23 March 2023

The season's barely started and the Raiders' character is already being put to the test

| Tim Gavel
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Rugby League player

Danny Levi is out for at least eight weeks after suffering a broken jaw against the Sharks last weekend. Photo: Liv Cameron.

It hasn’t taken long for the Raiders to start looking through junior grades for replacements – it’s been a shocking start to the season.

Zac Woodford has again gone from playing in the Raiders NSW Cup to the NRL starting lineup for the game against Newcastle and there’s a chance he could remain in the starting lineup for a while, with the injury suffered by Danny Levi sidelining him for at least the next two months.

The image of an NRL official searching the playing surface for Levi’s missing teeth after his jaw was broken is a sobering reminder of the physical nature of the game at this level.

It turns out his teeth were the least of his problems.

On Thursday (23 March), Levi revealed an even worse truth.

“My jaw had split so much that there was this massive gap between my teeth,” Levi said.

“It looked like I had a heap of missing teeth because it was split so far. But I am lucky that I wasn’t missing any teeth. I managed to keep them all.”

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Any further injury to either Woodford or Tom Starling would force the Raiders to improvise with backup hooker Adrian Trevilyan suffering an ACL injury keeping him out until the middle of the season.

The Raiders faced a similar situation last season with Adam Elliott shifting to hooker at times during games.

The testing of depth is not confined to hooker.

Talk in the pre-season focused on Xavier Savage and the expectations on him to be the Raiders X factor.

Savage hasn’t played an NRL game so far and won’t be available until at least round six after suffering a fractured jaw in the pre-season trial against the Bulldogs in Moruya.

The next option for fullback, Jordan Rapana, is out through suspension.

Centre Sebastian Kris has shown that he is more than capable as a substitute at the back and there is every possibility he could remain there even when Rapana returns.

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The lack of depth, it would appear, is not an issue at the moment.

The bigger issue for the Raiders is their lack of discipline at the backend of games.

Sure, they ended up with a 24-20 victory, but it should never have been that close after the Raiders led 24-10 following Corey Horsburgh’s second try in the 51st minute.

The Sharks then had Royce Hunt sent to the bin for 10 minutes and the Raiders should have put the game to bed.

Instead, in the second set after Horsburgh’s try, the Raiders gave away a penalty for holding down in the tackle before giving away a further six-tackle set.

The momentum created on the back of the ill-discipline resulted in Jesse Ramien scoring in the 55th minute.

The Sharks scored again in the 71st minute.

The last eight minutes ended up being a thriller, but it should never have reached that point. The Raiders helped to bring the Sharks back into the game.

It has to be said, though, the Raiders showed plenty of character to hold on to win against the fast-finishing Sharks.

There’s a fair chance they will need to draw on that resilience as well as player depth throughout the season.

The Raiders take on the Knights on Sunday, 26 March, at McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle.

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