Raiders captain David Shillington believes his side should be considered among the premiership favourites if they can end Canterbury’s 12-game winning streak this Friday night – despite the fact that even two wins from their remaining two games won’t guarantee a spot in the top eight.
Canberra has hauled itself back from the brink of finals oblivion to sit amongst a throng of five sides competing for two remaining finals spots following consecutive wins over Brisbane, Penrith and the Roosters in recent weeks.
But while they still hover just outside the top eight in ninth position on the NRL ladder, Shillington has been so impressed by the dominance of the Bulldogs that he says anyone that topples them would earn enormous respect come September.
“It would be huge – anyone that knocks off the Bulldogs would have to be competition favourites,” he told NRL.com ahead of Friday night’s blockbuster in Canberra. “No-one else can seem to beat them and I think people are expecting them to play someone in the grand final.
“I know that it’s a weird position for us to be in because we could win both games and still not make the finals, or win one and make it – but I think beating the Bulldogs would make a massive difference to our season.”
Key to Canterbury’s success this season has been their forward pack which has dominated all-comers over the past three months; however with both Tom Learoyd-Lahrs and Dane Tilse back from injury (Tilse returned last week) Shillington believes the Raiders have the bulk and power to make a statement.
“And that’s very important this week,” he said. “I think getting off the line and playing aggressively with them is the key. If you sit back and wait for them, they’re big, they’re mobile and have a pass in them so whether they pass or show-and-go, if you sit back on your heels they’re just going to power right through you.
“So we need to get up off the line and work well with each other – we can’t do things one-out – and stop their go forward. To be honest it’s going to be hard… they’re kind of the complete package, but we’ve just got to respect them and come ready for the battle.”
Shillington puts much of the onus for success this Friday on himself, insisting it was up to him to lead from the front.
While there were obvious doubts over the Raiders’ ability to regroup this season following season-ending injuries to club captain Terry Campese and representative prop Brett White, Shillington has filled the void since taking over as captain early in the year – insisting he has worked hard on his leadership skills after a ‘disappointing’ 2011.
“I try to lead the way with professionalism around the place and setting the right example,” he said. “Obviously my performance is what comes first. Last year when I stood in for Tonguey (Alan Tongue) and Campo (Campese) as captain when they were out I probably got a bit caught up in team things from time to time and my performance suffered. This year I’m making sure that my performance is right, I’m playing my best and lead by example that way.
“To be honest it has been hard. At the start of this year we had Campo as captain and myself and Whitey backing him up. We finished off the pre-season well and won both our trials for the first time in a decade, so it was a really good combination there and I really enjoyed backing up Campo.
“I wish I was still doing that to be honest but it’s not the case. Those two got injured and I’ve sort of been by myself a bit. But having guys like Tommy and Tilsey has been really good – they’ve been giving me a lot of support.
“That’s why missing Tommy the past two weeks has been hard in particular. It’s a big thing for me to have him back.”
The Raiders will again head into camp ahead of Friday night’s game after enjoying success employing similar methods over the past few months.
Shillington said that the players had quickly warmed to the idea of the ‘home camp’ which sees the squad spend a few nights at Rydges Eagle Hawk Resort just across the ACT/NSW border.
“It’s nothing fancy but the more time we spend together as a team – we have dinner together and go for a walk the next morning. Some of the younger guys like to play cards throughout the night. We’ve got our physio on site so it’s about preparation and getting our mentality right for the game as well as making sure we’ve got our hydration right, are eating the right foods. We’re hanging out together, thinking about footy and enjoying each other’s company.
“Working on those things has paid off for us. So far it’s been working.”