For about the 5th time the Canberra Raiders’ season is on the line.
It’s been a weird year. The Green Machine have snapped from finals hopeful to spoon contender, and back again, and barely a buffer exists between those periods. Just six weeks ago we wrote that this was as bad as time in history to be a Raiders fan, and it only felt slightly hyperbolic. We pointed to the period of pain the Milk were about to face – a murderers row of contenders in which they played the current 4-8 of the ladder – as one where we’d learn so much about the team. Given they’d just given up a double-digit halftime lead to the flippin’ Warriors, we hoped they’d win a game or two, just something that would keep them theoretically (or the probably more apt, dread ‘mathematically’) in with a chance to make the finals.
Well instead they gave us so much more. Canberra won three of those games, and were in with a shot in both others. So many things had to change for that to happen. So many people had to step up. Zac Woolford joined the squad and had an almost immediate impact. Adam Elliott went from ‘not sure what his best position is’ to dominating as hard-running, occasionally ball-playing lock (like we said he would, but whatever). Corey Horsburgh had to start proving the potential that many had seen in him, as did Hudson Young. Seb Kris showed that he was more than just squad depth. And of course, Joe Tapine unleashed hell upon the competition. In between players like Xavier Savage, Matt Frawley, Harry Rushton, Trey Mooney, and James Schiller had to provide varying degrees of competence at moments when nominal starters weren’t in the positions they should have been.
And with that Canberra went from a team that seemed less functional than a hurricane to a flawed, but effective football team. We remarked six weeks ago that they hadn’t lost their heart, just their minds. Now they’re bringing both to the party (in the most part). There’s still so much to improve, but just six weeks after Raiders HQ were measuring out space for a wooden spoon in the club trophy cabinet, we’re now talking about what needs to happen for them to play finals.
And there’s the thing.
After navigating the hardest run of the season with relative success, Canberra now have a run of beatable teams to put distance between them and the also-rans, and establish themselves as the big threat on the edge of the playoffs. Good teams have seen the Raiders play recently and won’t like it. They may not be fluid in their connections, or always intelligent in their approach, but they’re physical, and they’re talented, and given their day they may be capable of making people’s life difficult on a September afternoon.
That’s all nice in theory (in theory communism works) but to do that it means Canberra winning games against teams you might expect them to beat. The Knights this week. The Dragons next week. Both are games that a form line drawn through the last six weeks would put in the Milk’s basket. But of course, this is the team we all know and love, and so you’d be forgiven for bracing for impact next weekend. It’s trite and obvious to say, but I guess I hope by writing this down that it plays some role in averting disaster, but the Raiders simply must win it’s next two games if it has any pretences of playing into Spring.
Early reports are the Knights will likely be without Kalyn Ponga and Bradman Best, two players that have tormented the Raiders in the recent past (I still regularly think of the bath Bradman Best gave Curtis Scott in early 2020). The Dragons have been the consistently mediocre yin to Canberra’s more wide-ranging yang. There are simply no excuses. And I guess that’s what worries me. This is exactly the kind of mess that ends with Ricky Stuart sitting in front of a microphone saying stuff like “I’ve got 17 blokes back there hurting”.
This team doesn’t deserve that end (heck we don’t deserve that end). The Raiders have picked themselves up and dusted themselves off after one of the worst periods in team history. They’ve proven themselves capable of competing with the top tier of the competition. They are good enough to win these next two games before the bye, and head into the back of the season with tailwind.
Let’s hope they do.
I am not being negative I’m just nervous, so like our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or share this on social media I promise I’ll write something way happier later this week. Don’t hesitate to send us feedback or comment below if you think we are stupid. Or if we’re not.