Which team is going to win?
A team that scored the most points in the competition or the team that before the last two rounds barely looked like scoring? A team that only fell out of the top four due to a last round loss, or the team that wasn’t even guaranteed to be playing finals until they won their last game? The team that won the chip the year before last or the team that last took the competition *before* the Super League debacle took hold of the rugby league world?
It’s no wonder the Milk are bigger outsiders than the Tigers were against them the week before (Sportsbet has the Raiders at $3.25 to win right now). The Storm have been very good for much of this season, and only became vulnerable when injuries exposed the surprising lack of depth in their backline – since fixed. The Raiders, well, you’ve read these pages. They were out of it until they started *just* managing to find victories where they were needed, and the Broncos helped them out. They never played cleaner footy than their last round victory over the Tigers. Before that we spent so much of the season wondering if they ever would.
TV personalities will talk up the competition between the Raiders and Melbourne (can we call it a rivalry? I reckon so) and the history of animosity between the two clubs. They’ll talk about the games that have come before. They’ll talk about BJ copping a firework in the eye, and maybe even Cam Smith’s rubbish in Bailey Simonsson’s face (AND IT WAS YOU). They won’t mention Cam Smith cheap shot on Jarrod Croker for some reason, but you bet you’ll get plenty of Sticky and Bellyache and how they have dinner before, and beers, after the game. And then when time comes to put their name to a prediction, they’ll take the Storm. Because when it comes down to it, the Canberra Raiders are just some swashbuckling underdogs fighting against the oldest empire in rugby league.
(Achievement unlocked: underdog status).
It’s a tough ask for the Raiders. Beating up on two teams in freefall is hardly the stuff of dreams (though it was much nicer than the alternative). The ‘real’ Canberra may have emerged over the last two rounds, but what then do we do with the previous 24 rounds. The long and short of it is that this week is a tall order for the Milk. Coach Stuart they’re not there (here?) to make up the numbers. It can be done. And here’s how we know.
They’ve done it before.
You’ve heard a million times how the Raiders have the most victories of any away team at AAMI Park.
Man there’s been some fun. There was the Once Upon A Time In Melbourne game, where two sin-bins, and an 18 point deficit weren’t enough to stop them. Then there was the BJ flick-pass game. Then in the first game back after the pandemic they beat the purple in a way that had all feeling a certain way. Even when the Milk haven’t been sailing to the heights of 2019 and 2020 they’ve still found noteworthy victories recently, such as James Schiller giving me a reason to yell “RUGBY LEAGUE FOOTBALL” across thousands of startled Storm fans. Canberra have a unique knack for winning in Melbourne. Let’s keep that going.
They’ll win the battle in the middle.
Part of the reason that Canberra has competed with the Storm so readily in recent years is because they have a big enough pack. Melbourne’s middles have traditionally been a big unit – but when they’ve come up against the Milk in recent years, they often faced a pack who’s size matches up to their own. Nelson Asofa-Solomona is used to being the big dog out there. Suddenly there’s a host of sizeable lads that love a bit of contact (no not like that you perv). Joe Tapine is in the form of his life. Josh Papalii is looking better every week. Adam Elliott is having a career year (and obviously wants to stay in green for another week). Off the bench come Corey Horsburgh, secretly a high quality forward now, and Emre Guler, who, like Tom Starling, isn’t a game-changer, but rolls downhill like the boulder of a man he is.
They’ll fix the right side
Ok maybe this isn’t a ‘known’ but a ‘hopes’. Canberra’s right side defence has been like a drunk uncle at Christmas. We’re hoping it’ll be fine, but there’s every chance someone could do the wrong thing and it’ll be Trump and Crypto and books about war (and an average house, and a nice hardwood floor). Certainly a few weeks back when they beat the Storm, Melbourne tore their right side defence to shreds for 15 minutes, before the Milk patched the whole thing up and simply went on and won the match. Craig Bellamy coaches teams aren’t dumb – they’ll be coming for Jamal Fogarty, Elliott Whitehead and Matt Timoko, and the Raiders will be ready. I hope.
They’ll win the moments
Every time the Raiders have beaten the Storm lately there’s been some incredible moments that Canberra, unable to be ‘clutch’ in other games, totally nail. Papa deciding he would go through the middle of the Melbourne defence. BJ Leilua’s flick pass. James Schiller manufacturing one of the best individual tries this season. Oh yeah, and this pass from George Williams.
Mmm yeah that’s nice.
The thing about most of these amazing moments is that they’re usually paired with a defensive moment. Papalii’s try comes after a Hodgson strip. James Schiller’s try is followed up minutes later by tremendous goal line defence by Xavier Savage. Even BJ’s flick pass only happens because Joey Taps lays a hit for the ages on Josh Addo-Carr. Maybe there’s a message there?
Look I’m not here to tell you to put the house on the Raiders. Lord knows I’ve watched enough this season to know that if Canberra walk away with a victory this weekend it will be quite an upset. But it won’t be a surprise. The Milk have it in them.
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