Far out can you believe we are here?
By here I mean the end of the regular season. By here I also mean on the precipice of finals footy. By here I mean playing against the wooden-spoon favourites in the last game of the last day of regular footy. Win and in. Get it done in the sun. Win by plenty and get a semi (final).
*Ahem* *straightens tie, smiles awkwardly*
Look I think we should all acknowledge how weird this is. A few weeks ago it seemed likely that Canberra was going to be the first team in the NRL season to win 14 games and not play finals footy. It was a strange thought in two directions. How does a team that was playing for the spoon a third of the way through the season find itself with 14 goddamn wins? But also, how does a team that wins 14 goddamn games screw it up so they couldn’t make the finals? Only the Raiders. But the Broncos came to our rescue, and so now the Milk take on the biggest boss of them all. Themselves.
For a team that has felt like it’s struggled to pay attention in games it was interesting that there was free admittance that the Broncos effectively putting them in clear air gave them a boost. They played with a direction, with a purpose, that we just haven’t seen from them for much of the year. Yes they benefitted from some luck, but they also dominant a poor team, and didn’t seem to lose their focus. Was the offer of a finals pathway that had seemed out of reach for so long enough to do that?
It’s hard to tell. We’ve had 22 games of one thing, and 1 of another, so it would be silly to call it a trend or extrapolate performance based on a solitary win against a side that is warring with itself. But hey, let’s dream. It’s the season for it. I’m not convinced the Tigers are going to beat the Raiders. At least, if they do, they’ll have plenty of help from the Milk. I’m hoping that last week shows Canberra aren’t interested in providing it.
Cotric is in for Hopoate. Cotric was really good the week before last, and I was sad when he was ruled out. I’m keen for him to put a patch of form together. Hopoate continues to prove very solid, both in style and physique. Between him, James Schiller, and Seb Kris, the Raiders suddenly have the best part of a back five backup plan if the first choice whenever players are injurred into the future.
Apart from that there were no other changes.
What we’ll be watching
What the Raiders left edge did to Manly last week was beautifully violent. They ran so hard, so fast, but with such precision, at a defensive line that was outwardly panicking at the boulders of humans that were hurtling towards them. It was enough to change the nature of the game on its own. No strategy here. Let’s just do that again. The Tigers edge defence is not good either. It could be enough on its own.
Early in this game it was also noteworthy that the Raiders were losing the battle in the middle. Whether that was effort or just a Manly team giving its all early to try and bluff its way to a victory, it wasn’t entirely pleasing (until they were destroyed and it was). I’m not saying Canberra needs to start red hot, because they’ve proved they can catch up to a game, but I would feel heaps better if they punched the Tigers in the face from the outset, if only to assert that the fact we need to win and they need to take their wooden spoon with good nature.
How the Raiders can win
Be better than the worst team in the competition. Score more points than a team that on average, scores a full try less a game. Find points against a team that gives away 27 a game. Beat a team that has noting to look forward to but a holiday. Play like you have unfinished business. Because you do.
The Raiders by enough.
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