Imposing Canberra prop Dane Tilse may feel more like an American basketball star this weekend than an NRL player when the Raiders road-test their revolutionary away trip strategy on the Wests Tigers in their Round 3 clash at Campbelltown Stadium.
But it is move that could also help turn the Raiders from a team with one of the league's worst away records into a side that is feared both home and away, thanks to the potential benefits and sheer presence of the "Green Machine" ... a custom-made NBA-like luxury coach, featuring a massage table, exercise bikes and drops down TVs for video match reviews.
After years of experimenting with different travel arrangements for Sydney games with planes and buses to improve their poor away record, the Raiders and 30-year sponsor Murray’s Coaches, Buses and Limousines developed the "Green Machine" to give them an advantage over their rivals on the road in the 2011 season.
In the past 10 years, statistics from League Information Sevices show that the Raiders have won only 34% of their matches on the road, winning four or less of their 12 away games in seven of those seasons (and just 1 from 12 in 2002). The NRL average for away wins over the past six years is 42%.
The Raiders recorded one of their few above average away seasons last year (6 wins and 6 losses) because they reverted to coach travel, but Tilse says the "Green Machine" takes it to another level.
The tallest player in the NRL at 200cm, Tilse is also grateful for the extra leg room. But he believes the benefits go beyond on field performance, also creating an imposing presence for the club as the viking-emblazoned Raiders coach pulls into rival stadiums. It will also help with post-match recovery on the trip home.
"I personally enjoy the bus more than the plane ... I prefer relaxing on a bus before a game than the hassle of catching a plane," Tilse said.
"And now with the bus being extra comfortable I can't wait for the road trip. It has a certain NBA feel about it ... it is really professional and will create a lot of hype by its presence going into other teams' home grounds.
"It makes a real statement that we're there and we mean business. I'm sure we'll get some heckling ... a bit like the Blues Origin bus in Caxton Street."
Tilse said the Raiders can't wait to play their first away game of 2011 against the Tigers this weekend to make amends for last week's disappointing 20-4 second-round loss to the Broncos, after thumping the Sharks 40-12 five days earlier.
"Maybe there was a little bit of a first-round hangover and a short week ... but we really want to make amends for last weekend," Tilse said.
"And the Tigers knocked us out of the semi-finals at home last year so there is quite a bit of rivalry between the two clubs and a score to settle."
The Raiders will welcome back enforcer Brett White rom a one-week suspension to their 17, with Josh Miller shifting to 18th man to make way for the former international.
Star fullback Josh Dugan has not been named for the Raiders despite training with the squad on Monday afternoon, with a decision to be made on his availability to follow training sessions later in the week.
Raiders assistant coach Quentin Pongia said White will be raring to go against the Tigers and said the reshuffle would give the Raiders some more strength from the bench.
"Whitey is an experienced campaigner and he's keen to get out on the field after missing the week through suspension," Pongia said. "He's a great competitor and to have his experience coming from the bench gives us some more punch up the middle."
Pongia said Josh Dugan could still be a late possibility for the team for Saturday night, but medical staff would need to asses him following training sessions later in the week.
"Josh trained on Monday but he'll need to get through a couple more sessions before we can give him the opportunity to take the field," he said. "If he doesn't come through these runs than we have a more than capable replacement in David Milne"
For the Tigers, who beat the Warriors 20-12 last weekend for their first 2011 season win, international second-rower Gareth Ellis (ankle) and prop Bryce Gibbs (knee) have not been named due to injury and have been ruled out indeifnitely.
Also on the Tigers injury list are Ben Murdoch-Masila (shoulder, Rd 6), Liam Fulton (shoulder, Rd 8), Beau Ryan (groin), Junior Moors (foot), and Mark Flanagan (back, indefinite).
The match marks the 250th NRL game for respected prop/back-rower Todd Payten, who will be hoping for a better milestone memory than Titans stalwart Preston Campbell, whose side was comprehensively beaten 40-12 by the Storm in his 250th game last weekend.