As a Raiders fan, there’s no other team I would rather be playing in the first weekend of the NRL finals than the Melbourne Storm in Melbourne. Our record is nothing short of astounding and gives cause for optimism, albeit cautiously.
Canberra has won the past four against the Storm in Melbourne, the only team to have more wins than losses against the competition powerhouse at their home ground. The most recent was the Raiders’ 20-16 win in Melbourne in round 18.
The Raiders also beat the Storm in Melbourne, 12-10, in the first week of the finals series in Melbourne in 2019.
It is the most obvious reason why Canberra should not fear heading into Saturday night’s semi-final.
Interestingly enough, the Storm has won four in a row against the Raiders at Canberra Stadium, but that will be irrelevant on Saturday.
The second factor in the Raiders’ favour is the side’s current rich vein of form with only one loss in the past two months, and that was to premiership favourites, Penrith.
In fact, the Raiders have won seven of their past eight games to surge into the top eight.
On the other hand, the Storm’s form has been patchy, with losses to Parramatta and the Roosters heading into the finals.
Before those two losses, the Storm had victories over the Broncos and the Panthers, so their form is hard to read, but it’s fair to say the Raiders have momentum.
Another factor promoting optimism for fans is the form of critical players Papalii, Tapine, Wighton, Young and Fogarty.
Young has developed into one of the top backrowers in the competition, while Fogarty, after a slow start, is showing us why the Raiders chased him so hard in the off-season.
When the Storm beat the Raiders 30-16 in Wagga Wagga in Round 5, the critical players for Melbourne on that day were Ryan Papenhuyzen and Jahrome Hughes.
Papenhuyzen is out for the season while Hughes is battling a calf strain.
Of course, on the flip side is the ability of Storm coach Craig Bellamy to extract the seemingly impossible out of his players.
Hurdles have been placed in the way of the Raiders with a short turnaround while the Storm enjoyed an extended break.
The Storm is a champion team, but there is plenty to like about how the Raiders are playing heading into the elimination final.
Storm v Raiders live from AAMI Park will be broadcast live on Nine on Saturday, 10 September. Kick-off at 5:40 pm.