The Run Home: Raiders

How they stand: The Raiders face an intriguing run home as they attempt to sneak into the bottom half on the NRL's top eight. Largely written off at the start of the year, they've built their season nicely to be within striking distance of the finals with seven games remaining. With six of those final games against teams currently in the bottom eight, Canberra will back themselves to win at least five. That would take them to 28 competition points, giving them a chance to crack finals footy in 2015. However, to do so they'll have to cope without one of their side's most influential players this season. 

Don't worry Raiders fans, Blake Austin will be playing. The vital cog we refer to here is Sam Williams, who partially tore his pectoral muscle against the Knights. He'll miss at least another four crucial weeks of football starting from Sunday afternoon's encounter with the Panthers, with Josh McCrone the man tasked with filling the void. With their team otherwise fit, firing and largely in-form, Canberra's hopes and dreams for season 2015 may well rest squarely on the shoulders of the experienced playmaker.  

Remaining fixtures:
Round 20 v Panthers at Pepper Stadium, 2pm Sunday July 26
Round 21 v Cowboys at 1300SMILES Stadium, 5.30pm Saturday August 1
Round 22 v Wests Tigers at GIO Stadium, 7pm Monday August 10
Round 23 v Sea Eagles at GIO Stadium, 2pm Sunday August 16
Round 24 v Titans at Cbus Super Stadium, 2pm Sunday August 23
Round 25 v Panthers at GIO Stadium, 7pm Monday August 31
Round 26 v Eels at Pirtek Stadium, 2pm Sunday September 6

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Key clash: There's only one match that stands out in the Raiders final run of seven, and that's their away trip to North Queensland in Round 21. Not only are the Cowboys by far the most imposing of the opposition they'll face in their run home, but they're also the team that handed Canberra the cruelest of losses back in Round 15. It was a game that coach Ricky Stuart pinpointed as taking a huge mental toll on his players and as such his troops should be looking for retribution in the return leg. If they can win this one, the Raiders will take a massive step towards finals footy. 

 

Key player: Blake Austin. Who else? One of the NRL's form players this year and also one of the most influential. If the goatee-wearing five-eighth can get any better, now's the right time as the Raiders push for the finals without Williams at halfback.

Injury report: The Raiders have been relatively unscathed by injury so far this year. However the loss of Williams to his pec injury is absolutely crucial at this point in the season.

NRL.com predicted finish: 10th.

Get tickets for the NRL run home
Ladder Predictor: Who will make the top eight?