Rugby League Week - - League Week -

CAN­BERRA’S FAIRY­TALE SEA­SON HAS car­ried them to their first grand fi­nal qual­i­fier since 1997 in Su­per League but if they are to progress to ANZ Sta­dium next Sun­day they must over­come a ruth­lessly ef­fi­cient Storm out­fit which is steered around the pad­dock by two of the finest play­ers of the mod­ern era in Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk. Two masters of their trade who dis­sect an op­po­si­tion through a com­bi­na­tion of su­perb kicking, pin­point pass­ing and game man­age­ment of the high­est or­der. With a week off un­der their belt, the mi­nor premiers head into this con­test as red-hot favourites, and a trip to their first grand fi­nal since 2012 is only 80 min­utes of con­trolled and clin­i­cal footy away. Stand­ing in the way, how­ever, is a team which has stunned the NRL in 2016 with a mix of back­line bril­liance and brute force — and the abil­ity to play the sort of in­stinc­tive footy which can throw the Storm right off kil­ter. What the Raiders can’t do is get so car­ried away by the freak­ish off­loads and trick shots that they for­get to get the ba­sics right. If they try to make the magic hap­pen be­fore they’ve done the hard yards up the mid­dle and proved to Jesse Bromwich, Jor­dan McLean, Kevin Proc­tor and Dale Fin­u­cane that they’re wor­thy of their re­spect then it could all go pear shaped for Ricky’s Raiders. If they go set for set early and give Josh Hodg­son the time and space he needs to dic­tate terms in his bat­tle with Smith then the un­der­dogs have a real shot at an up­set. When these sides met in Can­berra only six weeks ago, it was the Raiders who made a mas­sive state­ment with a 22-8 win in­spired by Joey Leilua, the barn­storm­ing cen­tre who will again be the Green Ma­chine’s go-to man. Leilua scored a try after just 48 sec­onds that night as Can­berra showed the sort of un­pre­dictabil­ity and flair which makes them such a dan­ger­ous op­po­nent. No doubt the Raiders will be dar­ing again but they have to get down and dirty as well if they’re to have any hope of de­rail­ing Cronk and Smith’s me­thod­i­cal Storm ma­chine.

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