The Canberra Raiders, who were the 2019 NRL runners-up, come into the finals sitting in fifth place.
They were probably a little unfortunate to not have a top-four spot, but they’ve still been playing good football heading into the postseason.
We hear stories of the Panthers’ magical run, the future of the Melbourne Storm, the struggles of Parramatta and the Roosters’ chances of winning three premierships in a row.
But what about the Canberra Raiders and their quest to avenge 2019? The Raiders have one of the more complete teams in the NRL and we should watch out for the green machine.
We all know how talented their outside backs are with Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Jordan Rapana, Jarrod Croker, Jack Wighton and Nick Cotric. Semi Valemei has also done well for a rookie when he’s been called upon.
The Raiders are dangerous with their ability to break tackles especially with Cotric, Nicoll-Klokstad and Wighton, who are all in the top 25 in that category.
The forwards can also match up with the best packs in the NRL led by Josh Papalii. For the most part, they have kept the same core of forwards from the 2019 grand final with John Bateman, Elliott Whitehead and Joseph Tapine still around. Dunamis Lui has improved immensely in 2020 and it has earned him a starting spot to partner with Papalii.
Coach Ricky Stuart has certainly been aware of the difficulties that come with being outside the top four. But he’s got the Raiders focusing on one game at a time.
“The reason that nobody has won outside the top four is that no one’s been good enough. If we’re good enough, we got the opportunity and we’ll be there at the end,” Stuart said.
Looking at the Raiders’ season, the most impressive statistic has been their record away from home. In ten away games, Canberra have won eight which is the second-best record behind Penrith.
Canberra only lost to Penrith and Parramatta (which went to a golden point) away from home. Meanwhile, they managed to pick up big wins against the Storm and Roosters.
Everyone knows how tough Canberra is when they play in the nation’s capital. But if they can carry their away form into the finals, it will be very encouraging to their fans.
Comparing the 2019 grand final team to the current line-up for 2020, the main differences include George Williams replacing Aidan Sezer and Tom Starling replacing the injured Josh Hodgson.
Losing Josh Hodgson mid-season was a big blow, but they managed to hold strong and were able to have others such as Tom Starling and Siliva Havili step up.
On the other hand, George Williams has been a welcome discovery for Canberra as he has been a great partner for Wighton.
Just comparing the numbers between Williams in 2020 and Sezer from 2019, Williams has had more try involvements, offloads, tackle breaks, forced dropouts, line breaks and offloads in just one extra appearance.
Canberra fans will be hoping that Williams can push them over the edge as he is an x-factor when the game gets tight.
One of the main Achilles’ heels for the Raiders is their ability to control the ball. Possession is vital in finals football and by completing their sets they can prevent momentum swings. They are one of the top teams in making errors and they’ll need to ensure that they don’t force the issue.
While having an insurance policy of a top-four spot would be handy for the Raiders, this is a team that has the potential to play spoiler to any team in the competition.
If Canberra can take things one week at a time don’t be surprised to see this team make a deep run in the finals.