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Then there were three – and the green vote is rapidly gaining momentum

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Expert
5th August, 2019
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This could be construed as jumping the gun nine weeks out, but we can put a line through the claims of 13 NRL clubs for the 2019 premiership.

Souths’ performance against the Sharks showed they are unlikely to still be alive on the first weekend of October.

The Burgess boys are self-destructing. Sam, who on his day is capable of being the best forward in the competition, seems more interested in personal battles.

Melbourne and the Roosters were up against poorly performed opposition last start, with Brisbane coach Anthony Seibold conceding that it was almost inevitable that the Broncos would be lapped by the Storm because it has been happening for the last 11 years.

The Titans are not an NRL level team at present and they would struggle to win the second-tier competitions in either Queensland or New South Wales.

That said, last year’s grand finalists are on track to repeat the same program on October 6. Both teams have that look at the moment that separates them from most of the field.

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A genuine chance of upsetting that apple cart and providing a rugby league fairy tale are Ricky Stuart’s Raiders.

It has been 25 years since Canberra last won a grand final and the public would embrace the story of a team built on a core of Englishmen and a bucketload of starch taking out the title.

In the popularity stakes, it would be a winner. Let’s face it, Melbourne and the Roosters have been there before on more than one occasion in the past decade and neither looks attractive when it comes to second teams or soft spots.

Joe Stimson of the Storm is tackled during the 2018 NRL Grand Final.

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

I have a love/hate relationship with the Raiders. With a black and gold (now black, gold and white) heart, the Green Machine ruined my dreams in 1989 in what many describe as one of the great grand finals. I can’t see it myself. All I remember was sadness and disappointment.

After moving to the nation’s capital in 2004, the locals have continued to twist the knife on me. It’s a topic that I consciously avoid.

The truth is that I have seen more Canberra matches than any other team. If I wanted to watch rugby league live, they were the local attraction and I owned a Raiders season ticket for a number of years.

The way the team has developed in recent times is impressive and while I don’t do bandwagons or second teams, the soft spot has emerged.

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Gone are the days of Canberra blowing halftime leads, brain snaps and ill discipline or slamming referees in post-match press conferences.

There has been a remarkable transition. The Raiders are displaying a tougher mental approach and a willingness to play for each other and give that extra effort in defence. When the Wests Tigers won the premiership in 2005, they spoke of having a unique spirit and a feeling of playing for each other. Canberra have the same smell in 2019.

Josh Hodgson was superb in his side’s 46-12 demolition of the Warriors. Fox Sports commentator and former Origin and Australian hooker Danny Buderus described it as his best game in a Raiders jersey, while Stuart said in the press conference that he wouldn’t swap his hooker for anyone.

Hodgson is the puppet master. He can be relied on for a smart scoot from dummy half, a line break assist with a deft pass and he loves a one-on-one strip.

Josh Hodgson of the Raiders

(AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

Aidan Sezer and Jack Wighton are solid in the halves without overplaying their hands, while the rise of Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad from the Warriors reserve grade side to star fullback is one of the season’s best yarns.

The Raiders have Origin winger Nick Cotric, Englishman Ryan Sutton and Joey Leilua returning to the side in the next couple of weeks. It will only add to their potency, although Stuart will be hoping that Leilua embraces the new approach this season and he doesn’t display any brain snaps or undisciplined play that has sometimes marred past performances.

Leilua provides try-scoring potential with his ability to bust the line or get an offload away to a flying Jordan Rapana on the wing.

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There are three teams capable of holding the Provan-Summons Trophy aloft in October. If one of those teams is the boys from Bruce, it will make a welcome change and the best story since Cronulla took out their maiden premiership in 2016.

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Canberra face their biggest tests of the season in the next two weeks when they take on the Roosters at home and the Storm away. We will have the definitive form guide going into the finals. We will know if Ricky and the Raiders are true NRL leaders.

I am going to play Antony Green and predict a shock Green Machine victory when it’s all said and done in October.

They have my vote. Even if it is on preferences.