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The Canberra Raiders are finally getting some recognition for their good start to the season. Never mind Channel nine not wanting a bar of the Raiders in preference to showing a Souths - Manly game in round seven when the Raiders face the Bulldogs at Canberra Stadium in what is traditionally a very hard fought contest.
The Blues selectors have publicly stated that several Raiders played form will be monitored closely over the weekend and a preliminary squad of 30 players will be named on Monday morning. The front runners from Canberra are Luke Davico, Simon Woolford and Jason Croker while Ryan O?Hara would have to be an outside chance considering his early season form has been nothing short of devestating.
Davico is on the comeback from a torn pectoral muscle that kept him out much of last season and has started teh season strongly while Simon Woolford has been the form hooker of the competition to date and scored the match winning try for the Raiders against the Dragons last weekend.
Knights rake Danny Buderus is a certainty for the position if fit but Woolford is pushing him every step of the way in what has proved to be a selection boon for the Blues, who would lose nothing if Woolford was to wear the sky blue number nine.
Jason Croker is another who could make a long awaited return to the Blues jersey but his utility value may work against him as it did when he was disgracefully excluded from the 1994 Kangaroo tour of Great Britain and France. Croker was one of the form players of the premiership winning Raiders yet failed to gain a berth on the tour. Croker is not a specialist back rower or centre and can also cover five eighth but with Scott Hill sure to be in the side, the chips look stacked against Croker gaining selection although there would be none more deserving than ?Toots?.
The outsider from the Raiders is Ryan O?Hara but his early season form has been outstanding with some punishing defence and barnstorming runs and on form alone is ahead of the injured Jason Ryles and Cronulla?s Jason Stevens.
Both Ryles and Stevens are selection certainties based on reputation but on form Luke Bailey is the number one prop for the Blues and made a staggering 55 tackles against the Raider last week and O?Hara is not far behind. Both young props could stand up to the Maroons front row of Shane Webcke and Chris Beattie/ Steve Price but the selectors have repeatedly shown that reputation is a better guide than form at Origin level even though we have not won the series since 2000.
I?m not holding my breath over any of the Raiders making the final squad but the recognition alone is a good sign that the Raiders are destined for bigger and better things in 2003. A win against Penrith this weekend is the perfect way to reinforce that.