Gavin Cooper and Jason Taumalolo celebrate against the Warriors.

Monday Morning Halfback: Make or break

With only two weeks left before the NRL finals, Round 25 shapes as moving day for the heavyweights of the competition with the Bulldogs hosting the Cowboys on Thursday night and the Broncos taking on the Storm just 24 hours later. 

They are the two blockbuster clashes that could come to define the 2016 season.

The results could cement the all-important top four placings and set off a chain reaction of fixtures for the finals series. 

The teams who miss the top four will be fighting the weight of history to lift the Provan Summons trophy in October – no team has ever won the grand final after finishing below fourth since the NRL was founded in 1998. 

The stakes couldn't be higher. 

On Thursday night the Bulldogs host the reigning premiers North Queensland at their spiritual home, Belmore Sports Ground. It is a game that could decide the top four. A Bulldogs victory would all but guarantee them fourth place and a second chance during the finals. In turn it would mean the Cowboys and Broncos would be forced into sudden death football and would need to achieve the almost impossible from the bottom have of the finals. 

If the Cowboys win, they'll leapfrog the Bulldogs thanks to a far superior for and against (205 v 84). It is an absolute blockbuster with everything to play for and with Belmore set to be packed to the rafters, it should be an electric atmosphere.

A Bulldogs loss would also open the door for Broncos to leapfrog them with a win over the table topping Storm the following night. 

Round 25 is set to kick-off with a bang, the importance of the two opening matches cannot be overstated in the context of the 2016 season.

Use our ladder predictor to see who will make the finals

Raiders not satisfied

They've won eight in a row to secure a top four finish in the NRL Telstra Premiership, in the process beating top of the table Cronulla and Melbourne in consecutive weeks, and reigning premiers North Queensland for good measure, but the Green Machine know they still have a lot of work ahead of them.

"We haven't done anything yet," was coach Ricky Stuart's blunt assessment after confirming the top-four finish and first finals berth in four seasons.

 

The Raiders are heading into unchartered waters and Stuart is uncertain of how his chargers will respond under the finals microscope. 

"I've got a very young playing group there. We're going to go into a semi-finals series without a lot of experience which will probably, it's going to be difficult, it's going to be tough," he said.

"But the experience we'll learn going into the semi-finals this year is going to be outstanding going into the next two, three, four years for this club. We've got a very good future. Whatever happens in the semi-finals series it's going to be a wonderful education for us going forward.

"They say you need experience to win semi-final football. Maybe that will be the case but it will give us a great education going into next year and the years after that. We're very happy with where we sit but we haven't achieved anything yet.

"Outside the fact that we're in the top four and I'm very proud of their players and their efforts for putting us in that position. The future, who knows?

You can forgive Canberra fans for getting excited. The Raiders struggled early against the Eels without star hooker Josh Hodgson, but rallied in the second half and were simply irresistible with ball in hand.

Have they peaked too early? Only time will tell, but they are certainly going to be hard to beat in September.

"I haven't got a Johnathan Thurston or a Cameron Smith or a Cooper Cronk," Stuart said.

"I've got a team where we don't live off one player, we've got to live off everybody's individual contributions."

Croker breaks another record

He's already the highest point scorer in the Raiders' history and on Sunday Jarrod Croker broke another club record scoring the most points in a season.  

The Canberra captain is on 248 points in 2016 with two regular season games and anywhere from two to four finals games to come.

It moves him past the club-record 245 points racked up by Clinton Schifcofske in 2001. Croker now has three of the top four points tallies for a season in the club's history. And he is still just shy of his 26th birthday! 

The all-time record for any club – the mammoth 342 piled on by Canterbury's Hazem El-Masri in 2004 – appears safe for this year.

The next individual milestone for Croker will be his 100th try, currently sitting 3rd on the Raiders all time list with 96, he is chasing club legends Brett Mullins (105) and Jason Croker (120).

Cronk's the man

Cooper Cronk is shaping as the favourite for the prestigious Dally M medal after another sublime performance at the weekend. 

The Storm halfback controlled proceedings against Manly, laying on four tries to take his season tally to 21 assists. 

 

Cronk was in a four-way tie at the top of the Dally M leaderboard when voting went behind closed doors after Round 16, and has continued to produce man-of-the-match performances in the weeks since. 

The 32-year-old won the award in 2013 and appears to be the front-runner to win it again this season. 

There might not be a more important player heading towards the biggest games of the year.