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For & Against: Will the Raiders make the finals?

With their second-half fadeouts now seemingly a distant memory and strong wins over Manly and Parramatta in recent weeks, the Raiders have the teams in the top eight looking over their shoulder.

Sitting in ninth and with games against the Knights and Dragons coming up, Ricky Stuart's men have the chance to gain momentum and secure a third straight finals appearance.

Having come agonisingly close to a premiership in 2019 and making it to the preliminary final last year, there is no shortage of motivation in the national capital, but will their slow start to the season come back to bite them?

For & Against - The Raiders will make the finals

For - senior journalist Paul Zalunardo

Their draw is tough and a lot of 2021 has been rough, but the Raiders are probably feeling as good about themselves right now as they have at any stage this season. 

Good enough that they’re in a position to be one of the two clubs that’ll fill seventh and eighth spot and feature in the finals. 

Origin is over, and more importantly, the issues that surrounded George Williams and the unsettling nature of his falling out with the club are also in the rear-vision mirror for the Green Machine. 

What is left is a group of players who are as tough as they come and have proven in recent years that they’ve no reason to be scared of anyone. 

Match Highlights: Eels v Raiders

Josh Papalii, Josh Hodgson and Jack Wighton are as good as you get in their respective positions. 

Papalii is an awesome force and when he is rolling forward down the middle of the field the rest of the Raiders feed of their quiet leader. 

The development of Hodgson into a two-position threat has also proven a wonderful addition in recent weeks. 

Not only does it allow Tom Starling the chance to provide some speed around the ruck, Hodgson’s versatility as a ball-player in the modern-day lock role is a huge addition. 

Then we have Wighton, a player capable to grabbing a game and making it his. 

The wildcard for the Raiders in the coming weeks should be Joe Tapine. 

The way he and Papalii ran roughshod over the Roosters in the first week of the 2020 finals should serve as the template for all Raiders' plans for the near future. Big, tough and angry is just what you want in a middle forward. 

For all the positives, the Raiders aren’t without potential pitfalls.  

The biggest problem they are facing is what to do at fullback. 

Rapana with the deft touch to stop a 40/20

The No.1 jersey appears to have a hex on it this year. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Bailey Simonsson and Xavier Savage have all been felled by injury while wearing the jersey that now fits over the torso of Jordan Rapana. 

Rapana was great against Parramatta last weekend, but can we expect performances of that calibre every weekend? 

Probably not but provided he can be safe under the high ball his strong running game should make him a reliable asset. 

The other potential stalling point for the Raiders is having Melbourne, Manly and the Roosters on the schedule in the last four weeks of the season. 

Before that, winnable games against the Knights and Dragons should have them in the top eight. 

Ricky Stuart will like his team’s chances from there, as will the Raiders fans.  

It might be done via Zoom, but get ready to see the Viking Clap in September once again. 

Match Highlights: Roosters v Raiders

Against - senior journalist Martin Lenehan

The Raiders have done a great job in the past three games to put themselves back in the finals frame and paper over some of the cracks that consigned them to just five wins from their first 15 games.

Heading into round 17 the Green Machine was teetering at 5-10 and looking anything but a contender.

Wins over Manly, Cronulla and Parramatta have restored belief and given the Raiders the sort of momentum that is sadly lacking in some of the other sides locked in the battle for seventh and eighth spot, most notably their next two opponents Newcastle and St George Illawarra.

But a slip-up against the Knights or Dragons, both of whom defeated Canberra earlier in the season, would well and truly take the wind out of their sails and undo the good work of the past few weeks.

Even if Ricky Stuart's men can win both of those matches they still face a big task to cement a spot in the eight as they face the Storm, Sea Eagles and Roosters in the mad dash to the finals.

One of the major issues confronting the Raiders is a lack of potency in attack, with their tally of 60 tries for the season the fourth lowest in the NRL. Only the Knights (53), Broncos (51) and Bulldogs (41) have scored fewer four-pointers.

If the Raiders can reproduce the same desperation in defence that kept the Eels to 10 points last week they made not need to score a heap of tries to win games but their attack needs to be in sync if they are to make a charge.

Episode 22 - RTS retires early, Kikau previews GF rematch

Two of their big guns in attack during the past few seasons, Jack Wighton and Jarrod Croker, have been below their best in 2021 and injuries to classy fullbacks Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and Xavier Savage have robbed them of some serious X-factor.

Jordan Rapana and Semi Valemei have moments of brilliance in them but are prone to handling errors bringing the ball out of trouble and centre Seb Kris is just 21 games into his career and will have his hands full against the rampant Melbourne and Manly backlines in round 22 and 23.

Josh Papalii, Joseph Tapine and Corey Harawira-Naera need to stand tall in the engine room if the Raiders are to go deep into September, while the dummy-half duo of Josh Hodgson and Tom Starling also have key roles to play.

Plenty has gone right for the Raiders in the past three weeks but it will count for nothing unless the big names come to the party in the final six games and carry the Green Machine into another finals campaign.

With so little margin for error, they can't afford any of the second-half fadeouts that plagued them earlier in the season and they can't afford to dwell on narrow losses to the Warriors, Cowboys and Dragons that could ultimately come back to bite them. 

Will the Raiders make the 2021 finals?

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The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARL Commission, NRL clubs or state associations.


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