Let’s talk about Israel Folau. No, wait, Raelene Castle! Or Todd Greenberg?
Having narrowly failed to topple reigning premiers the Sydney Roosters at home last week, the Canberra Raiders will this Saturday night face one of league’s toughest tasks – the Melbourne Storm at AAMI Park in the battle of the competition’s two best defences.
In front of their biggest home crowd for nearly a decade, the Raiders took a 12-6 lead against the Chooks in the first half before conceding 16 unanswered points to fall behind 22-12 midway through the second.
After Elliott Whitehead scored to make it 18-22, the Raiders did all they could to try to overhaul the reigning premiers, but ended up falling short by just four, surrendering the two competition points to the Roosters at home for the first time since 2010 in the process.
It was also not the way Jarrod Croker would’ve wanted to celebrate his 250th game, but had the Raiders found a late try, they would’ve repeated what they did in 2013 when they came from 16-0 down to win 24-22 in what was Croker’s 100th match.
Despite the defeat, the Raiders lost no friends in defeat and they still remain third on the ladder by virtue of having a far superior points differential than the South Sydney Rabbitohs (+153 to +83).
The 300 points they have conceded is second only to the Storm, who have conceded 52 points fewer. Not only that, the 529 points Craig Bellamy’s side have scored is ten points more than what the Roosters have scored (519).
This means that Saturday night’s contest between the Storm and Raiders will be a battle of the two best defences in the competition, and for Ricky Stuart’s side, it will be another test of their premiership credentials, less than a month from the finals kicking off.
While the Raiders went down fighting at home, the Storm went on their business as usual last Sunday, fending off the Rabbitohs to win 26-16 and maintain their comfortable buffer at the top of the ladder.
The two Camerons – 404-gamer Smith and Maroons stand-off Munster – were both instrumental in the win over the Bunnies, with the latter scoring a try with 20 minutes to go and the duo combining for Brodie Croft to bag the winner in the dying minutes.
When the Storm and Raiders converge onto AAMI Park this Saturday night, it will be nearly five months since the teams’ most recent meeting, in which the Green Machine suffered their heaviest defeat this season (though only by 12 points) at home in Round 2.
It will also be just over three years since Ricky Stuart last stole the points from his ex-Raiders team-mate Craig Bellamy, when the Raiders won by 22-8 in the Victorian capital late in the 2016 season.
Overall, the Storm have an imposing record against the Raiders, winning 31 of 42 contests, including the last five in succession.
Only the Brisbane Broncos have suffered more defeats against the Storm, with the northerners going down 33 times in 47 matches, most recently earlier this month when they lost by 40-4 at Suncorp Stadium.
Thus, for the second week in a row, the Raiders are going to have their work cut out for them if they are to prove that they are genuine premiership contenders in 2019, and facing the Storm at their AAMI Park fortress will be a challenge the Green Machine will embrace.