2 years, 2 preliminary finals. The Canberra Raiders haven’t done this well since the halcyon days of the early 1990s. It’s now 26 years since they claimed their third premiership, casually pummeling a hapless Bulldogs side. In the interim the Melbourne Storm joined the league and proceeded to embark on a journey of high performance and consistency matched only by the golden era Broncos and the dominant Dragons of the 60s.
Now the Raiders are back. Ricky Stuart has spent the best part of seven years tweaking, trimming, recruiting, releasing, training and mentoring a side worthy of the lime green. He’s cast his net wide, reeling in top flight english rep players, pinching emerging juniors from rival clubs, throwing lifelines to those who show promise, all while still promoting the young talent of the Canberra region.
More importantly he and his staff have reinvigorated the culture of the club. Confidence and comradeship permeates the side. Players play their best when they feel comfortable, capable and supported, something which can clearly be seen across the squad in 2020.
Last year in week 1 the Raiders traveled to AAMI Park to face the Storm – they were given short shrift and long odds. BJ got blinded before the game even started. His emergency replacement Simonsson scored the opening try, and for 75 odd minutes the Raiders went toe to toe with Melbourne. Then BJ threw that pass and everything changed. The long pass through the mountains of finals footy vanished, in its place a shortcut to the promised land.
The Raiders didn’t just beat the Storm at home, they pushed them into a collision course with the Roosters. The rest is history, even though it didn’t go the Green Machines way.
In 2020 the Raiders have taken the mountain pass. It is long and arduous, and with each stop along the way there lurks an enemy who also desires the prize at the summit – 16 become 8, who then become 6, who then become 4.
If the Storm aren’t already hard enough to beat there is the small matter of Cameron Smith. He’s in the twilight now, the fairytale clock starting to chime. His team, and particularly his coach will be driven to provide him the ultimate retirement gift.
So what drives the Raiders? The fact that the club and its fans have now been waiting over a quarter of a century to regain the silverware? The fact that they are permanently left out and disregarded even when they’re winning? The fact that when their star lynchpin went down, followed by half the forward pack almost everyone decided it was time to stick a fork in them?
It’s all that, and more.
Maybe Havili will start at 9 again. Or maybe Sticky will decide he needs the craftiness of Starling to at least keep at Smith’s heels. When Tapine tore through the Roosters to score himself I felt that core emotion of pure football joy – like a crazed man I need the green fog to roll over me again.
I want to see Papa punching holes in the defence, getting a hand free and plating up a delicious offload for his supporting players.
Hudson Young hitting the fringes and then turning back in, finding Charnze, or maybe Wighton steaming through on the inside.
Cotric grafting a tough 15 on a kick return. Croker stealing a march down field before turning a kick or pass back towards the posts. Dunamis making one of his now trademark steals, inverting the flow of play.
George Williams tweaking one of his deft grubbers into the in-goal. Wighton pushing his way through defence to plant the ball down.
I want to see the Green Machine hum, roar and sing like the well oiled unit we know it to be. Without wanting to be overly cruel I want to see the ashen look on the faces of the Storm players as they realise it’s all over.
I Want To Bleed Green.
Raiders by 6!