For years they’ve wanted nothing more than respect, but it seems that the Canberra Raiders should have been careful what they wished for – or so says towering prop Tom Learoyd-Lahrs.
One of the success stories of 2010 after storming into the finals on the back of a monstrous forward pack and scintillating young backline, the Raiders have fallen way short of expectation this season with just one win from their opening five games and four consecutive losses since their 40-12 thrashing of Cronulla in Round 1.
Asked what had gone so horribly wrong in 2011 for a side many predicted would fight for a top-four finish, Learoyd-Lahrs told NRL.com that the side had struggled to deal with the respect that last year’s remarkable run brought with it.
“We touched on it earlier in the year. We spoke about the fact that these are uncharted waters for us with all of the expectation,” the 25-year-old said.
“People were predicting us to do good things. In the past we’ve basically been written off and it does change how you approach the season a little bit.
“I don’t know if that is contributing to how we’re playing. The main thing is that teams really are respecting us these days. They know that we’ve got a big forward pack and that they’ve got to be physical.
“They’ve out-enthused us in all honesty the past few weeks. Teams know that they have to get up in order to stop us. What we need to do is figure out how to counteract that. That’s what we’re doing – we’re working on things that hopefully will stop teams from unloading so much energy onto our forwards.”
Canberra worked hard for their respect last season after winning eight of their last nine games to sneak into the top eight and upsetting second-placed Penrith in their qualifying final. The once unfashionable club has since consolidated its fan base in the nation’s capital and ranks seventh in the NRL for most members with 9029, but Learoyd-Lahrs admitted the Raiders were now in danger of undoing all of their good work.
“That expectation that was on us might still be lingering around – but there isn’t as much publicity now,” he said. “I think we proved ourselves last year but we’ve let ourselves down this year. We’re not kicking stones or anything but we’re hurting because we know that we under-achieved.
“We’ve just got to knuckle down and concentrate on footy.”
Although halfback Matt Orford has come under heavy criticism for his lack of impact this season – particularly after his crucial scrum-base error against the Gold Coast two weeks ago cost his side a certain win – Learoyd-Lahrs said that it was unfair to target the veteran No.7.
And he was particularly critical of his own performances, insisting he needed to do better after representing both state and country in 2010.
“There are a few guys – and I won’t speak for anyone else – but I know that myself, I’m capable of playing better footy. I’m hell bent on getting that right starting this weekend,” he said. “I need to get my own season back on track.
“I came into this season really wanting to take on more of a senior role and even though I’m not renowned as a big speaker on the field, if I want to be a leader it needs to be through my actions more than my words.
“It’s something I’ve been working on and I don’t think I’ve delivered on that just yet. If I’m going to be honest with myself I need to take my game up a notch and start setting some examples on the field.
“Don’t get me wrong – there are a few guys in the same boat but we’re lucky to have a good crop of senior players these days. We’ve got to work together to get back on track. It’s a 17-man squad and I think everyone needs to take a bit of responsibility on their shoulders.
“Individually if we can all have that goal and start to do our bit for the team, we can get on a bit of a roll. But that’s the thing – you need to work hard to get it but once it starts things can fall into place pretty quickly.”
Denting the Raiders’ hopes during the early rounds have been a number of injury concerns with star fullback Josh Dugan having played just two games and Josh Miller, Joe Picker and captain Alan Tongue also missing in action.
But Learoyd-Lahrs said there could be no more excuses ahead of Saturday’s tough road trip to North Queensland.
“There have been a few injury disruptions but everyone is faced with that at certain stages throughout the year,” he said. “You’ve got to just have faith that everyone has trained well and know what is expected of them.
“At the end of the day we’re still trying to find combinations – particularly in the front row. We’re still working on our combinations there to see who will work better with who. We’re still finding out different things.
“We’re not looking to make any excuses. We just need to keep working hard and have faith that what we’re doing will work.”