The Raiders' 3 biggest games of 2014
Raiders v Eels
One of incoming coach Ricky Stuart's top priorities over the off-season will be to ensure his new charges know exactly how important it is that they get the better of Stuart's former team Parramatta.
Given his turbulent year at the helm of the Eels in 2013 and the circumstances of his abrupt departure just one year into his contract, Stuart and Raiders fans just know the blue and gold will come at them hungry and hard. They'll lift like Supermen.
The Green Machine know they can't afford to concede the psychological advantage to last year's wooden spooners – they do that and where does that leave them in the broader scheme of the 2014 premiership race? Expect this game to have a semi-finals-like intensity.
Raiders v Storm
Canberra and Melbourne hold tremendous respect for each other – although recent home performances by both would also seem to indicate a certain casualness that will need to be arrested if either side is to feel confident about getting the premiership points in front of their home fans. (In fact, you have to go back to the Storm's win at AAMI Park in Round 21, 2010 for a home win between the two sides.)
The Raiders have been a thorn in the side of the Storm during their past three trips to the Victorian capital. In Round 8 last season they held off a belated Storm comeback to emerge with a 24-20 victory; they thumped the eventual premiers 40-12 in Round 18, 2012; and they kicked off their winning run with a 20-12 victory at AAMI Park in Round 10, 2011.
At GIO Stadium it's been exactly the opposite, and the Raiders fans will be cheering for better than the 68-4 thumping they endured in Round 21 last season. Given Ricky Stuart's competitive nature, this clash with Craig Bellamy should ensure the Raiders have their eyes on the prize.
Raiders v Dragons
This match-up has been a traditional 'lock' for Raiders fans for more than a decade, with Canberra enjoying a remarkable dominance over St George Illawarra that is unrivalled in NRL history. They call it 'The Hoodoo' – and with good reason. The stark statistics show the Raiders have won a staggering 10 of the past 11 meetings stretching back to the Sydney 2000 Olympics, their sole blip a loss in Wollongong in 2007.
But the recent transfers of Joel Thompson and Sam Williams to the Dragons, not to mention Josh Dugan's mid-2013 move, have cast considerable doubt over whether that supremacy will continue into 2014. Canberra needs its fans in force like never before if they are to have a chance at lengthening the bragging rights.