Sharks drown at hands of Raiders
Canberra kept its season alive with a stunning 34-16 win over Cronulla at Canberra Stadium in the first week of the NRL finals on Sunday, September 9. Photo: Melissa Adams
A 20-year-old kid upset the war horse of the NRL, 24,450 fans packed into Canberra Stadium and the Green Machine powered into the second week of finals - the Raiders are a true premiership threat.
It's hard to believe there are still Raiders sceptics out there.
They say the Raiders are too young, too inexperienced in the halves and don't have the muscle of their rivals.
But if you need proof of that changing, you only need to look at the way Paul Gallen reacted after the Raiders toppled the Sharks 34-16 yesterday.
Widely regarded as one of game's toughest men, Gallen couldn't hide his frustration during and after the game because the unassuming and hard-hitting Josh Papalii ruffled his feathers.
What followed was intriguing.
Gallen claimed he was the victim of a dog shot, Raiders skipper David Shillington was full of praise for the way Papalii dominated an NRL star and David Furner was coy when asked what he said to fire up the youngster.
The Raiders have always had youth on their side.
But in a powerful 80-minute performance, Papalii could have changed that perception and added the mongrel, grunt and muscle the Raiders required for extra spark in their premiership dreams.
Finals footy is uncompromising.
It's fast, tough and unforgiving.
The South Sydney Rabbitohs got a lesson in just that on Saturday when their sparkling season was dealt a body blow with a thrashing at the hands of finals specialists, the Melbourne Storm.
So as we enter the second week of the play-offs, with two teams riding completely different waves.
The Raiders are high on confidence after six straight wins and are playing pressure-free football.
The Rabbitohs are in danger of getting caught in the hype of a South Sydney fairytale.
With a line-up boasting Greg Inglis, Sam Burgess, David Taylor, Roy Asotasi, John Sutton, Michael Crocker and rookie of the year Adam Reynolds, it's easy to see why Rabbitohs fans are starting to dream.
The Raiders might have been burned two years ago, but they're older, wiser and - thanks to Papalii - have a hard edge which will make opposition teams respect them every time they step on the field.
They'll still fly under the radar and shy away from attention.
They'll run on to ANZ Stadium as underdogs and use that to try to capitalise on the increasing pressure the Rabbitohs find themselves under.
Sure, the Raiders are trying to win their first premiership since 1994. But the Rabbitohs are trying to break a 41-year drought.
The beauty of Papalii's game is that he doesn't niggle his opponents by pushing their faces into the ground or battling them behind the play.
Gallen told referee Tony Archer, ''He's got me twice now and I'm going to get him back'' during the clash at Canberra Stadium.
But not even a crafty veteran like Gallen could deliver on his promise.
If the Rabbitohs were watching from the burrow in South Sydney, they would have been worried about what they saw.
The Raiders found out in 2010 that form and momentum doesn't guarantee you finals success.
But it does give you the upper-hand, especially when the Rabbitohs will be feeling the weight of expectation after their week-one flop.
One of the most exciting parts will be seeing who's next on Papalii's hit list.
Can the quiet kid from New Zealand stop the 'Coal Train' David Taylor?
We'll find out on Saturday.
If he can inspire his teammates like he did against the Sharks, the Raiders could find themselves on the verge of a preliminary final.