Canberra Raiders: Season Review
HOME RECORD: 7 wins, 5 losses (=8th)
AWAY RECORD: 2 wins, 10 losses (=15th)
BEST WINNING STREAK: 2 (rounds 4-5, 11-12 and 16-17)
LONGEST LOSING STREAK: 4 (rounds 6-10)
PLAYERS USED: 29 (5 debutants)
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Josh Miller/Josh Dugan
TRIES SCORED (After 26 rounds): 89 (=9th)
TRIES CONCEDED (After 26 rounds): 93 (10th)
Canberra have been arguably the most unfashionable side of the NRL for past decade and few would have tipped them to reach the finals in 2009, but such excuses won’t fly with the Raiders hierarchy.
Like every club in the NRL, a top eight berth is always expected and Canberra’s 13th-place finish is far from the lofty heights the club would have set itself at the start of the year.
But truth be told, 2009 signaled a new dawn for the Green Machine, with club legend David Furner taking over as head coach and a horde of youngsters coming through the ranks.
That they were so wildly inconsistent points more to their lack of experience in key positions than any lack of talent to guide them into the future.
Despite the steadying presence of five-eighth Terry Campese – who alongside hulking forward Tom Learoyd-Lahrs made his State of Origin debut for NSW this season – the Raiders boasted a distinct lack of experience around the ruck with Josh Dugan at fullback and Josh McCrone in the halves.
It was no great surprise that their year began so slowly.
Canberra were always playing catch-up after losing their first three and seven of their nine games this season and never managed higher than 10-spot on the competition ladder.
But there were plenty of encouraging signs as the season wore on.
Dugan in-particular excelled in his first year in the top grade – eventually sharing the Mal Meninga medal with forward Josh Miller as the club’s best player – while young winger Daniel Vidot was exceptional after being called into the side late in the season.
The Raiders also proved tough to beat on home soil and pulled off their biggest ever win over Brisbane with a remarkable 56-0 scoreline in round 21.
Unfortunately they struggled to put results back to back and will have to take solace in the fact that better days look headed.
Where They Excelled… The Raiders boast one of the toughest forward-packs in the competition and ranked fourth in the NRL for total metres gained in 2009.
Two front-rowers – Tom Learoyd-Lahrs and David Shillington – made their Stat of Origin debuts for NSW and Queensland respectively while Dane Tilse, Troy Thompson and Josh Miller also impressed.
As their young backline continues to improve they can expect to have plenty to work with.
Where They Struggled… Inexperience was Canberra’s bane in 2009. The Raiders boasted five debutantes this season including Dugan and McCrone in two key positions.
It came as no surprise, then, that they struggled to back up from week to week.
At their best the Raiders were extremely impressive as evidenced by wins over top eight sides Brisbane, Melbourne, the Gold Coast, St George Illawarra and Newcastle.
But they will lament some awful performances along the way that saw them lose to Sydney Roosters, Cronulla and the Warriors.
Missing In Action… Fullback David Milne was one of Canberra’s best performers in 2008 but a groin injury this season saw him play just eight games.
He scored four tries in those limited appearances and his presence was sorely missed throughout the year.
Turning Point… A shocking performance against the Sydney Roosters on home soil in round two and letting their third round encounter with Parramatta slip away set the tone for Canberra’s season.
Usually so reliable at Canberra Stadium, they fell 28-4 in a forgettable night out against Brad Fittler’s men.
But they will wonder how they managed to lose to an unconvincing Eels outfit after leading 16-4 with 20 minutes remaining, only to go down 18-16.
Best Games… Canberra’s 56-0 thrashing of Brisbane in round 21 was a remarkable performance.
Coming off three consecutive losses including a disappointing 25-4 home loss to Wests Tigers a week earlier, the Raiders led 16-0 at half-time and then ran riot in the second half scoring seven more tries to equal the fourth-highest winning margin in the club’s history.
Speedster Phil Graham made the most of his side’s form with four tries.
Worst Games… Canberra’s 28-4 loss to the Roosters in round two was a truly woeful performance.
The Roosters had been thrashed by South Sydney a week earlier and would go on to collect the wooden spoon, but that didn’t stop them easily accounting for a Canberra side that offered little at Canberra Stadium.
Hold Your Head High… Josh Dugan. The NRL rookie was thrown in the deep end in 2009 but performed beyond his years in notching a club high 3064 metres at a phenomenal 191 metres per game – the best in the NRL.
He also topped the competition for average kick return metres.
Conclusion… The Raiders will be disappointed to finish so far down the ladder and certainly they boast the talent to challenge for a top eight berth.
But given their young backline, 2009 was a year of tremendous promise.
Wins over a number of top eight sides showed that they are more than capable of mixing it with the best.
Their goal now will be to find some consistency – if they can manage that they will be a real danger in the years to come.
The Coach Says … “A lot of things have changed. We had five or six players come into first grade and a couple of injuries early on but all sides have that. We’ve learnt a lot. We dropped games that we shouldn’t have and we need the ability to win those games. We had players in key positions with limited NRL experience but I was still aiming for the top eight. This is the best time of year to be playing footy but unfortunately we’re not. I’d like to think that in the last six weeks of the season when we were playing a lot of top sides we got as much out of it as possible. Personally I think we have.”