The Canberra Times

Canberra Raiders can prove they are the real deal in the next three games

Picture by Shutterstock
Picture by Shutterstock

Canberra Raiders have not been a force to be reckoned with in the National Rugby League (NRL) since claiming three championships in the 1990s.

However, after back-to-back eighth-place finishes in the NRL, the Raiders have turned up the dial this season and their early form could be a statement of intent.

Not many people fancied the Raiders to make a play for the championship this season, but four victories from six games have sent their fans into dreamland.

Their early-season form has catapulted the three-time champions into third place, two points adrift of joint leaders Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks and Melbourne Storm.

While no one realistically expects the Raiders to win the title, a top-four finish is undoubtedly a realistic target.

The Raiders last achieved the feat in 2019, but could be a value bet to replicate their effort this time around.

Several Australian betting sites rate them as 7.00 shots to finish in the top four - odds which may generate a flurry of activity ahead of the next round of matches.

While there is no reason why Ricky Stuart's side cannot dream of upsetting the bookies and ending a three-decade wait for the title, finishing in the top four should be the priority.

Raiders dig deep to fend odd the Titans

The Raiders extended their dominance over the Gold Coast Titans last weekend, digging deep top snatch a 21-20 victory after relinquishing a ten-point lead.

They have now won nine of their last ten meetings with the Titans, including the last four in a row, with their solitary defeat during the remarkable run coming back in July 2021.

A Jamal Fogarty field goal snatched the crucial victory for the Raiders against a spirited Titans side who have failed to win any of their opening five games of the season.

Alofiana Khan-Pereira sparked a comeback for the Titans with two dramatic tries. Brian Kelly then stunned the crowd with a game-tying conversion from the sideline, forcing golden point extra time.

Just when it seemed like the momentum had shifted entirely, Fogarty found space after an Ethan Strange line break, and his pinpoint kick secured a thrilling victory with nine seconds remaining.

Youngsters sparkle for the Raiders

Chevy Stewart produced a debut performance for the ages. Stepping onto the field for the first time in the NRL, all eyes were on the young Australian and he did not disappoint.

The 18-year-old displayed the composure of a seasoned veteran. His first carry in the NRL saw him absolutely flattened by Titans forward Beau Fermor, but Stewart brushed it off.

He even found himself embroiled in some late-half-time drama, nearly coming to blows with Titans playmaker AJ Brimson.

While not lighting up the scoreboard, Stewart was a rock-solid presence at full-back, racking up over 170 running meters and maintaining excellent positional awareness throughout the game.

He eventually played a key role in the Raiders' win when he charged down a Kieran Foran field goal attempt from in front in the final three minutes of golden point.

"It's been a massive week - I've been waiting to get my debut, and for it to finally come, I'm so happy," Stewart said after his eye-catching performance.

On the golden point that won the game for the Raiders, Stewart said: "The message was simple, grind it out, treat it like a normal half, hopefully we get to a field goal, and we did that."

Teenager Ethan Strange also had a great game for the Raiders, running 128 metres while recording a try assist and the line break that ultimately secured victory.

Three-game run will define their top-four chances

The Raiders are riding high after a stellar opening to the season. They now face a daunting three-game run that will define their top-four hopes.

Their next outing is a trip to face the Brisbane Broncos who have enjoyed a mixed start to the season. They have alternated wins and losses and the Raiders will fancy their chances of snatching a victory.

The challenge intensifies as they return home to face the Sharks. The table-toppers have lost just once this season and will not make life easy for the Raiders.

The match offers the Raiders a chance for revenge after the Sharks snatched victory in the last meeting between the two sides.

The final test in the three-match run comes against the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles. They have started the season well, but the Raiders will be eager to keep rolling.

This brutal three-game stretch serves as a litmus test for their top-four aspirations. They must overcome the hurdles and prove they have truly taken a step forward from last season.

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