The biggest names in the game: who will decide Sunday’s grand final?
The biggest names in the game: who will decide Sunday’s grand final?

Johns: How Raiders can spring upset for the ages

For the game, it's a terrific grand final match-up.

We have the genuine favourites, the defending champions, the Sydney Roosters. A tall poppy that opposition tribes love to have a shot at, with the tongue mostly in cheek, against the Canberra Raiders, a club returning to a stage they once dominated but haven't graced since 1994.

Lovers of Rugby League with a half decent memory have a great respect for the Green Machine.

During their era of dominance, they played the game in a manner which drew people to the sport.

They changed the game at the time from a defence dominated sport to one in which attack suddenly ruled.

But they were generous with their success. Rather than hide their winning cards, coach Tim Sheens openly discussed the methods which took the club to the top.

In fact, in 1990, the Raiders released a video to the sporting world called The Winning Ways of Rugby League, where they showed the training methods and attacking skill drills that they practised day in, day out.

Those Canberra teams were great for Rugby League.

Brett Mullins (L) was part of the exciting Raiders sides of the 1990s. Picture: David Gray.
Brett Mullins (L) was part of the exciting Raiders sides of the 1990s. Picture: David Gray.

There was a lot of pressure on the 2019 Raiders last week, expected to win, at home, and in the first half they played with a nervousness.

But victory and making a grand final where they are outsiders has released the pressure and it's clear that coach and team have enjoyed the build-up this week.

Being favourites doesn't seem to weigh on the Roosters. They started the year looking like an even money bet to go back to back, and nothing's changed.

Every team talks about handling pressure by just focusing on the processes, but few walk the talk. The Roosters do it magnificently.

Let's bite into this contest.

 

THE REBOUND

I'm really curious to see how much their win over the Storm took out of the Roosters.

It was arguably the most physical game of the season and although the Roosters had the previous week off, contests like that do take some sort of toll.

The Raiders' victory over Souths was tough and hard fought, but the SCG game was another level. The Raiders also had the previous week to rest and have had one extra day to prepare.

There's plenty of examples of epic semi-finals draining a team for grand final day, no better than the Roosters of 2003. They belted their nemesis, the Dogs, in the qualifier, but the heights they reached left them vulnerable for Penrith in the big one.

 

Cooper Cronk pulls the strings for the Roosters. Picture: AAP
Cooper Cronk pulls the strings for the Roosters. Picture: AAP

ROOSTERS RE-DEFINING THE ARM WRESTLE

Canberra can't be content to just settle into an arm wrestle with the Roosters.

The Storm were once the kings of the grind, it's now the Bondi Boys.

The Roosters are redefining the arm wrestle.

When you think arm wrestle, you think about rather negative, grinding, one out, let's see who breaks first football.

When the Roosters grind, they play fast, they complete high, but the point difference is they don't stop throwing questions at you.

Cronk goes at you and threatens, then it's Keary, suddenly Tedesco. For a defence it's exhausting, and it totally drains your big middle players.

 

The more negative you are with the football, the more the Roosters step up and speed up when in possession.

Canberra must play positive football to make the Roosters work hard defensively.

You have to play a style which can generate not just opportunity, but extra possessions.

To beat the Roosters, you need more than an even split in possession.

 

KICKING CRUCIAL

Last week both finals games were in the balance, but it was poor kicks which swung the game.

On the Friday, with the Raiders down to twelve men, the ball went to Damien Cook on the last and he was forced to do a rushed kick, which gave the Raiders seven tackles, and Josh Papalii scored just after.

Likewise, an impetuous kick from Ryan Papenhuyzen saw the Roosters use their seven tackle set to work downfield for Tedesco's matchwinner.

Cooper Cronk is a big game specialist because of his mastery of the kick, what kick is required, and putting it where it needs to go.

Getting his kicking game right on this big stage is the biggest challenge of Aidan Sezer's career.

It's one of a few absolutely crucial elements to this game.

 

 

HODGSON MUST BREAK FREE

Another crucial factor is the ability of Canberra to generate speed of the play-the-ball and get Josh Hodgson past the markers and threatening the defence. This is where another big game from Josh Papalii is essential.

The Raiders' spine is so similar to Melbourne's in that outside of the dummy-half, the 7, 6 and 1 are run first footballers.

Josh Hodgson is Canberra's best playmaker. If the rucks are slow and he is unable to get out of dummy-half, it reduces the Raiders attacking threat dramatically.

How the ruck is refereed is vital. Last week the referees let the Roosters and Storm lie all over each other, if they do the same Sunday night, it will not be good for Canberra.

NO ROOM FOR NERVOUSNESS

For the Raiders, they need to play the football that got them here.

They are the underdogs and must attack the Roosters with an underdog mentality and be brave and take chances with the football.

Mistakes will occur. You just have to back your ability to defend those errors.

I love it when Jordan Rapana gets himself into the centrefield. It's what sparks that unorthodox football we talk about when we talk Canberra Raiders.

CRONK LEGACY

Ninth grand final, six wins if he gets the result on Sunday night, and aiming for three in a row.

Win or lose Cooper Cronk must be considered one of the game's greatest ever 7's.

Some playmakers are flashier, many more naturally gifted, but none more effective.

No player has extracted more out of himself than Cooper.

Intelligence and dedication are an unbeatable combination.