Nicholas Janzen, NRL.com
Has there been a greater disappointment in the NRL this year than what’s happened – on and off the field – in Canberra? This time last year the Green Machine were one of the NRL’s hottest sides, winning six matches on the way to a Finals Week Two finish. This season they finished in 13th place as a shell of their former selves.
Disjointed? A basket case? A rugby league horror story? Call the Raiders – and the situation – what you want because the Canberrans were anything but a well-oiled Green Machine in 2013. And it hasn’t just been on-field problems that have plagued the side either. It probably doesn’t get worse in terms of off-field dramas: star centre Blake Ferguson went AWOL and was later sacked, joining his mate Josh Dugan; an infraction notice was handed to winger Sandor Earl; rising star Anthony Milford asked for a release; and coach David Furner was sacked amidst rumours of much player dissatisfaction.
This season, on the field, the Raiders struggled with consistency – and their finals flame was extinguished in the middle of their final run of poor form, a six-match losing streak that closed out their 2013 campaign.
For the majority of the season though, things looked bright enough for Raiders supporters – at the end of Round 20 they sat in seventh position and required three victories from their final six games to qualify for the big dance. That was, of course, before all the drama… and before their 2013 campaign came to a shuddering halt.
The Raiders’ first half of the season began in fair style, too – they won seven of their opening 13 matches, disposing of the Roosters, Warriors, Storm and Knights in the process. But just three victories after Round 14 ensured they wouldn’t be a playoffs factor.
Canberra’s players and remaining coaching staff would probably rather not review their season, or at least dwell too long on it, but with a to-be-announced head coach soon to take the reins and a raft of squad changes bound to be made, there’ll be plenty of reflection.
Where They Excelled: The Raiders were excellent from set plays in 2013 – so dangerous in fact they finished with the most number of four-pointers from a ‘standing start’ in the NRL, with a total eight.
They were also effective at keeping teams under control this season, too – in the offloading stakes, at least. Canberra conceded just 8.9 per game – equal third in the NRL.
Where They Struggled: The biggest struggles for the Raiders weren’t necessarily on the field – it was the club’s off-field woes that really choked their progress in 2013. And unlike the Sharks, probably the only other club under as much off-field pressure as the Raiders this season, the Raiders really never stuck together.
It started with Dugan’s Instagram protest, then Ferguson went AWOL, Milford told the club he wanted to break his contract and leave for “personal reasons”, Earl was handed an infraction notice during the prolonged ASADA investigation; and coach Furner was asked to clean out his desk not long after key players fronted the board with their overall gripes. All the off-field distractions meant the talented side couldn’t concentrate on their on-field tasks.
Missing In Action: The Raiders used an equal-third-largest squad of 30 players across the season – partly due to fluctuating form, partly due to injuries and partly due to ill-discipline, too.
Perhaps the biggest blows were the exits of strike outside backs Dugan (played one match) and Ferguson (played 11 matches). Coupled with injuries to regular starters including Terry Campese (eye – played 17 matches), Tom Learoyd-Lahrs (hamstring – played eight matches), Jack Wighton (leg – played 18 matches), Edrick Lee (arm – played nine matches), Shaun Fensom (thumb – played 20 matches) and Glen Buttriss (shoulder – played 15 matches), and sometimes it was a matter of who actually made it onto the field for the Raiders rather than who was missing.
Turning Point: Furner’s sacking after the loss to the Bulldogs in Round 23 ultimately stopped production by the Green Machine. Prior to that point, Canberra were admittedly inconsistent – but they were still alive in the finals! The Raiders responded to their coach’s demise in terrible fashion, suffering three consecutive losses, to the Sea Eagles, Warriors and Sharks, to round out their schedule. Still, we’ll never totally understand why a coach was sacked three games before the end of a season – particularly when that team could still have figured in finals reckoning. Surely it could’ve waited three weeks?
Best Games: Despite a disappointing end to their year, Canberra did in fact record some famous wins in 2013. None was more memorable than their effort against the Storm in Melbourne in Round 8. There’s no road trip more challenging and the Raiders hung tough for 80 minutes – finishing with a 24-20 win, amazingly their third in consecutive seasons against the reigning premiers in Melbourne.
The home win against the Roosters in Round 5 was a fair effort, too.
Worst Games: In Round 21 against Melbourne, the team they’d beaten earlier in the season, Canberra, with their finals future on the line, had everything to play for – but they were quite simply blown away by the Storm. The Raiders, playing in front of their home crowd, received their own serve of capital punishment as Melbourne manhandled the Raiders who had to that point looked to be genuine playoff contenders. After the 68-4 shellacking at the hands of the Storm, though, they were never the same.
Hold Your Head High: It might sound odd, but we reckon axed coach David Furner has plenty to be proud of in 2013. With a roster that couldn’t yet be considered a genuine premiership threat, Furner kept his side in the running for the playoffs by wading through one drama after another – before he found himself on the chopping block, too. We reckon that’s a fair effort in itself!
On the field, there were no better performers for the Raiders than prolific point-scorer Jarrod Croker (who finished with 136 for the season), metre-eating prop forward David Shillington and dynamic utility Anthony Milford, who debuted this season and scored nine tries in 18 matches. Big forward Paul Vaughan was also impressive in his debut season, running for an average of a tick under 100 metres per match.
Conclusion: It’s been a year of great hope and ultimately greater disappointment for the Canberra Raiders in 2013. After so much excitement in 2012, much was expected of the Green Machine. By missing the finals they’ve fallen well short of their targets this season, and with a new coach to come aboard soon plenty of players must be feeling nervous about their futures. Raiders fans will be expecting the changes result in a much-improved performance next year.
Home Record: 8 wins, 4 losses (=3rd)
Away Record: 2 wins, 10 losses (=14th)
Longest Winning Streak: 3 (Rounds 17, 19-20)
Longest Losing Streak: 6 (Rounds 21-26)
Players Used: 30
Tries Scored (after 26 rounds): 77 (=11th)
Tries Conceded (after 26 rounds): 110 (14th)