The Raiders look to finish off a season of disappointment on a high.
It’s the season 2014 swan song for the Canberra Raiders when they meet with the Parramatta Eels at GIO Stadium on Saturday night.
The Green Machine has known its fate for the past few weeks—being well off the mark in terms of finals contention—but the Eels come into their final match walking the mathematical tightrope.
Parramatta is in the most precarious position of those teams still trying to make the finals—an inferior for and against making it particularly difficult. The boys in blue and gold need both the Broncos to lose to Melbourne and Penrith to defeat the Warriors.
One of those results the side will know come game-time; if it doesn’t go the way of the Melbournians, then the Eels will simply be playing to exact a little more revenge on former coach Ricky Stuart—something they did only a few weeks ago in round 22.
That match saw Canberra lead for the majority of the game, only to be run down at the end by a side playing for more—and a remarkable talent in Jarryd Hayne.
Hayne will once again be the main danger for the Raiders and their attempt to notch up three consecutive wins in what feels like an eternity. Canberra finally achieved back-to-back wins last week—a feat that the side took all year to accomplish.
The battle of the fullbacks will be one of the most interesting contests in this match. With Anthony Milford playing his last game in lime green, Jack Wighton will have yet another audition in the number 1—as Ricky Stuart hopes to complete his search for Milford’s replacement. There will be no better test for Wighton than against one of the hottest properties in the NRL at the moment in Hayne.
The Raiders will also have several other incentives to play for in this match. Retiring forward Brett White is making an eleventh-hour comeback from injury to play in his final NRL game. A victory in front of a home crowd will be a fitting way for the valuable enforcer to bow out of Rugby League.
The other prime focus for the side will fall to one of its favourite sons in Jarrod Croker. The goal-kicking centre has today confirmed that he has re-signed with the club for a further three seasons—and is still a chance to win both the NRL’s leading try-scorer and point-scorer awards in 2014.
Given the Raiders’ position on the ladder, these are amazing achievements—considering the frontrunner for try-scorer of the year is Semi Radradra of Parramatta (still in finals contention) and the frontrunner for point-scorer of the year is Johnathan Thurston of North Queensland (already assured a finals spot).
The Eels blew a major chance to be more in contention for finals footy against lowly Newcastle last week. They were not only beaten, but humiliated 42-12 by a side that had no chance of playing deep into September.
If the Storm gets up against the Broncos and makes the equation impossible for the Eels there’s every chance they will come out against the Raiders flat and ineffective. If they are still a chance then the nerves may get the better of them.
The Raiders, conversely, have possessed a bit of flair the last few weeks—the pressure of playing the finals removed. Positional experimentation in the form of Wighton at fullback and Mitch Cornish at halfback is beginning to reap rewards for next year, and Canberra would love to give its fans some hope for 2015 with a round 26 win.
If Parramatta gets the sniff it wants, and finds the form that got the side into this position, then the Raiders should watch out. Any other scenario, however, should see the Green Machine close the season out on a real positive.
Can the Raiders do what has seemed impossible all year and achieve a trio of wins?