As the Raiders prepare to play the Sharks in the elimination final on Saturday night there is cause for optimism.
The Raiders, throughout their history, have thrived on adversity. The origins of this can be traced back to the opposition the club faced before being granted entry to the NSWRL.
In 1989 the Raiders finished the regular season in fourth position before winning the title. In 1990 they were the minor premiers and in 1994 the Raiders were third at the end of the home and away season.
This year the Raiders have again faced adversity, being forced to travel more than any other team in the NRL, coupled with a potentially crippling injury toll.
But they have overcome the odds to finish in fifth position heading into the finals.
As was the case in 1989, the Raiders won 14 games in 2020, albeit with two extra games played in the 1989 season.
Despite finishing fifth and with the injury toll, there is cause for optimism leading into the finals.
In order, here are the top five reasons why I think the Raiders can win the premiership.
Reason number 1: George Williams and his English teammates
Williams at halfback has added a new dimension to the Raiders attack with his pace and kicking game. There was a sense of uncertainty when Aidan Sezer left the club to be replaced by Williams but Williams has not only improved the Raiders’ attack, he also possesses a solid defensive game. The influence of Williams and fellow Englishmen Josh Hodgson, Ryan Sutton, John Bateman and Elliott Whitehead cannot be overestimated. Whitehead, in particular, has been incredibly influential in the outcome of games with an ability to play in several positions. The English players with their toughness have been incredibly influential on the rest of the players.
Reason number 2: Josh Papalii and Jack Wighton
Papalii has emerged as the number one prop in the NRL. His ability to lift the Raiders with a big run or dominant hit have become trademarks this season. His 60-metre pursuit of Titans back Jamal Fogarty highlights his never-give-up attitude. Wighton has grown in stature since winning the Churchill Medal in last year’s Grand Final. Although heavily marked this season, he consistently lifts the team with individual brilliance in attack and aggression in defence.
Reason number 3: Tom Starling
When Josh Hodgson was ruled out for the season many pundits put the felt pen through the Raiders’ chances of winning the premiership. They failed to factor in the potential of Tom Starling. At just 5’7″ and weighing 82 kg, Starling has emerged as a dynamic influence on the Raiders.
And there’s good news looking forward – yesterday the Raiders announced that Starling has signed a new two-year deal with the club.
Reason number 4: The Raiders were runners-up in 2019
There have been many instances where the runners-up the previous year have gone on to win the title the following season. We saw it in 1991 when the Panthers beat the Raiders having gone down to Canberra in 1990. More recently, Manly won the premiership in 2008 having lost to Melbourne the previous year. The Storm went down to Manly in 2008 before winning the title in 2009, while Melbourne won the premiership in 2017 having lost to the Sharks in the 2016 grand final.
Reason number 5: Canberra Milk returns as a major sponsor in 2021
Despite players over the years from every club saying the major sponsorship issue wasn’t a factor in their week-in week-out performance, I believe it has an impact. The players will have been buoyed by the fact that through their performances on the field they have been able to attract another major sponsor. This should give the players a significant confidence boost.
If the Raiders win the premiership this season it will go down as one of the greatest in the club’s history. The adversity faced through travel and injuries has shown the true character of this team. This is why there is cause for optimism.