Raiders v Storm Preview

Canberra Stadium
Sunday 2pm

Remarkably the Raiders are just four points out of the top eight – but they sit second last on the premiership ladder.

Most would say the four points is misleading and Canberra now have next to no chance of making the playoffs; in the very least they must win at home against Melbourne on Sunday.

To knock off one of last year’s grand finalists, after losing to the premiers last week, would count as a win they weren’t necessarily banking on and would give them some kind of leg-up as they prepare to make a final push for the finals.

They are in a good position to do it, which is the good thing: David Milne is the only Raider on the injury list – otherwise they are fit and ready.

Melbourne, on the other hand, are travelling along nicely after winning without their Origin players last week. All but the injured Greg Inglis (fractured jaw) should return for this game.

The Storm have hit their straps and currently sit in fourth position, but they look like they will finish even higher. Everybody seems to be talking about the Bulldogs or St George Illawarra for the minor premiership – but Melbourne are professionals at getting there and they’re well and truly in the race.

Canberra often make a competitive game of it against Melbourne – but they need to go further than that and win. Quite simply, their forwards need to take control, and Terry Campese has to re-discover his Midas touch. Or else it’s curtains 2009.

Watch out Raiders: There are too many stars in the Melbourne side to watch everyone, but if Canberra can put heavy pressure on Cooper Cronk they can stay in the game.

Cronk has been in outstanding form in recent weeks and it’s showing in the stats department. The chirpy Queenslander is second for tries scored and third in line breaks for all halfbacks. In defence he’s made more tackles than any other halfback this year, and has come up with two 40-20s – more than any other no.7.

Brett Finch being at the Storm has really helped Cronk, ensuring he isn’t always left with the ball in his hands. However, he has it most of the time and a try is never far away. He’s a tremendous all-round competitor.

Watch out Storm: It’s almost fitting that Terry Campese gets a chance to show Craig Bellamy what he can do the weekend immediately following State of Origin. Bellamy phoned Campese before names were read out for NSW, informing him he would not be retained for the second game in Sydney.

Bellamy was quite critical of Campese’s efforts in Game One, however he’s assured the Raiders’ stand-off that his Origin days are far from over. With that knowledge Campese will be inspired to hit his straps here.

He would admit he has been hit and miss in recent weeks, executing some good plays, but then not having enough of an impact on the duration of matches.

The thing about Campese is he’s always trying something and that makes him dangerous. The Queanbeyan junior leads the NRL’s no.6s for most try assists with 16 – two more assists than his nearest rival – and is also top of the tops with three 40-20s for the season so far.

He’s also second in the league for line-break assists and most offloads. Impressive statistically, but he needs to do more.

Where it will be won: Defence could win this game for Canberra. They need to be committed in their tackles, otherwise the Storm can run away with this game.

Melbourne are currently second in the NRL for line breaks, averaging nearly five a match. To be any chance, Canberra need to at least halve this number.

Melbourne is also a leading tackle-breaking team, with an average of 36 per game. The Raiders need to shut down plays and close off the ball to minimise Melbourne’s attacking opportunities. However, all of the above doesn’t bode well for Canberra who are the statistically one of the worst teams in the NRL.

The green machine are the third worst for points conceded (nearly giving up 23 points a match) and they’re second worst for tries conceded (letting in over four each week). Surprisingly, even despite this, Canberra are third out of all teams for fewest missed tackles – falling off an average of just 26 per game (only the Storm and Dragons have better records in this department).

Canberra have also allowed the second least amount of offloads this year (again just behind Melbourne with nine). These stats at least show Canberra does have defensive potential. You would think that the problem then has been making too many errors and handing over possession too often, but untrue. Canberra are the second best team in the league for errors, committing just under 11 per game.

So, silly defensive decisions when put under pressure appears the root of their problems.

To win this game Canberra needs to defend better than they have all year, and just hope enough points can flow off the back of this. They should rely on their offloading (they are second in the league with an average of 14 per match). And hopefully Campese will make good decisions when providing opportunities for his outside men.

The history: Played 24; Storm 19, Raiders 5. At Canberra Stadium, Melbourne hold a 7-4 advantage from the 11 matches played. Canberra hasn’t defeated Melbourne for more than eight matches dating back to 2005.

Conclusion: In front of their home crowd where they held such an impressive winning record last year, the Raiders will try to get their playoffs hopes on the rails, or at the very least try to save face and restore some pride. They’re a proud team and won’t like the fact they’re second last on the competition ladder. But you would think the Melbourne machine will keep rolling on.

The Storm won 46-6 against the Raiders at Olympic Park earlier in the year. That was Canberra’s biggest embarrassment of the year so far – they will be hoping to keep the scores a lot closer.

Match Officials: Referees – Gavin Badger and Brett Suttor; Sideline Officials – Daniel Eastwood and Ricky McFarlane; Video Ref – Phil Cooley.

Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Live 2pm Sunday.