Where do I even start?
First of all with a big thankyou to Dan who took the rumble through the back half of the season after my wife and I welcomed our beautiful son into the world (yes he already has a Raiders onesie!)
Secondly to all you wonderful fans who keep clicking on the Rumble week in week out to see how I (or Dan) think the impending game will pan out – it’s not the easiest piece to write due to its speculative nature, and I often catch myself covering stuff that Dan addressed with the review of the previous game. Still it gives me something to do and you something to read, so we’re all winners really!
I don’t like too much hyperbole and melodrama in these Rumbles but I think it’s safe to let loose and ask…
ARE YOU FREAKING EXCITED CANBERRA?
I am, but it’s that particular kind of nervous excitement, the kind where you picture yourself commentating the final minutes of the 2019 Grand Final as the Raiders take out a premiership before reminding yourself that they need to overcome the Rabbitohs here on Friday night and then the winner of the Roosters/Storm clash in the big dance and starting to get cold sweats.
The Raiders of 2019 feel a lot more solid than the team that nearly went the distance in 2016. They’re stronger in defence and more controlled in their attitude towards game management. Where the 2016 Raiders nearly always relied on early landslide scores to get them home the 2019 Raiders know how to apply the slow grind pressure that weakens their opponents and shuts them out of the game.
The 2019 season hasn’t been perfect, but when push came to shove the Raiders have been able to make sure they were in the right place at the right time (that last round loss to the Warriors doesn’t look so bad now does it?) Across previous seasons under Ricky demoralizing losses would often lead to mini-loss streaks, but this year they just seem to have given the Raiders resolve to do better. They haven’t always won well this year, but I’m sure we’d all take a scrappy win over a graceful loss.
We need to acknowledge the history building up behind this game. Thirty years ago an upstart expansion club from the nation’s capital was becoming something of a thorn in the side of the NSWRL. With a motley crew of talent assembled from across the Riverina, Canberra and Queensland they started making inroads into rugby league, showing what you could do with community spirit and players who were happy to relocate for the love of the game.
In 1989 the Raiders made it into the top five that would make up the Finals. They then proceeded to bash the Sharks, edge out the Panthers and easily dispose of the Rabbitohs before going on to win THE GREATEST GRAND FINAL OF ALL TIME! Thirty years on and the Bunnies are again in the headlights.
Now comes the agonizing wait. Tickets go on sale from Monday morning, and saddens me to say that not everyone can fit into Canberra Stadium (if you happen to be one of the lucky ones don’t gloat about it). Then, after five days of dreaming and hoping we have to wait another 80 minutes to find out if the Canberra Raiders are good enough to have a crack at the premiership.
The crowds start arriving at GIO, streaming in through the western gate or making their way up from Dryandra street (traditional pilgrimage!) The chatter and excitement builds, highlight reels play out on the big screen. Then, finally:
CARN THE GREEN MACHINE!
Head to Head
The mobile forward pack vs Bunnies big boppers.
The Raiders new look pack has at times redefined the modern forward layout in 2019. Josh “how good is” Papalii is at the forefront of this, using his immense leg strength and low centre of gravity to bend the line, tiring ruck defenders and giving Josh Hodgson clean air to orchestrate. Sia Soliola continues to hit defensive lines at speed, falling through them for quick play-the-balls. Dunamis Lui continues to mature into a strong option, often stealing that critical 10+ run to get the Raiders over the advantage line. Corey “the Red Horse” Horsburgh exudes potential in every carry. Joe Tapine continues to have legs like giant redwoods. John Bateman has danced, dazzled and defended like a man possessed. When they’re firing on all cylinders they’re truly a joy to watch.
The Bunnies will have their big men primed for this game: the Burgei Trio, former Raiders Liam Knight and Mark Nicholls and veteran John Sutton. Everything for the Bunnies happens off the back of the forwards winning the middle. The Raiders need to contain these guys if they’re to halt a midfield advance by the Bunnies.
Green Star Award
The 25 players and the coach that got us to this point, and the fans that have turned up at home and away games all year long. There’s not many things more satisfying than seeing big crowds in Canberra and triumphant wins away from home. Special mentions to one of the most underrated captains in the game, Mr Croker, who continues to smash records and delight the fans after the siren. Papalii, who recognizes that his Meninga medal belongs to everyone in his team. To BJ who overcame a broken neck and a rocket in the eye to lay on the pass that gets us all to this moment in time.
The Raiders lay on a masterclass of rugby league on an unfortunate Souths side and make their way to the 2019 Grand Final!