Returning from the rep round break, the Canberra Raiders are afforded with a very unique opportunity.
First of all they made it through the representative round without injury *knocks on wood, crosses fingers, throws salt over his shoulder, prays to Mal Meninga and pours some celebration whisky in his shrine to Gary Belcher*. That in itself is a victory. Too many memories of recent representative games have ended with me tapping at this goddamn laptop as some sort of sick therapy helping me process my Raiders-based anger (note to my dudes: when she says get therapy this is not what she means). The Milk are blessed to be entering this week with probably the healthiest the roster has been in a long time. Jack Wighton should be back from his corona battle (I hope) and there’s even chat (such as from Hudson Young on the post game last week) that Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad will be back. Even Jamal Fogarty appears to be approaching match fitness and Josh Papalii barely played 25 minutes for the second origin in a row. A full complement of options may lead to some tough choices for Coach Stuart, and well, that’s what he’s paid for.
Another unique part of this week is it in effect is a standalone game for the Green Machine. Apart from Papa, Joey Taps and Rapa, they didn’t play a huge part of in the Origin/Internationals weekend. So a good chunk of the roster should be well rested. They also don’t have a game after this week on account of the bye. This means there’s no need to worry about workloads or over-working this week. Canberra can go all out in knowledge that they’ll be well-rested for the back half of the season. It’s also important because their opposition, the St George-Illawarra Dragons, last played on the 16th of June, which is two-and-a-half weeks before facing the Milk on the 3rd of July, and they had even less involvement in the rep round.
Of course what’s even more distinctive about this is that this is what people like to call a ‘four point game’. St George-Illawarra are on 7 wins and 7 losses, ahead of Canberra only because they’ve already had their bye. Should the Raiders pick up a win this week they would go ahead of their opposition, something that they would consolidate in the event the Milk manage to defeat the bye (and the Red V lose to a presumably Origin weakened Broncos the week after). Add to that the fact that other teams currently in the clump around 8th position are also in very losable games in the coming round. Manly, currently ahead of the good guys on for-and-against, play the Storm on Thursday night. The Roosters, currently sitting in 9th, play the Panthers, which will be a tough night for the Bondi boys. A win against the Dragons would be a godsend for the Green Machine’s finals hopes.
This is the kind of game that can set a team up for a proper assault on the back half of the competition (cue Michael Tomlin ‘we will unleash hell on the competition‘). That alone will make anyone that’s ever glanced at a Canberra game nervous. Similar circumstances had us feeling a certain way before the Knights game, and that was the closest thing to disaster we’ve had, well, for about six weeks (seriously, disasters aren’t meant to be this regular, ask Al Gore). I still don’t know how we a) got into that hole, and b) dug our stupid way out. The Milk love playing to their competition, I guess. This Dragons team is an mediocre as the Raiders are frustrating, and that makes for an unpredictable match-up. What I would give to see them skip out to a 14 point lead, then simply continue on past a 20 point lead. It shouldn’t be that hard.
And yet it is, which is why this game is so important. Canberra have already, and will in the future, squib winnable games at other points this season. A four point gift (or maybe six points if you include the bye) is on offer. The Raiders have stared blankly at the teeth of many a gifted horse in recent times, and all they’ve got is a face full of halitosis and pain. If only they could take this opportunity and allow their fandom a fortnight of the peace that comes from drifting along after a big win.
Wouldn’t it be nice?