Beware the jolly green giant killers
David Shillington in action. AAP Image/Action Photographics, Robb Cox
My kids gave me a rugby league crystal ball for Father’s Day and I got around to firing it up late Sunday night.
When activated it gave off an eerie green glow, nothing that remotely resembled blue, maroon, black, white, gold or even purple.
I shook my head, switched it off and on again but the result was the same. The darned thing kept predicting a Canberra Raiders title triumph in 2012.
Surely not, I mused, the Raiders as premiers? Stranger things have not happened.
David Furner’s team was down among the dead men at the halfway point of the season.
They were second from the bottom on the table, copping 30, 40 plus floggings and Furner looked certain to be heading for the guillotine, well before the Raiders race was run.
But, no, there must be something funny in the Canberra Milk. The team got its act together and went on an incredible run, winning a string of five sudden death games to finish sixth and snare a home finals match against a spluttering Cronulla Sharks.
It’s certainly one for Mr Ripley: believe it, or not.
If the Canberra lads continue their roll, every week will seem like another adventure at a time when everyone expected them to be lazing around on their end of year trip.
They can certainly score a try, but conceding far too many of them caused serious problems in the first half of the year. Those flaws in defence have (almost) been corrected, replaced by a steely resolve and air of confidence that Cronulla will need to penetrate.
The re-born Green Machine has several richly talented players, some necessary workhorses and a flair for the unpredictable. As perennial underdogs, they will be playing without heavy pressure and will chance their arm from any part of the field.
They have plenty of size and mobility up front, a Gallen-like workaholic in lock Shaun Fensom, a handy goal-kicker in Jarrod Croker and a trio of backline try merchants in Josh Dugan, Reece Robinson and Blake Ferguson.
Cronulla seemed to lack drive and passion in the back end of last Sunday’s loss to the Cowboys at home. Perhaps they had their eyes on the finals campaign ahead, perhaps they are running on empty at a time when the tank should be full.
Sharkies supporters are entitled to be chewing their nails after viewing that disappointment, although their team enjoys a terrific record at Canberra Stadium, winning at six of their last eight at the venue.
Of course, none of those games carried finals status and a huge Sunday afternoon crowd will more than likely await them in the nation’s capital.
A major fan focus will be on Cronulla pivot Todd Carney, a player sacked by the Raiders several years ago before he was picked up by the Roosters and now, the Sharks.
Carney will undoubtedly cop loads of banter from around the ground but he is in strong form and will need to be kept in leg irons.
The performance of Canberra winger Ferguson will also be closely monitored. This is the player who left Cronulla two seasons ago explaining he wanted to play with a club capable of winning a premiership, not an outfit plagued by an uncertain future.
All in all, there is plenty of spice and intrigue to come from this game, and the excitement could go right down to the wire. Extra time golden point is not out of the question.
Do you think Canberra will be soft touches in the playoff series? Is there such a thing as jolly green giant killer?
Impossible to say, unless you’ve got a crystal ball.