It’s the game that could decide the least coveted prize in the NRL.
Here it is: the kind of match no team wants to be involved in, as the Canberra Raiders face off against the other wooden spoon-candidate, the Cronulla Sharks, at Remondis Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Both teams sit at the foot of the table on 14 competition points—the Raiders with the edge on for and against. But with only three rounds left to play of the regular competition, two points here to jump ahead could prove the decisive factor come season’s end.
Neither side has much to boast about from last week’s game—the Raiders surrendered a fourteen-year hoodoo to the St. George Illawarra Dragons, while the Sharks were belted by the Melbourne Storm.
At the conclusion of last week’s game Ricky Stuart gave an impassioned plea at the post-match press conference, claiming that until the Raiders get some representative players in the mix the same is set to continue.
But the playing roster does include Origin and Test representatives in the form of David Shillington and Josh Papalii, as well as Country Origin representation in Josh McCrone and Jack Wighton. The squad is good enough—it has shown it brilliantly in patches—but it’s time to cut the excuses and deal with the fact that this year is dead and buried. There are three rounds left to instil a new attitude looking towards next season.
The Sharks have been rocked by further ASADA details coming to light this week, and this could have two results: it will either unite the team, which should make Canberra very nervous; or it will turn the side into a train wreck that the Green Machine should be able to take full advantage of.
Forced positional changes for the Raiders are highlighted by yet another custodian at fullback. Jack Wighton will take up the role in place of Jordan Rapana, and after a less than stellar trial in the halves earlier in the season, it will be interesting to see how he handles this change.
Other notable facets to the line-up include the debut of Jeremy Hawkins, and the co-captaincy of McCrone and Jarrod Croker after Brett White was ruled out through injury. It is just reward for Croker in particular, after having another stand-out season for the Raiders. The most notable match-up for the game will be Papalii and Paul Gallen, who have had their fair share of encounters in recent times.
It’s the pointy end of the season and it’s an understatement to say that both of these teams are at the wrong end of that point. Does the game really matter in the grand scheme of things? No. Will both sides be desperate to get ahead of the other and away from wooden spoon territory? Absolutely. Canberra and Cronulla should each leave no stones unturned in this game.
Who will be the favourite for the wooden spoon after this game?