Last weekend’s 44-6 capitulation by the Canberra Raiders at the hands of the Gold Coast Titans brought to the surface many questions warranting further analysis.
From my perspective, it was the worst performance in the past three years from a Raiders outfit, which many predicted would be at least a top-four side in the 2021 NRL season.
But what we saw on Saturday night was a Titans side running in eight tries to one, aided and abetted by 69 missed tackles from the Raiders, in addition to plenty of tackles that were less than effective.
So why have the wheels fallen off after pretty much the same side made the NRL grand final in 2019 before playing in the preliminary final in 2020?
Off-field dramas haven’t helped, with John Bateman continuing to snipe from afar. Then there’s the departure of George Williams, speculation about Josh Hodgson’s future, social media commentary from players’ partners, players’ drink-driving and the Curtis Scott nightclub drama.
Then there is what is happening on the field.
The Raiders have an ageing roster that is struggling to keep up with the pace of the game, which has become even faster with rule changes, such as ‘six again’.
The faster game, with reduced stoppages, has exposed the age of the Raiders’ roster with the current game far more suitable to younger players.
To press home this point, the statistics speak for themselves.
In the starting line-up against the Titans, the Raiders had six players aged 30 years or above, while Josh Papalii is 29 and Jack Wighton is 28.
Compare this to the leading two NRL teams this season, the Melbourne Storm and Penrith Panthers.
The Panthers have no players aged above 30 in their line-up at the moment, with the oldest in the backline being Dylan Edwards at 25 years, while in the forwards, hooker Api Koroisau is the oldest, at 28 years of age.
The Melbourne Storm demolished the Sydney Roosters 46-0 during the past weekend. They had just one player in the starting side over the age of 30, Jesse Bromwich, who is 32.
While age isn’t everything, it is obvious the Raiders are struggling to keep pace with their rivals.
Another factor is the lack of form displayed by key players such as Wighton and Joseph Tapine.
Papalii and Josh Hodgson are playing well in spurts, while Ryan Sutton, for mine, has been the standout.
Turning things around isn’t as easy as it sounds. A number of the Raiders’ ageing players are on contract for the next couple of years. And it takes time to blood younger players. But has the time come to put the likes of Matt Timoko, Xavier Savage and Brad Schneider permanently into the Raiders line-up?
Coach Ricky Stuart has shown he can build a roster and develop a competitive side, but it takes time and will test the patience of the supporter-base. We’ve all become accustomed to success.