Orange CYMS and Bloomfield Tigers junior Jack Wighton and his Canberra Raiders head to Melbourne’s AAMI Park looking to keep a remarkable away record against the Storm intact in Saturday night’s preliminary final.
Progressing to the club’s first NRL grand final since 1994 – which they won – is a fairly big motivator too.
Despite Melbourne’s 10-2 win-loss record at home this year the Raiders have little to fear playing the Cameron Smith-led Storm at AAMI Park, Canberra has won three of their last four games there.
The most recent of those wins was a comfortable 22-8 victory in round 23 in August, one of 11 wins the Raiders have secured in their past 12 appearances. The only loss Canberra has suffered since, somewhat unbelievably, round 14 was against Cronulla in the qualifying finals a fortnight ago.
But, Canberra coach Ricky Stuart said form counts for little in these types of games, particularly against the experienced Storm unit.
"They're a wonderful football team, Melbourne. Wonderfully coached by Craig (Bellamy) and they're a huge obstacle,” Stuart, who played halfback in the ‘94 grand final, said.
"We can't sneak down there with any trick shots. I don't think the form over the past stands for much ... this 80 minutes will be completely different. It's going to be a huge game."
Stuart is confident his players can rise to the challenge of a grand-final qualifier, giving a passionate speech at the Mal Meninga Medal earlier this week that almost lifted the roof of QT Hotel.
In the speech Stuart declared his confidence that the Raiders could beat the Storm and win the premiership.
"I've said it before that I'm very confident, but we've got one game standing in front of us right now that is a major, major obstacle," Stuart said.
Wighton will play his customary fullback role in an unchanged side from last weekend’s 22-12 semi-final over Penrith, and will be desperate to maintain his recent purple patch of form.
Raiders skipper Jarrod Croker said it’s a “massive positive” to go into the game with the same 17 as last week, especially considering boom five-eighth Blake Austin has been under an injury cloud in recent weeks.
"It's a massive positive for us. The more games we play together the more fluent we'll be,” Croker said.
“I'm just happy everyone got through the game well [last week] and everyone's right to go again.”
The Raiders-Storm preliminary final showdown kicks off at 7.40pm at AAMI Park, the winner will play Cronulla or reigning premiers North Queensland in next weekend’s grand final.