Raiders power into finals
Reece Robinson goes over. Photo: Getty Images
The Raiders scored six unanswered tries in the second half to turn a 16-point deficit into a comfortable 20-point victory. Simply remarkable. With a strong breeze at their backs after the break, the Raiders were always going to be able to dominate field position. But the question was had all the defensive work in the opening 40 minutes taken its toll? Shaun Fensom’s barnstorming try in the 46th minute got the comeback started, the Raiders running away with the match in the final 15 minutes against a Warriors side renowned for switching off when they get ahead.
Losing two key players on the eve of a match can disrupt even the best teams, but the Raiders were able to overcome the loss of Josh Dugan and Sam Williams. Dugan didn’t even make the flight to Auckland with an ankle injury, while Williams is confident of returning from a shoulder complaint to face the Sharks on Sunday. Reece Robinson again proved he’s one of the most improved players in the competition, filling in at the back for Dugan with aplomb. He chimed into attack beautifully and was rewarded with a couple of tries, while Shaun Berrigan’s experience allowed him to take over at halfback. Winger Dimitri Pelo and hooker Travis Waddell also didn’t look out of place.
While the Raiders desperately wanted to play at home in the first week of the finals, their outstanding away record will give them the confidence they can win anywhere. Several hoodoos have fallen by the wayside. The Raiders have collected competition points in Melbourne, Newcastle, the Gold Coast, and of course, New Zealand. Add to that victories at Campbelltown, Penrith and Cronulla, and you can see why the Raiders won’t have any fear in playing on the road for the rest of the finals series. Their home record is steadily improving as well, coinciding with the ploy to stay in a hotel across the NSW border the night before home games.
Blake Ferguson and Sandor Earl are quickly gaining a reputation as two of the best leapers in the game. Their ability to pluck the ball out of the air spells trouble for the opposition whenever the Raiders get close enough to launch a bomb high into the sky. Earl’s awareness, not just to collect the ball, but to flick it out to his partner-in-crime led to an easy try for Ferguson, who showed his own talents a few minutes later. Ferguson grabbed a bomb before continuing his momentum to sprint 20 metres for the tryline. The Raiders centre has formed a strong combination with Earl since the winger joined the club mid-season.
TIME TO HARDEN UP
A ‘‘soft’’ Warriors squad can expect a torrid pre-season, irrespective of who their new coach will be. NRL grand finalists a year ago, the club flopped to a 14th place finish this season, their unbroken losing streak reaching a club-record eight matches. Any hope of sending long-time servant Micheal Luck into retirement on a high foundered on another disappointing effort against the Raiders. "There's definitely a soft edge to the side," caretaker coach Tony Iro said. "There's no hiding from that." Asked how that could be turned around, he said: "Usually you just bash some hardness into them. I'm pretty sure that, regardless what happens next season, they're in for a tough pre-season."