Raiders' home becomes graveyard
Slippery customer … Knights halfback Tyrone Roberts does his best to prevent Raiders star Josh Dugan racing away at Canberra Stadium. Photo: Melissa Adams
CANBERRA skipper David Shillington has challenged his side to adopt their trench warfare road formula at home after the Raiders were embarrassed by Newcastle at Canberra Stadium yesterday.
With both teams starting the match two points outside the top eight, it was the Knights who displayed the necessary desperation and execution to secure their third straight win.
In contrast, the Raiders enhanced their reputation as a psychologist's worst nightmare by backing up last week's huge win at Cronulla with another shocking home performance. After their points differential took another hit, Canberra most likely need to win all five of their remaining matches to make the finals. But their inexplicable habit of backing up a great away effort with an insipid home display means their season is realistically over.
Put simply, the desperation and intensity the Raiders displayed to shock the Sharks 36-4 in Sydney last week was non-existent in the second half. Once a fortress, Canberra Stadium must now feel like a trip to Disneyland for visiting teams. The Raiders have won just three of nine games there this year.
And Shillington declared they need to improve their mental approach to home games to avoid another humiliation against the Broncos at Canberra this week.
''When we go away I personally think people are preparing for a battle, that we need to dig in and work hard for each other,'' Shillington said. ''When we're away, we've got six or seven chasers trapping people in goal and getting repeat sets. The last couple of games at home, it just seems like we're not prepared to dig in for each other, there's no desperation.''
Newcastle wingers Kevin Naiqama (two tries) and Akuila Uate were superb, Canberra making one solitary line break to Newcastle's 11. With their potent back five running riot, only some scrambling defence prevented the Raiders trailing by more than 12-0 at half-time.
In the sixth minute, Newcastle back-rower Alex McKinnon found winger Naiqama with a fine cut-out pass, and he gave the visitors a 6-0 lead. Seven minutes later, Uate looked set to be trapped in goal by a Sam Williams short kick, which could have allowed the Raiders to wrest some momentum.
Instead, Uate broke through to run 90 metres downfield. The next play Raiders winger Sandor Earl was sin-binned for tackling a try-line bound Zeb Taia from an offside position.
Canberra's poor chase on Uate highlighted the Raiders' inability to take their chances to wrest back momentum in games, a problem which has plagued them all year. The Knights scored with Earl off the field either side of half-time, and any chance the Raiders had of launching a comeback was dashed.
''I don't want to say we're young, but experience helps you prepare right and know when you have to take your opportunities,'' Shillington said. ''When we get early tries on us we fail to find touch or we kick dead … it's a very frustrating habit we have.''
A clearly shattered Shillington was at a loss to pinpoint the reason behind the Raiders' yips at home.
''I just truly believed we had some momentum and we had put our up and down [form] behind us,'' he said. ''The only good thing to come out of today is we have another home game next week to turn it around.
''But before next week we really have to address those issues of when you get an opportunity to tackle someone in goal, for example, to show that desperation.''
The Raiders' forwards, so impressive against Cronulla, were manhandled by the Knights' pack, with Chris Houston, Willie Mason and Adam Cuthbertson outstanding. Newcastle halves Jarrod Mullen and Tyrone Roberts comprehensively outplayed Raiders playmakers Williams and Josh McCrone, especially in the kicking department.
Canberra's plight was compounded by a hamstring injury to prop Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, while Joe Picker was placed on report in the second half for a head-slam tackle on Mullen.
Canberra coach David Furner said the Knights handled the pressure of what was effectively a knockout game for both sides far better than the youthful Raiders.
''It's semi-final-type football and virtually sudden death,'' he said. ''That's the football we're in at the moment, we're in that semi-final-type football now and we didn't handle that well in the second half.
''It [our home form] is a tough one for everyone to swallow, players, coaches and fans.''