Five Key Points: Raiders v Titans
Papalii's influence grows, Taylor's tough lesson, Titans call for reinforcements and the reason behind Croker's off night with the boot. The key points from the Raiders' big win over the Titans on Saturday night.
Papalii's influence grows by the game
He may have told NRL.com a fortnight ago that he doesn't see himself as a leader at the Raiders but Canberra coach Ricky Stuart is in no doubt that the 2017 version of Josh Papalii is the best yet.
On a night where the Raiders' big men were able to run rampant Papalii delivered yet another complete all-round performance, running for 166 metres from 13 carries, being in position to score a try off a Josh Hodgson grubber kick and come up with a line-break assist, six tackle busts and three offloads.
There's no question he will play a more prominent role as a senior member of the Queensland team in this year's Origin Series and none of it is coming as a surprise to Stuart.
"It doesn't astound me because I know how good he is," Stuart said.
"Whether he has to play with a bit of flair in his attack or whether he has to get into a bit of a grind and make some good, hard, tough metres for us or defensively, his game's gone to another level.
"He's such an important part of the team. I've seen Josh take another step in his maturity. He's taken another step towards being more of a senior player with the way he's acting off the field and helping the players around him. He's been great around the club."
Ash Taylor's education far from complete
He has received plenty of plaudits in his 27 NRL games to date – and deservedly so – but Saturday night's 42-16 loss to the Raiders was the worst of Ash Taylor's young career to date.
The Titans halfback looked out of sorts from the early stages of the game and failed to have an influence at all as the game quickly got away from Taylor and his team.
He looked like he wanted to walk off the field when he made a half-hearted effort to stop Jack Wighton from scoring late in the first half and even after scoring to get his side back into the contest his next contribution was a terrible tackle on the last tackle that saw momentum swing back completely in Canberra's favour.
"He's had an off night and he knows it," said Titans coach Neil Henry, who revealed that Taylor had addressed his teammates after the game.
"He's very disappointed that he couldn't find his way to get into a game. Kicking wise we weren't very good, the ends to our sets weren't pretty so it was a quiet game for him.
"It's a learning curve, we've got a couple of young halves and we need to spark up. The next couple are crucial for us now and he'll bounce back."
Titans call for reinforcements
Struggling to put together a team at the start of the week the Titans' plans were put into complete disarray when co-captain Kevin Proctor was ruled out 24 hours before kick-off and veteran Chris McQueen was unable to take the field due to a back injury he sustained during a gym session on Wednesday.
Tyrone Roberts left the field with a suspected broken toe with 20 minutes left to play with Henry adding that he would be "spending a bit of time at QScan" in the coming week due to further finger and knee complaints.
But amidst all the gloom there is some good news on the injury front with Henry hopeful of having Proctor, McQueen, Nathan Peats and Dan Sarginson available for selection for the Good Friday blockbuster against the Broncos.
"That's gone, how we react is very important," Henry said.
"Short turnaround to the Broncos, we'll welcome a couple of players back which will be good for the team, a couple of experienced guys and we need to move on."
Croker's off night injury-induced
Only once since Round 13, 2014 has Jarrod Croker played a game for the Raiders and not gotten onto the scoresheet but after missing his first two attempts against the Titans on Saturday night, Croker handed the reins to five-eighth Aidan Sezer.
But rather than any crisis of confidence for the record-setting points machine – whose two early misses kept the Titans in the contest, if only briefly – Ricky Stuart revealed why Croker didn't strike them as sweetly as we've come to expect.
"He hadn't practised all week through his injury. He won't say that but it's handy to have Aidan there," Stuart said.
Croker confirmed that a hip injury had hampered his early efforts but said a few misses wouldn't deter him from reassuming the duties against the Warriors next Saturday.
"I could miss 10 and I'd still keep kicking," Croker said.
"I'm just a bit jammed up in the hip so I'm pretty lucky to have someone like 'Seze' there."
Stuart's sympathy for Titans' plight
Every coach in the NRL knows the pain and frustration of a season interrupted by injuries to key players and in the aftermath of his side's 42-16 win on Saturday, Stuart stopped to spare a thought for his Titans counterpart.
More than half of the Titans' $7 million salary cap was sitting on the sidelines on Saturday evening and from the opening whistle it shaped as a mis-match of mammoth proportions.
Players such as Karl Lawton, Max King, Morgan Boyle and Paterika Vaivai acquitted themselves well but they were no match for a Green Machine running on all cylinders.
"It's been very unfortunate and very unlucky in regards to the injuries that's hit the Titans," Stuart said.
"I've been in that position before and it's a long, tough road and it's lonely. I know exactly what they're going through.
"You've seen through some of the depth out there that the Titans have got a future squad here for Neil.
"There are some kids out there that are learning how to play first grade and they're going to have a good squad at some stage."
POST MATCH COVERAGE