Thus begins the Raiders short run-up to the finals. Following their gallant but erratic loss to the Roosters, Canberra find themselves in possession of three very winnable games. The Dragons, Warriors, and Sharks all present opportunities for the Milk to mount a case for fourth or to cement an opening final by finishing fifth.
The chances of fourth are slim and rely heavily on other outcomes beyond the control of the Green Machine. Fifth place however is something entirely in their own hands and they can secure it by putting in three solid and consistent wins.
For over a decade Canberra kept St George-Illawarra near winless both here and away, with the Dragons breaking through for a victory only once. The “Hoodoo” was one of the more amusing stats in league until the Red V amassed enough former Raiders and fortune to overcome their tormentors. Since then the two clubs have traded blows, sometimes in slightly bizarre circumstances.
Sadly for the Dragons only current form counts, and even after their loss to the Roosters the Raiders are far and away the better team in this encounter. The Dragons have had a hellish season culminating in the sacking of Paul MacGregor and the appointment of Anthony Griffin (just don’t ask about his former Twitter account). The Raiders have overcome a multitude of injuries, a huge amount of travel and the disinterest on NRL HQ to keep themselves in the eight. The Dragons have squandered ample chances to win games, including being pipped by a long Cowboys field goal last round.
As per usual the Raiders will need their pack to create space through a strong roll up the middle, and one feels as though this might happen quicker against the Dragons than more superior sides. If the Raiders can create lethargy and incoherence in the Dragons line they may not even need to go to the edges but rather just start sending troops through any gaps that appear – look to Tapine and his footwork to start getting the ball through the defence and into the hands of support.
Defensively if the Raiders can smother the Dragons early in sets they can force errors or at least minimise their yardage. St George-Illawarra have had a chop/change spine this year and disrupting it is key to Canberra’s chances. Look to Wighton and Williams to kick early in an attempt to get the opposition turned around and working off their try line.
If the Raiders can frustrate the Dragons then the only things left for them to do is set a strong completion rate and play with direction inside the Dragons twenty – expect to see Starling giving a face ball to a big forward for a crash-through try.
A comprehensive win here could mark the start of Hoodoo 2.0.
Raiders by 12+!