OUTSTANDING: Raiders hooker Josh Hodgson's clash with Cameron Smith will go a long way to deciding today's game.
OUTSTANDING: Raiders hooker Josh Hodgson's clash with Cameron Smith will go a long way to deciding today's game. PAUL MILLER

Belcher warns Raiders not to play negative

DUAL premiership winner Gary Belcher says Canberra can roll Melbourne at AAMI Park today if it sticks with the style it has been playing and not get negative against the Storm.

In fact, Belcher believes if Ricky Stuart's men trust their attack and take a few risks with the football, they will win through to their first grand final since 1994.

Belcher said it had taken Canberra a fair while to realise what a good football side it was.

"It has taken them a while, even through last year to realise other teams fear them and how they can break loose the way they play,” Belcher, who won premierships with Canberra in 1989-90, told Australian Regional Media.

"They kind of took a while to realise how good they are and to get that belief and swagger good teams need.

"I think the key to the game for Canberra is to play the way they normally play and not try to outmuscle them in the middle, although they have some big men who can get on the front foot.”

Minor premier Melbourne will try to choke down Canberra's dangerous attack, especially their lethal right side of Joseph Leilua and Jordan Rapana.

Like most observers and critics, Belcher sang the praises of English hooker Josh Hodgson who will take on the Cameron Smith, the best No.9 in the business.

"Hodgson has been truly outstanding,” the former Queensland Origin star said.

"He threatens the line and because he steps out of dummy half he gives space to his outside players and he's a tough bloke as well, which you need in a dog fight.”

Belcher said his main concern was the Raiders' tendency to switch off at times, which against a well-drilled and highly disciplined side like Melbourne could prove to be fatal.

"That's a big worry for me,” he said.

Belcher said in some ways he would probably be more comfortable if Canberra was six or eight points down in the last 20 minutes.

"I'd almost rather see them six or eight points behind in the last 15 or 20 minutes because you know if they are, they will play some positive football and not be conservative if they are ahead and try and protect a lead,” he said.

Melbourne halfback Cooper Cronk will play his 300th NRL game in front of a packed crowd.

His milestone will add to the players' motivation, although a shot at the grand final on Sunday week should be enough.

Melbourne's vastly improved centre Cheyse Blair probably has one of the biggest and most important jobs trying to immobilise Canberra's monster Leilua, who scored two tries when the Raiders upset them in round 23.



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