Raiders eye another anomaly in weird 2020

Jarrod Croker says the Raiders are well placed to win the title despite being outside the top four.
Jarrod Croker says the Raiders are well placed to win the title despite being outside the top four.

In a year of NRL anomalies, Canberra captain Jarrod Croker can't see why his team can't create one more from outside the top four.

The Raiders know the numbers well: No-one has ever come from outside the lead pack to lift the title in the NRL-era.

But what has flown under the radar in the lead-up to October is Canberra have been one of the form teams heading to the finals.

They have won nine of their past 11 - a record only matched or bettered by Melbourne and Penrith respectively - and have managed their run perfectly.

They also rested no less than nine players last weekend to keep their stars fresh and still managed to account for this week's opponents in Cronulla.

"We've spoken about that (top-four record) for a while," Croker said.

"If ever there was a year a side was going to win it from outside the top four, I think this year is the year.

"It's a strange old year. All the top four allows you to do is have a weekend off.

"We just had a weekend off, so we're right to go anyway."

Canberra's run to any potential second successive decider would be tough.

If they beat Cronulla on Saturday, they would face the loser of Penrith and the Sydney Roosters.

Win that, and a possible away date with Melbourne awaits if the Storm account for Parramatta this weekend.

But this is a Raiders side used to dealing with adversity.

They spent the first six weeks when the competition restarted entirely on the road and travelling to and from each game on match day from Canberra.

They also had to deal with an injury toll that would have crippled most teams, leaving their forward stocks bare and co-captain Josh Hodgson out for the season.

"We've had to overcome a lot of hurdles this year to get to fifth spot," Croker said.

"So whatever gets thrown at us in the next three or four weeks, it's not going to worry us too much."

Canberra also know from experience records were made to be broken.

Last year they were on the receiving end as the Roosters became the first team to go back-to-back in 27 years.

It tells them that there's no reason why they can't break a 25-year run of winners coming from the top four.

"I think everyone said the Roosters couldn't do it twice in a row last year and they ended up doing it," second-rower John Bateman said.

"So why can't we?

"We've got confidence in ourselves, we know what this game is about and if we go out and perform to our best than I don't think any team will unsettle us."

Australian Associated Press