Raiders must lift further: Meninga
Club great Mal Meninga agrees Canberra are a darkhorse of the NRL finals, but warns that’s because they’re largely not expected to progress beyond week one.
The three-time premiership winning captain on Wednesday rated the finals a six-team race, with Cronulla and the high-flying Raiders bringing up the rear.
“When you look at all the commentary, there are six teams in the comp in the finals and maybe the Raiders and the Sharks might make up the rest,” he said.
“That’s the impression I get at the moment.
“So they’ve got to be successful this weekend to maintain that mantle of dark horse.”
The Raiders’ rise from the depths of the ladder this season has echoed their late season comeback of two years ago, but Meninga said Canberra need to lift to another level again to ensure their finals campaign does not end even more prematurely.
In 2010, they won nine of their last 10 games only to go down narrowly to Wests Tigers in a semi-final at Canberra Stadium.
“They’ve done a magnificent job,” Meninga said of the Raiders, who’ve only dropped one match in the past seven weeks.
“They’ve got momentum, but it is a different ball game, semi-finals footy.
“They did it two years ago and they didn’t jump over that little hurdle (beaten 26-24 by the Tigers).
“So it’s going to be a challenge for them this weekend.”
The Raiders pinched another home final with their 42-22 walloping of New Zealand on the weekend – their fifth win in a row – to put a flourish on their late-season resurgence.
Wooden spoon contenders midway through the season, they remain $26 outsiders to take the premiership despite being the only team to have beaten both competition leaders Canterbury and Melbourne during the home-and-away campaign.
Canberra Stadium looks set to host a near sell-out crowd for Sunday’s elimination final, with 21,000 tickets already sold and on the way to toppling the 26,476 that watched the 2010 semi.
Coach David Furner is keeping with his winning formula, with the Raiders once again heading out of Canberra to stay at a four-star Eagle Hawk resort before the Sharks match.
It’s a pre-home game ritual that coincided with the start of their winning streak against Brisbane five weeks ago.
“Our last home game I left it up to the players and they actually enjoy it,” Furner said.
“It’s not motivational, it’s preparation. It’s about making sure we tick all the boxes.”
NRL legend Andrew Johns wrote on the weekend that the ploy suggested a mental fragility within the playing group, but Furner was quick to reject that.
“No. It’s preparation,” Furner said.
“The younger players enjoy it because they don’t have to cook.
“So if I can help them out that way, I will.”© AAP 2013