The Raiders took the 2 points over the Warriors all the way back in round 2, which now seems like a different world and a different time. It would be the last game anyone played for nearly two months as the nation hunkered down to weather the onslaught of Coronavirus.
Now it’s just two rounds to go. The Warriors already know their fate – in a little under two weeks they can board a plane and make their way home, where after a fortnight of quarantine they’ll finally be able to reunite with family, friends and community. They deserve warm adulation upon their return – no other team has sacrificed as much as they have in the weirdest season to date.
Having said that it hasn’t been sunshine and sugar drops for Canberra either. The Raiders have had to overcome a horror injury toll coupled with a big travel itinerary to keep their place in the 8. One of the worst injuries (just thinking about it makes me wince) was Sia Soliola’s facial fracture. I can’t even begin to imagine how it felt at the time, but the Raiders spiritual veteran has soldiered through rehab, blended KFC and all, and out the other side to hopefully rejoin the team in time for finals footy.
Last week Canberra ended up blitzing the hapless Dragons after a semi-competitive first half, but they’ll need to be alert against the kiwi club. The Warriors have demonstrated a nasty habit of springing upsets on top 8 sides that assumed they could just cruise through the 80 minutes (hello Newcastle). While it remains a long odds scenario in this game Sticky will be keen to remind his charges of the need to play to the long plan.
Hudson Young is raring to go, coming off the back of his best performance to date. His effort against the Red V was scintillating, including a line break that turned into a try assist. Look for him to start poking holes in the Warriors middle when/if they tire in the second half.
One player the Raiders need to contain is Chanel Harris-Tavita. His exuberance in the halves often translates into sneaky solo efforts close to the line, and he’s previously made more experienced players look ridiculous in defence.
Speaking of defence – those edges need to stay out. Twice young Valemei bought what the Dragons were selling and left a huge tract of land for rookie Ramsey to roam free in. To head off the Warriors on the outside the Raiders will need to start wide in defence and then push out – rushing doesn’t just leave your wing in the lurch but it also obstructs your inside defenders which isn’t helping anyone.
The first half grind has worked for the Green Machine in recent weeks. The proven formula of battering opponents through the middle is effective, and means the Raiders can choose where to unpick the defence in the second half. A good completion rate and proficient kicking should have the Warriors wings turned around for cleanup duties. A good kick chase will make them work for metres coming out of the red zone.
The next 160 minutes of footy afford the Raiders opportunity for a final tune up. Set completion, game management and attacking finesse are all facets that could do with a little polish before the intensity of finals hits. Bring it on.
Raiders by 12+!