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Raiders on the defensive in quest for premiership glory

It is important for Canberra to keep winning these tough games leading into the finals. That goes for Manly as well and these two teams, on the rise, face off at GIO Stadium tomorrow.

But even more important for both clubs is they keep in touch with the top four. The coaches and players won't be talking about it but in the back of their minds it would be a motivating priority. 

As a benchmark point of view, both sides appear right now to be the two sides to push Storm and the Roosters come finals time. So that becomes in itself an important marker for both the Raiders and Sea Eagles and the result of this game. 

I'm a big admirer of both teams but especially the Raiders' defensive qualities. When we break down and analyse past grand finalists, the premiers were generally one of the top defensive sides in the competition.

Tradition shows us that defence must be at a premium at this time of year. And defence is an attitude, as they say, but certainly the Raiders have been a consistent defensive unit all year.

They haven't been blown off the park by anyone this year – their biggest loss has been by six points – so they've got their defence in order. And that discipline is actually enabling them to score points with the ball. That was evident last week against the Storm.

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They had to do a lot of defensive work in the first half being down 18-0. That saps energy but the confidence and belief in each other defensively allowed them to stay in the game and ultimately win.

Not many teams can do that. It enabled them to score 22 unanswered points against the best defensive team in the competition, an impressive effort. 

I see similarities with the Raiders in what the Roosters did last year. The Roosters' completion rates last year weren’t up there with the best in the NRL, they turned over a bit of footy, and gave away a fair bit of field position

But the Roosters still had the strong defensive characteristics to win games. Then as they built into the back end of the year, they started to find their mojo with their attack.

That's where the Raiders are right now.

Manly have also got a brilliant attacking footy team with the Trbojevic brothers Jake and Tom, and Daly Cherry-Evans leading the way along with the two big boppers in Marty Taupau and Addin Fonua-Blake.

They have a well-balanced footy team with great strike but the reason they're in the top four is because of their defensive qualities as well. 

But with the Raiders you can see Ricky Stuart’s competitiveness shining through. Ricky played in teams that prided themselves on defence. Ricky coached the 2002 Roosters to a premiership where their defence was the key.

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The Canberra sides Ricky and I played in the late 80s and early 90s could score points but we certainly could defend our line.

So we weren't just the best attacking team of our era, we were one of the best defensive units as well. Teams need that ruthlessness and competitiveness to win the big one. 

Building towards the finals these games against your peers – the teams around you on the NRL ladder which is where Canberra and Manly tomorrow are – you need to come away with confidence and a sense that you can mix it, compete and beat the top sides. That's a great outcome. 

The Raiders did that last week in Melbourne, but to back that up against the Sea Eagles would be even more impressive.

Manly aren't being subjected to the same pressure and high expectation that the other sides in the top-eight are experiencing. They are already overachieving in the minds of some.

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Des Hasler has returned to the club he took to grand finals and premierships and basically moulded the same 2018 team into a premiership contender. He has done that through defence, which is the highest priority for Des-coached teams. Sneaking under the radar is his thing.

Then they have this attacking brilliance where everything seems to click. You build your confidence around your defence. So it's no coincidence that the Storm, Roosters, Raiders, Sea Eagles and Rabbitohs (to an extent) are at the top of the ladder.

South Sydney have gone through a bit of a tough patch the last couple of months. They need to find their mojo around their defensive qualities to have any chance in the big games at the end of the year. They made a great start against the Broncos on Friday night.

With Canberra, I didn't feel that they needed to necessarily win against the Storm last weekend. It was great performance, but all they needed to do was play with that commitment, that desire, that attitude teams need to go deep into the finals.

It's important to compete for the entire 80 minutes and then have a mentality you can still produce what is needed in golden point. Anything can happen in finals footy, so you have to be prepared with that same mentality now.

There's still a lot to play for, teams can't cruise, they have to maintain momentum so this weekend's games matter. A big game for Canberra and Manly. 

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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