Canberra captain-in-waiting Terry Campese believes the Raiders’ much-touted forward pack can finally deliver in 2012 – so long as the Green Machine stamp out the massive error counts that crippled their premiership campaign last season.
With a pack boasting representative players David Shillington, Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, Bronson Harrison and Brett White, along with heavyweight Dane Tilse, skilful Shaun Fensom and emerging star Josh Papalii, the Raiders were expected to create headaches for other sides in 2011, but instead suffered migraines of their own through a mixture of injuries, lax defence and fundamental errors.
Campese, still on a high after being named in Ricky Stuart’s Emerging Blues squad last week and following the birth of his second child Jett in mid-December, said greater respect for possession was crucial to Canberra’s hopes of making the top eight.
“I think fixing that error rate – our completions weren’t up to scratch last year and that made us defend more and burn a lot of fuel in the forwards,” Campese told NRL.com.
“So if we can hold onto the ball and tire out other teams, I’m sure that our forwards definitely have the capability and are up there for the biggest in the NRL, so we’ll be just right back up there with metres gained, hopefully.
“I think everyone’s pretty excited about next season so if we keep our key players on the field it’s going to be a lot different. We had key injuries last year – Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, David Shillington and Josh Dugan [as well as Campese himself] – so if we keep those guys on the paddock, we can be anywhere.”
Campese conceded fans had a right to feel let down last year, but urged them to support the side early to help their premiership campaign gain vital momentum.
“I guess from where we were tipped to be… we under-performed. I think that was a frustrating thing of the year because I know that our team deserved a lot more and we are a lot better team,” the 27-year-old continued.
“Hopefully we will go out on the field this year and push back up to the top and at least play semi-final footy.
“I think it starts with having a good home-ground record… winning most of them and then jagging a few away games, which we have struggled to do in the past.
“But we have worked hard over the last couple of years and I’m sure that if we have a good home record at Canberra Stadium, we can jag a few away and we will be right back up there.”
The Raiders languished at the bottom of the stats category for average metres gained in 2011 – an indicator as to just how much they missed Campese’s booming kicking game and another negative aspect coach David Furner is keen to rectify.
Despite lasting just eight minutes on the paddock in 2011 following his adductor injury, Campese said he was keen to reassume kicking duties.
“Yeah, we’ve been doing kicking a fair bit already so I’ll just slot back into the roll that I had before with whoever’s alongside me… but definitely kicking is a big part of my game so I don’t want to lose it.”
Campese revealed the Raiders had also focused on their defensive structures, after conceding the most tries and third-most missed tackles in 2011.
“Justin Morgan’s come on board as assistant coach and we have been doing a lot of defensive work already and a lot of video,” he revealed.
“We have been out in the paddock for three/four sessions a week on defence, so hopefully that fixes up where we went wrong last year… and fixes those stats where we weren’t so good last year.”
Campese said former Bronco and Warrior Shaun Berrigan, a noted defender, would prove a valuable acquisition.
“He’s come in to training and he’s a bit of a character so he’ll slot straight into our squad and he’s been training in every position really; centres, hooker, halves,” Campese said.
“I’m not sure what his role is within the team at the moment but he’ll be there somewhere… ‘Furnsy’ will make up his mind closer to when we start playing.
“He has been training in every position just in case he needs to slot in somewhere or if he is coming off the bench he can play in any position if someone gets injured.”
Campese revealed he was nearing full fitness after his long stint on the sidelines and his groin injury had withstood intense, off-season workouts.
“I’m back into full training now which is good. I’m pulling-up good from my fitness sessions and I’m ready to go,” he said. “I’ve started to build up my muscles around there so it doesn’t happen again next season.
“I’m back into doing everything… ask a few of the boys. I’ve side-stepped a few of them at training already, so I’m right to go!”
Although Campese has been named in the Emerging Blues squad, alongside Raiders team-mates Jarrod Croker, Blake Ferguson, Josh McCrone and Joel Thompson, he said his goals for 2012 were wholly club-based.
“Just to play as many games as I can for the Raiders; putting on that green jumper once again and playing semi-final football. That’s what everyone plays for… to win games and play in September. So that’s what my goal is.”
He singled out Thompson as the player most likely to have a breakout season for the Raiders.
“He’s trained the house down already and come back the fittest I’ve ever seen him so he’s on fire,” Campese said.
“I think he wants to put on a bit of weight and move into the forwards – and that’ll be interesting to see if he does.”