Balancing Act


The eternal battle of being a fan of the Canberra Raiders is balancing the raw sex appeal of hope with the cold grey reality of reality. Even in the good times, there’s a hand on the shoulder, the ghost of disappointments past, there to remind you that even if things are looking good now, sadness isn’t far away.

So when anyone starts talking about the Milk and the finals, it feels like tempting fate. Most days it’s hard to draw a form line through a single game, let alone between them. Just look at the last four games. Canberra barely scraped by a Knights team quietly exploding like some far off supernova. Then they lost to the Dragons because wind and rain and rules are hard. They beat the Storm in Melbourne, which was rad until Craig Bellamy basically said he’s out of ideas. Stop the clock at halftime last week. Was Canberra making the finals? I didn’t think so. 26 points against the 13th placed Warriors is hardly the kind of stuff that makes you book tickets to September, but it’s enough to keep hopes alive.

There’s only six weeks left in the year, so by now we should know if this team is good. The problem is that there’s been so many iterations throughout the year. There’s been three or four distinct periods of up and down that are impossible to compare to each other. Coach Stuart touched on it in the post-game press conference, when he remarked that Jack Wighton and Jamal Fogarty have only played five games together so it stands to reason they are only just building their combination.

It’s an idea that could apply to much of the squad. Their starting fullback, while a talent, was third choice fullback this season (right? Rapana got a shot before him). One winger this weekend wasn’t a genuine consideration of playing first grade until chaos enveloped the depth chart. One prop, who had to this point been one of their best, is now out for his third consecutive week with “illness” while another who had been all but forgotten this season is now playing critical minutes Shit, their starting hooker wasn’t even on the roster in March. How could we know what this team is when it wasn’t what it is until recently?

Update: Tim Gore from Raiders Review with Blake and the Pork says the Red Horse had pneumonia. That is no joke man. I’ve been there and it sucks. I’ll be amazed if he makes a significant impact any time soon.

And what even are they? 11th best attack by points. 11th in metres. 12th in post contact (presumably 90 per cent of which are by Joey Taps). 10th in tackle breaks. 3rd worst in line-breaks. The second worst completion rate in the competition. 3rd most penalties conceded. 2nd most handling errors. The only stat they’re elite in is missed tackles (the least in the competition!). If you just looked at that you wouldn’t know if this team was pushing finals or fighting for the spoon. Despite all that they’ve spent 46 per cent of their games trailing, and 46 per cent leading (thanks to The Rugby League Eye Test for that stellar number). Which is probably how you get 9 wins 9 losses.

It’s almost like the counter has reset for the Milk. Injury and circumstance put them in a big ol’ fashioned hole through the first third of the season. They spent the next third digging themselves out. Now they’re in clear air, with everything to earn in front of them. Even the stats are screaming even. On the field they have put together the same 17 for the second week in a row for the first time since round 5 (I think). Things are finally looking stable, and with a full-clip of talent and a relatively manageable draw ahead, everything is in their hands.

And that should make any Raiders’ fan nervous.

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