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With just a few rounds remaining in this year?s Telstra Premiership, the Canberra Raiders find themselves in a position that has most 'experts' scratching their heads for answers.
At the beginning of the year the Canberra Raiders were favourites to win the wooden spoon by most betting agencies and after just three rounds of the season the side looked to have proved the critics correct. After an early upset win over a new-look Manly outfit at 'Fortress Brookvale', the Raiders then conceded a total 126 points in their next two games against the Knights and the Roosters. It would have been very easy for the Canberra side to have given up after these humiliations but to their credit, they hit back and are now well placed to make a play for the top 4.
The unity and determination of the club is second to none and this has been shown in their 4 golden point matches this season. The Raiders have won all of them. It is because of this new-found determination and unity within the side that has lead them to overcome a number of bigger name opponents with a playing roster which far out-classes our own. Their scalps include the Dragons, Roosters, Broncos, Tigers, Eels and the 2nd placed Bulldogs. In fact the only three sides not to have lost to the Raiders this year are the Knights, the Storm and the Sharks.
Despite not having any ?superstars? in their line-up, the Raiders do the basics correctly, which allows them to build momentum off their big men, exposing the likes of Clinton Schifcofske and Jason Smith to the defensive line. Players such as Dane Tilse, Thom Learoyd-Lahrs and Trevor Thurling have all started to develop into consistent and aggressive players and they will all play an integral part in the Raiders future. Add to them, the likes of up and coming halfback William Zillman and the future of the club looks to be in good hands.
This season we have seen the likes of Alan Tongue, Adam Mogg and the latest halfback sensation Todd Carney step up and really take on a leadership role. The Raiders have also introduced a number of debutants and each has flourished with experience and we should see them on a more regular basis next season. Adam Mogg has transformed himself into a whole new player since State of Origin and Raiders and Queensland fans alike will be sad to see him leave the NRL at the end of this season.
Yet despite surprising many with their recent and not so recent form, the Raiders are still considered as just making up the numbers. The only reason for this is because the side that takes the field every week is not choc-a-block with representative players or game breakers.
The key to the success with the Raiders is that each and every player works hard for one another and leaves nothing in the tank after 80 minutes, or as has been the case sometimes this season, 90 minutes.
Think that bothers the Raiders? Not at all, they are happy to keep turning up to games they are expected to lose, before stunning their opposition with gritty and hard-working performances. And who knows, the Raiders have proved that they can match it with the big guns this year, just as the Panthers did in 2003, the Bulldogs in 2004 and the Tigers in 2005.
Perhaps 2006 could be the year of the Raider.