Raiders coach Ricky Stuart
Raiders coach Ricky Stuart CRAIG GOLDING

Chance for Green Machine to show they're real deal

IT'S HARD to believe it is 25 years since the once-dominant Canberra contested a grand final.

The Green Machine was shooting for a rare premiership hat-trick when beaten by Penrith 19-12 at the Sydney Football Stadium in its last grand final appearance in 1991.

It was a wonderful Raiders side that included current Canberra coach Ricky Stuart and other representative stars including fullback Gary Belcher, centre Mal Meninga, five-eighth Laurie Daley and several handy forwards in Glenn Lazarus, Steve Walters and Brad Clyde, who was named man-of-the-match in a losing team.

Panthers' hooker Royce Simmons was Penrith's hero scoring two tries before offering to shout everyone in Penrith a beer after the famous victory.

Stuart's new Raiders are not in the same league as the classes of 1989, '90 and '91, but he has them playing an exciting and entertaining brand of rugby league that has them in the top three when some tipped them to finish in the bottom few.

Melbourne is the ultimate professional outfit.

The Storm are very difficult to break down defensively and they build pressure with the precision kicking game of halfback Cooper Cronk and the guile of skipper Cameron Smith out of the dummy half

If Canberra can continue its winning streak against Melbourne, who after Cronulla's shock loss to St George Illawarra look to have the minor premiership locked away, it will augur well for the Raiders' chances of playing their way into this year's grand final.

Stuart has found the key to getting the Raiders playing an expansive style but more importantly he has improved their defence which they will need to be strong for 80 minutes against Melbourne who love the tight finishes.

In round six Melbourne had to pull out everything they had to beat the Raiders 14-10 and this time at Canberra's home ground life will be even tougher for the Storm.

Jarrod Crocker has been in wonderful form for Canberra and if the Raiders' halves Aidan Sezer and Blake Austin can get him quality early ball he could continue to close in on being the youngest player to score 200 points in a season.

The key clash though will be the battle between the No.9s - Canberra's highly impressive Englishman Josh Hodgson and Melbourne's Cameron Smith.

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