Canberra Raiders workhorse Paul Vaughan is in fine touch this season off the back of his sensational World Cup form. Credit: Col Whelan. Copyright: NRL Photos.
Despite some positive signs over the off-season, the first half of 2014 hasn't gone at all to plan for the Green Machine.
Overview: For all the pre-season talk of a rejuvenated club and a playing squad united after the departures of disruptive influences Blake Ferguson and Josh Dugan, the on-field performances have been lacklustre to say the least. Sitting in 14th place after playing half their games, with four wins and eight losses, is less than ideal - but aside from the 108 points they conceded in a tough fortnight away from home against the Sea Eagles and Warriors they haven't been miles off the pace.
They still have two byes up their sleeve but nevertheless will probably have to win at least eight, if not nine, of their last 12 games to play finals footy. It seems a very long way off at the moment.
Positives: Despite their ladder position there have been some highlights for the Raiders already this year. The emergence of prop Shannon Boyd is one – Boyd would have been expecting to bide his time behind Canberra's huge rotation of very large props but has really stamped himself as a first grader. Italy World Cup prop Paul Vaughan has been outstanding and played his way into a Country jersey, with the chances of a sky blue one to follow it seemingly a case of 'when' rather than 'if'. The same goes for dynamic centre-turned-five-eighth-turned-centre Jack Wighton, whose electric running game came to the fore in his debut for Country and who has been excellent for the Raiders since his shift back out of the halves. Young half Mitch Cornish made his long-awaited debut recently and looks an outstanding prospect for the club moving forward. Established lock Shaun Fensom has again been one of the side's best and most consistent.
Confirmation recently that in-form fullback Anthony Milford – still just 19 and again one of the club's best this year – would honour an agreement to head to Brisbane in 2015 was a massive letdown for long-suffering fans and continues a steady outflow of talent from the nation's capital. The club also missed out on the signatures of Storm and Kiwi forward Kevin Proctor and tackle-busting Penrith winger Josh Mansour after seeming likely to clinch both, highlighting the fact that the nation's capital is still a tough sell when it comes to recruitment. Then there is the James Tedesco reneging fiasco
. The jury is still out when it comes to what influence former club great Ricky Stuart will bring as head coach but with a coaching win rate hovering below 30 per cent from the start of 2009, the discontent will grow if he can't find a way to turn things around.
The last-gasp try from big Paul Vaughan
in Round 7, showing unexpected pace and footwork for a big man to charge through a line of Storm defenders and claim victory for his side. It brought an ecstatic response from his teammates and sealed the team's first home win of 2014.
Our ladder predictor exercise
has them finishing on 18 points and in the bottom four teams come the end of the regular season.