It was once thought the Raiders could not win without five-eighth Terry Campese. Now the injured captain says his side has one of the best halves combinations in the NRL and the unheralded duo are primed to give the finals a real shake.
Campese’s season ended when he was injured against the Broncos in round seven and the Green Machine has had to answer constant speculation about their ability to win without their chief playmaker.
Not anymore. They have responded to their critics in the best possible way.
The Raiders stormed into the finals on the back of a five-match winning streak to earn a home elimination final against Cronulla on Sunday afternoon.
Campese, who believes the combination of Sam Williams, Josh McCrone and Josh Dugan has been largely overlooked, says the trio has been a major factor in the side’s charge towards a finals berth.
“The two young halves Sam Williams and Josh McCrone have really stood up,” Campese told NRL.com.
“Their combination together with Duges at the back or Reece (Robinson) if he is filling in has been outstanding and definitely up there with the best combinations in the game at the moment.
“A big move was Fergo (Blake Ferguson) moving into the centres and if it were Origin time or representative time of the year, he would 100 per cent be there. He has been outstanding for the team.”
The turnaround for the Raiders this season has been incredible. Midway through the season they were languishing in second-last position on the ladder and without their inspirational captain. It appeared Canberra were wooden spoon contenders.
How things have changed.
A lot of credit must go to coach David Furner who has continued to stick to his policy and structures, despite being under intense pressure and scrutiny throughout 2012.
“100 per cent he was (under pressure),” Campese admitted.
“I guess that is what the media does, it focuses on the negatives and tries to put a different swing to the articles.
“It is a credit to him and the coaching staff that have worked, I wouldn’t say harder, because they definitely put in the time and effort before that, I just think the team is buying into what they have been trying to do from the start.
“Not too much has changed around the club, it is just a bit more exciting that they are winning and it does help us injured boys out when their demeanour is up around training.”
The Raiders have home-ground advantage for their elimination final, but they will not be relying on that to get them over the line on Sunday afternoon. The Sharks have a good recent record at Canberra Stadium including a massive 44-22 victory in round eight earlier this season.
Campese says the side is preparing for another Todd Carney-inspired performance when the two sides clash.
“They came down to Canberra earlier in the year and they did give us a bit of a flogging,” he said.
“Todd was at his best, he was getting a lot of repeat sets and hurting us with his kicking game and running game as well.
“If we can shut down him, it will go a long way to winning the game. I just heard Gal (Paul Gallen) in there say he wants his forwards to step up because they weren’t up to the task yesterday. That is a challenge to our forwards to really bring it to them on Sunday.”
Fullback Josh Dugan did not play against the Warriors in New Zealand, but he is in no doubt to be fit for the must-win clash.
“It was just a bit of precaution, knowing that we were in the semis with the win or loss yesterday. It was just about trying to save them for this week and not trying to injure their bodies anymore,” Campese said.
“It is going to be exciting times, hopefully a packed house at Canberra Stadium, we have the Sharks and Todd Carney coming back to Canberra.”
Canberra members rushed to secure tickets on Monday in a special buying window, with more than 9000 tickets snapped up during the first day of tickets on sale.
Tickets to the general public go on sale on Tuesday at 10am.