In a kinder, gentler world the Raiders would be preparing for a run into the finals in full flight, having dominated the season from round 1 with the occasional odd blip. Cheered on by strong home crowds a fit and able Green Machine would transform Canberra into an icy fortress and lay waste to their foes.
This is not that world. The Delta strain continues to spread into NSW, and the entire league is holed up north of the border, praying that Qld Health can steady the ship until the end of the grand final (if you think the NRL is returning to NSW in 2021 you need to go off for a HIA).
In a kinder, gentler world the Raiders wouldn’t have to play the Storm, Manly and the Roosters in the space of four weeks, with a solid chunk of the Green Machine’s salary cap in the casualty ward. Alas 2021 is an absolute bugger of a year, and at this point it looks like it’s going to get worse before it gets better. What I’m about to write will have the uncritical Raiders fan howling with rage, but it needs to be said.
The Raiders are a 99.99% chance of losing to Melbourne. Don’t scream that I don’t believe. Don’t yell that I’m not a true fan, that the thing turning my blood green is sepsis and not pure Raiders’ faith.
Melbourne are so far beyond every other side this year it’s not even funny. They’ve adapted and morphed at every twist and turn. Canberra meanwhile have clunked and clanged, their indifferent form compounded by key injuries and cultural turmoil.
So Thursday night is not about beating Melbourne, but rather about showing that the Raiders can be persistent, determined and efficient for 80 minutes. The Raiders of Thursday night will need to be approximately 100 times better than the ones that only just managed to edge past the Dragons, a team so inept they couldn’t capitalise on the Raiders 12 errors.
The Storm will capitalise, and they’ll almost certainly convert any mistakes by Canberra into points. That’s not to say that the Raiders should play conservative, one out footy. If we learnt anything from the Manly/Melbourne game it’s that making the Storm move around more than they’d like can tire them out, and maybe, just maybe give the Raiders an opening.
I could write now about specific players, strengths, weaknesses and stratagems but I still have chores and a census to complete.
If the Raiders season up to now has been an uphill slog then Thursday onwards is essentially rock-climbing, possibly sans harness. Every loss will push Canberra closer to a mathematical outcome, and quite possibly an early return home.
Raiders by 100 after Melbourne is felled by a rampant bout of gastro mid-game!