The Final Question


The Canberra Raiders can still make the finals.

This weekend’s loss to the Panthers was heartbreaking but not season-ending. Canberra still have a greater-than-zero chance of playing finals footy. There draw is incredibly manageable compared to the team they are vying to steal the 8th position from, the Sydney Roosters.

The Roosters are ahead of them by two points, and an insurmountable amount of differential. So Canberra needs to finish ahead of them. This means winning all the remaining games, and hope the Roosters lose two of theirs. This seems like a steep hill until you compare the pair’s draws.

Team PointsRemaining games
Roosters24Cowboys, Tigers, @Storm, Rabbitohs
Raiders22Dragons, @Knights, Sea Eagles, @Tigers
thanks to Jason Oliver for doing the leg work on that thinking

It’s not ridiculous to think the Roosters could lose to all of the Cows, Storm and Bunnies over the next few weeks, but it’s hardly guaranteed. The Storm have flat-lined recently, and while the Cows and Bunnies are obviously very good, they are no certainties to beat the Roosters at the SCG. By the time the final game of the season comes around the Rabbitohs may have nothing to play for (or everything, who knows, it’s that kind of competition). But two losses from those four games are definitely possible.

The good thing is that the Raiders’ other challenges for 8th would be removed from competition if Canberra were to make this run. Beating both Manly and the Dragons feels like a hopeful step right now but those teams are also having issues. Manly’s losses in the last two rounds has put them on the outer, and they play the Sharks before they play the Milk again. By the time that game occurs they could have their cue in the rack. Meanwhile the Dragons have inexplicably been tearing each other apart internally, and while they’ve been better than the Milk in recent times, they’ve also had periods where they clock off (something we’re familiar with). With their loss to the Sharks this weekend, they’re also ready to head to Cancun for a break. Hopefully Canberra can help with that.

If Canberra had beaten Penrith this passage would be less fraught. Now there’s no margin for error. The Milk are in the dreaded ‘mathematical possibility’ realm of finals chances. This is almost always the death-knell of the season. The loss on the weekend has fully removed making the finals from their hands. Yes they have a role to play, but even if they’re perfect nothing is remotely guaranteed, let alone likely.

The other problem is Canberra being perfect. They’ve not won four games in a row since 2019 and 2020. Those years they made the grand final and a preliminary final and played some of the most resilient and impressive football the team has achieved in my lifetime (Thanks to Tim for his stat work there). This side is a lot of things, but grand final bound feels a comically optimistic assessment. They’ve never found solutions to problems that have been around all season, plain to see for even idiots non-professionals like me. If football minds like Ricky Stuart haven’t fixed them by now, perhaps there more endemic issues than solvable matters.

They’ll have some personnel challenges too. Given how Joe Tapine was holding his ribs, and how Ryan Sutton left and never came back, the way forward is only getting more complicated for them. Ata Mariota was good in his surprise debut (one that came after already playing 70 minutes of football that day), but Joe Tapine is playing footy at another level. The Raiders are lucky Corey Horsburgh proved his fitness is up to it in 76 tough minutes in Cup footy. Nic Cotric will also be sitting for a week for his high shot. It’s less of an issue now that Albert Hopoate has emerged as a reliable solution at wing. Hopefully Xavier Savage is back, because Jordan Rapana did not have a happy time at fullback.

The Raiders are far from faultless, and their personnel issues only makes it harder. Their lack of improvement in recent weeks just exacerbates the issue. Even if they do manage to put everything together in some magical month of footy, it still might not be enough. But….there’s that goddamn hope again. Get out of my head.

I’m ready to be put out of my misery. I’m also ready to believe. The Canberra Raiders have always been like that, and this team, until last game, was that turned up to 11. Now the pathway is broken and the demands are greater. This is almost the end.


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