Local NRL team, the Canberra Raiders, have certainly put the rest of the competition on notice over the course of the 2016 regular season. This young up-and-coming squad rocketed into second place, on the back of ten straight wins, to secure a fantastic shot at the biggest prize of them all, the NRL premiership trophy.
The past three seasons haven’t exactly inspired confidence in the Raiders, with respective finishes of 13th, 15th and 10th. At the beginning of the 2016 season many pundits expected the team to challenge for a top eight position, either narrowly sneaking into the finals or just missing out. However, these reservations were clearly ignored within the club itself, with a clear desire to unite the team, play for the full 80 minutes week in week out, and string some wins together before the finals – three aspirations that were most definitely achieved.
Perhaps what’s made the Raiders so successful is the fact that they’ve been led by a diverse range of players from across the field. Whether it’s damaging forward Josh Papalli, stalwart captain Jarod Croker, English duo Josh Hodgson and Elliot Whitehead, or outside backs Joey Leilua and Jordan Rapana, every single member of the team has contributed in one way or another. Deadly combinations and a unique flare has resulted in the Raiders being by far and away the best attacking side in the competition, amassing 688 points over the season at an average of 29 points per game.
On the finals themselves, a close first up loss against the Cronulla Sharks was undeniably a missed opportunity to progress straight to the semi finals. Regardless, a provided double shot at success had the Raiders a mere two wins away from the Grand Final itself, with the potential to bring the NRL title back to the nation’s capital for the first time since 1994.
Although the next three weeks will be exciting, nerve-racking and daunting all at the same time, one thing is for sure – the 2016 season has marked the return of the Canberra Raiders. The exhilarating football displayed over the course of the regular season will undoubtedly extend well into the finals this year, and for many many years to come.