Finally! That is the word to describe the mindset of rugby league fans now the NRL is back. The competition resumed on Thursday, 28 May after being suspended since the end of round two in March due to COVID-19.
The Canberra Raiders will play their first game in more than two months tonight when they head south to face the Melbourne Storm at AAMI Park in Melbourne.
The Green Machine have won their past two encounters against the Storm in Melbourne and Ricky Stuart’s men are looking to make it a hat-trick of wins away from home against one of the NRL’s elite clubs.
Round three’s match-up will be the first of seven consecutive games the Raiders will play outside of the ACT.
The Raiders notched wins in their opening two rounds against the Gold Coast Titans and New Zealand Warriors before COVID-19 forced the NRL to temporarily suspend its season. The Storm also head into the clash having won their opening two games of the season.
Raiders Captain Josh Hodgson speaks about the impact fellow English International George Williams has made so far in his short time at the club.
— Canberra Raiders (@RaidersCanberra) May 28, 2020
Now that the competition is back up and running, Raiders winger Bailey Simonsson said he has taken positives from his time spent away from the game.
“We are back playing, which is the main thing, and it is really exciting for all us boys to get back to doing what we love,” said Simonsson. “In terms of the whole lockdown situation, I’ve just tried taking the positives out of it. It was a good chance to work on my body that I needed to rehab and heal. I took my mind off footy for a little while, but now it’s good to be back.”
Raiders forward Josh Papalii will finally make his 200th appearance in Canberra colours as the Raiders look to register three wins in a row to start the 2020 campaign.
“Big Papa is a huge part of this team,” said Simonsson. “He has been here a long, long time and he is the rock of our team so I’m sure the boys will get up for him and put on a big performance. He’s a special player and a really great person.”
The Raiders squad has been bolstered by the return of Jordan Rapana, who recently signed a contract with the club until the end of the 2020 season following a short stint playing rugby union in Japan with Panasonic Wild Knights.
Although Rapana’s return means Simonsson is battling with him for a spot on the wing, the 22-year-old explained the importance the Kiwi international has had on his young career.
“I got asked that a couple of times, but I love Raps,” said Simonsson. “I said all of last year that he is a big influence on me and has helped me improve my game so having him back is a big boost for me. I’m still early in my career so having him there to learn off and soak up as much as I can off him is huge. At the end of the day, we are all competing for spots. I’m no different to everyone else in the squad.”
Canberra Raiders round 3 team list vs Melbourne Storm:
1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad 2. Bailey Simonsson 3. Jarrod Croker (C) 4. Curtis Scott 5. Nick Cotric 6. Jack Wighton 7. George Williams 8. Josh Papalii 9. Josh Hodgson (C) 10. Dunamis Lui 11. Joe Tapine 12. Elliott Whitehead 13. Corey Horsburgh 14. Siliva Havili 15. Emre Guler 16. Sia Soliola 17. Michael Oldfield
18. Jordan Rapana 19. Matt Frawley 20. Kai O’Donnell 21. Tom Starling
John Bateman (shoulder) – round 4-5
Hudson Young (suspended) – round 6