little bit harder to find a way back.

OTHER GAMES

PANTHERS v SHARKS

How do you go past the Panthers in this one? They are just playing with so much control and poise and Nathan Cleary is doing absolutely everything right behind an up-tempo, mobile forward pack that regularly wins just about every ruck. My tip: Panthers

EELS v ROOSTERS

The Roosters have an outstanding system and a real strong "next man up" mentality, but they can't keep overcoming the loss of key players.

Losing Brett Morris and Lindsay Collins on top of the others could signal the death knell for their title hopes. In contrast, the Eels are going great and at home, I see them winning this one. My tip: Eels

TIGERS v TITANS

The Tigers showed some real grit last week to beat the Dragons, but is the same team going to turn up again this week?

I bet even Madge Maguire doesn't know the answer to that.

As for the Titans, if they start to realise there are two parts to the game and you have to tackle as well as attack, they will regularly trouble sides. My tip: Titans

COWBOYS v BRONCOS

A real toss of the coin here with the inconsistencies of both sides so maybe the Cowboys in a tight one because they are at home. Neither side are playing for 80 minutes. The Broncos will have taken some confidence out of their remarkable comeback against the Titans and I like the look of their new halfback Tyson Gamble. My tip: Cowboys

EAGLES v WARRIORS

I've loved the grittiness of the Warriors this season, and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has been enormous for them in his final season in the NRL. They also have a beauty in young Reese Walsh. But thanks to the return of Tommy Turbo, Manly is a different side now and at home at Brookie, I think they'll have too many points in them. My tip: Eagles

DRAGONS v BULLDOGS

There is no doubt the Dragons have gone off the boil over the past few weeks, with their error count a big factor.

The Dragons are a side that needs to build pressure to score points and that hasn't been happening.

They have to get back to that tough, uncompromising style that had them travelling so well a month ago.

Provided they do that, I think they'll score enough points to take care of the Dogs in this one. My tip: Dragons

This story Raiders, Knights feeling the pressure first appeared on The Canberra Times.