It’s kind of amazing to think we’re here at the end of the regular season. Despite relocations and all the upheavals that go with them the NRL has managed to roll along, culling the pretenders from the contenders along the way.
The Raiders can still see daylight, but it’s fading. Their finals future is not wholly in their own hands, with fortuitous outcomes needed if they’re to play next week.
For finals to happen for Canberra there is only one equation: they MUST beat the Roosters on Thursday night and hope that the Storm can stay on top of the Sharks on Friday. The Sharks losing is as equally as important as the Raiders winning. Both teams currently have 22 points but the Sharks have an advantage on points differential. If both sides win the Sharks make the 8.
That the Raiders’ destiny is not entirely theirs to carry forward is fitting given the season they’ve had. Calamitous injury wards aside it’s fair to say it hasn’t been an exemplary campaign from some of the Green Machine’s key players. In some ways one wishes that it’ll all be over by the end of Thursday night’s game, so the team can get some much needed rest and begin preparations for whatever form of V’Landoball the NRL foists upon us in 2022.
There is one player whose appearance we should value and savour on Thursday: Sia Soliola. While it’s not confirmed that he’s finishing up this year there’s every chance that he is waiting for the right time to inform us all. 2021 is his 17th season in professional league, and he’s racked up 128 games in green (out of a career total of 337). He’s been an invaluable mentor to younger players and also a generous part of the broader Canberra community. If this is to be his swansong in green then we salute and thank him for his contribution to the Raiders.
To the game itself. The Roosters, despite possibly the worst injury luck in recent history, have managed to cling on to the top eight, and a win here could get them as high as fourth (it would require both the Eels and Sea-Eagles losing). After a savage mauling at the hands of Souths the Tri-colours desperately need a boost heading into week 1. They’ll be ready to try anything, and the Raiders need to be on to this from kickoff.
For the Raiders the plan is simple – more of what they did in the second half against the Warriors, minus any mistakes or brain snaps. Early shifts and long kicks to the corners are the vibe, make the Roosters cover more ground than they’d like.
For what seems the first time this year Stuart has actually picked a four forward bench. With Starling and any “Utility” centres out of action he’s named Guler, Sutton, Horsburgh and Havili on the pine, which should massively improve Canberra’s rotation in the props.
In the starting 13 CNK reclaims his spot as the full-time custodian while Rapana shifts back to wing. Jordy has been brilliant over several weeks and will still shoulder a heavy workload despite being on the edges.
And now the “sad” bit. Barring any finals editions this is, infact, the last regular Raiders Rumble I’ll do. I’ve been writing this thing for what feels like an age now, and the creative side of me is itching to try new things in contribution to the Sportress. In recent times the Rumble has felt somewhat repetitive, as there’s only so much speculation one can engage in before a game is played.
Raiders to crush the Roosters in a brutal pre-finals encounter with Sia scoring a double!
Bleed Green, with Hot Blood & Courage!