Canberra centre Joey Leilua believes he and right-edge partner Jordan Rapana can shake off the targets on their backs and return to the form which has terrorised NRL rivals.
The Raiders slumped to a third-straight loss on Sunday against struggling Newcastle, with the Knights deliberately kicking into touch late in the tackle count to deny ‘Leipana’ the ball.
It was a tactic also employed successfully last month by Manly, as teams looked for ways to shut down the devastating attacking flair of Leilua and Rapana.
“They are targeting us, for sure. You can see it in every game lately,” Leilua said on Tuesday.
“They’re getting out and marking us and tackling us.”
But he can see a positive to the kicking tactic which is starving him of possession.
“If teams are going to do that to us, it gives our forwards a rest – it’s a win-win,” he said.
While the dynamic duo started the season in fine touch, Rapana and Leilua’s numbers have dropped dramatically during the Raiders’ losing streak.
Rapana averaged almost 175 metres a game on the wing during the first seven rounds, a figure which had dipped to 74m in the past three matches.
Leilua racked up 114.4m a game up to round seven but had been averaging 80.3m in the Raiders’ past three losses.
The pair who combined for 13 tries after seven rounds had crossed once between them since, a spectacular effort from Rapana almost a month ago against the Sea Eagles.
While Leilua admits he has been below his best, he’s counting on his instinctive style to fight his way out of the rut.
“I’ve always got confidence,” Leilua said.
“We’ve just got to get in there and get more involved.”
The embarrassing slip-up against the Knights has applied the pressure on Canberra, who sit one game outside the top eight.
They face Parramatta on Saturday night at ANZ Stadium, with the Eels set to be boosted by the arrival of five-eighth Mitchell Moses after his release by the Wests Tigers.
That will go some of the way to offsetting the loss of star playmaker Corey Norman who is set to miss four weeks with a knee injury.
The Raiders will add some firepower of their own, with Satet of Origin forward Josh Papalii returning from suspension.
“He was a big loss on the weekend. Having him back will be a big impact for that left side,” Leilua said.
Papalii’s inclusion at second row pushes Joe Tapine to lock and Luke Bateman to the bench.
Key statistics, rounds eight to 10, compared to first seven matches:
Rapana: 1 (down from 7)
Leilua: 0 (down from 6)
* Average run metres:
Rapana: 74 (down from 174.8)
Leilua: 80.3 (down from 114.4)
* Missed tackles:
Rapana: 8 (compared to 10 in first seven rounds)
Leilua: 11 (8 in opening seven rounds)