Who remembers the Six Million Dollar Man? Surname Austin. The tag line was “We can rebuild him”. After being discarded by the Panthers and Tigers, the Raiders came calling and got their man, bionic hairstyle and all. They have rebuilt him!
Canberra went into today’s match against the Titans, having not won at home this season but having completed two remarkable comebacks away from home against the Tigers and Rabbitohs to be taken seriously in the 2015 competition. Well, they just cranked that up a notch after today’s thumping of the Titans, to the tune of 56-16.
A ten try display that was orchestrated by Blake Austin, who is arguably playing as the form player of the competition in what is easily the form team of the competition. The stats speak for themselves. The Raiders have scored 211 points so far this season to lead the NRL in points scored. Only the Cowboy stand a remote chance of overtaking the Raiders and they will have to score 40 to do it.
True, premierships aren’t won in May I hear you say but who honestly expected the Raiders to be sitting in the top four halfway through round 9? I certainly didn’t and I’m a Raiders fan. some may dispute that but to you I say, pfft!
Back to Austin. He is by no means perfect but he plays with passion and desire and he does everything with purpose. He is certainly a work in progress but if NSW were still uncertain about the contentious five eighth position, then Austin would fill the bill perfectly as his competitors for the number six jersey aren’t playing anywhere near the quality of footy that Austin is.
Austin has been well supported by a rampaging forward pack and a sublime dummy half pairing of Josh Hodgson and Kurt Baptiste. Austin threw plenty of dummies today but had Josh Papalii running wide so the opposition has to respect the run and the pass and the dummy from Austin proved lethal with a great individual try in the second half. Coaches will now have sufficient game film to study on Austin but with a multi-faceted skill set, Austin will prove a headache to mark if he can continue playing with the confidence he has displayed over the last month, including a stellar performance for City last week.
A lot of the credit for Austins meteoric rise must go to Ricky Stuart. His coaching has been outstanding this year and he has quickly built a more than competitive squad that only reckons to improve with the addition of Aidan Sezer next year. Stuart has copped a continual barrage of criticism over the years for the way he supposedly ruins players careers, especially halves.
The Raiders have also had difficulty attracting quality players to join the club but with Austin, Soliola, Waqa, Hodgson and Frank Paul Nuúsuala on board this year and Sezer coming next year, the players obviously see Stuart as a coach they are willing to relocate and play for. Nothing like a bit of success to stick it to the critics.
Stuart within the space of a season has discarded an under performing front row and injected youth, size and hunger. It’s certainly starting to pay off in spades with Paul Vaughan, Frank Paul Nu”uausala and Shannon Boyd all having outstanding seasons, giving the likes of Austin the room he needs, and the direction required to take it to the opposition for eighty minutes and they certainly did that today.
Stuart has built a team full of potential rep players to join Josh Papalii with names such as Wighton, Vaughan and Austin all in serious reckoning for NSW honours. Sure, the potential was always there but it is being harnessed effectively and the results are showing on the field.
The Raiders have won four of their past five and look to be building towards a top eight finish. Not a bad achievement for a team largely overlooked by the Sydney-centric media, however Blake Austin and the Raiders wouldn’t have it any other way.
With some blockbusters against the Dragons and Broncos looming, wins against top four opposition may make a few more people sit back and take notice and to be fair, the Raiders have had a good run with injuries this year and you only have to have a look at what Souths are going through with key players sidelined and how quickly it can derail momentum.
Next Sunday, Austin and co are off to WIN Stadium to play the Dragons (aka Raiders 2.0) in what should be a great battle of a stoic defence against an unforgiving, ruthless attack. Can’t wait!