Raiders' 2014 Season Review
It's been another glum year for Canberra fans. Not even the return of prodigal son Ricky Stuart could inspire their team to a better finish than last season's 13th-placed result.
Here it is in a nut-shell: there were two wins in the first month and three straight to close out the year, which at first glance lays the foundation for a nice and meaty rugby league sandwich.
But there was very little for fans to munch on in the 19 weeks in between, with the team dusting off its victory song just four times during the winter months, ensuring a colder-than-normal dressing shed in Sticky's first campaign holding a clipboard.
In fact, Raiders HQ reached arctic levels when Wests Tigers young gun James Tedesco signed, then incredibly reneged, on a lucrative deal that was supposed to resurrect the fledgling club.
Couple that with the awkward phasing out of long-time skipper Terry Campese and the retirement of battered prop Brett White; triple it with three massacres by more than 50-plus; and then quadruple all of that with the end-of-season departure of Anthony Milford to Brisbane.
Put it all together and you can see why the cold temperatures lasted well into October.
Only the ASADA-damaged, injury-plagued, drama-engulfed Cronulla Sharks stopped the former NSW Origin coach from becoming the first mentor to take back-to-back wooden spoons at different clubs.
If it wasn't for a mini-revival at the death, then they'd probably be re-writing the Guinness Book of Records right now, complete with quotes from Stuart's epic post-match presser after a hoodoo-ending 34-16 defeat to the Dragons where they gave up the final five tries of the game despite leading at half-time.
"I'm not trying to make excuses, I'm just trying to tell you exactly how it is," Stuart began. "Josh [Papalii] knows himself he needs a rest. He's our only representative player and we can't leave it all hanging on him.
"Every fan and supporter have been jamming into us, and they can bag us, but until I get Origin and international players in around that group of blokes there, it ain't going to change. I'm getting sick of it – I'm getting fed up with just giving you the old one-liner."
Thankfully, those one-liners were finally replaced by a case for optimism, as Stuart's young side scored three straight wins over the Sharks, Wests Tigers and Eels, providing a hurting fanbase the faintest of lights at the end of an extremely dark tunnel.
Where They Excelled: Not many areas. They weren't quite reeling in the free agents this year, with Tedesco's dramatic backflip just one of a handful of players to reject the chilly confines of the nation's capital. But many who were already tied to the joint stayed on, including the cornerstone players in Croker, Shaun Fensom, Josh McCrone, Shannon Boyd and Dane Tilse, who could form the basis of a decent side in the years to come.
Where They Struggled: Where do you start? Their goal-line defence would be a nice beginning point, particularly after conceding 113 tries in 2014 – the second most in the NRL. Then you can start moving up the field, where their 127 line breaks conceded was also the second most in the NRL. Or perhaps they could start with their ball handling issues, of which their 275 errors were the 4th worst in the competition.
Missing in Action: Terry Campese. It was difficult to watch one of the club's longest-serving players come up with one of his worst statistical seasons in his 11-year career, throwing up just eight offloads, 11 try assists, and eight line-break assists in 19 games. The 30-year-old eventually finished the year playing with NSW Cup side Mounties, amidst rumours the club is trying to offload him to the Super League.
Turning Point: The dumping of Campese after Round 21 could signal the end of an era. The former NSW Origin playmaker has one year to go on his contract, but there are already rumblings he could be on his way out. An injury-free off-season could do him the world of good, and the exit of Milford could give him a reprieve, but it was no coincidence that their best stretch of the season came when their former spearhead wasn't there.
Best Games: A shock 30-18 victory over the Rabbitohs at ANZ Stadium was without doubt an early season highlight. Despite a poor recent record against South Sydney, the Green Machine certainly came to play on that day and looked to halt the side's up-and-down start to the year. Likewise, a 24-22 victory in against perennial title challengers the Melbourne Storm seemed a positive sign. Rounding out a three-game winning streak to finish the season was the 33-20 win over the Eels at GIO Stadium. While Parramatta had a finals spot to play for, it was the Raiders who prevailed on that day, suggesting there are more promising times ahead.
Worst Games: Unfortunately for Raiders fans, there were a few shockers in season 2014. In Rounds 8 and 9, the Green Machine conceded a combined 104 points, first going down to the Sea Eagles at Fortress Brookvale 54-18, and then a 52-12 thumping the following week by the Warriors at Eden Park. The fabled 'hoodoo' also came to an end in 2014, when the Dragons claimed their first win in the nation's capital since 2000 to the tune of a 34-16 victory.
Hold Your Head High: Jarrod Croker. If there was one player worth watching in the lime green – other than the one who'd already signed with the Broncos – then it was the headgear-wearing star in the three-quarter line who had arguably his best season in the top grade. Not only was his 202 points nearly half his entire team's output for the whole season, but the NSW Origin 19th man – who led the Raiders down the tunnel in those final three games – was just six points shy off of the NRL's eventual top point-scorer, Johnathan Thurston. Fantastic effort.
Conclusion: It's been a tough old season for the good folk at the end of the Hume Highway and, as you can see, there weren't a whole heap of positives to draw on, either. The exit of their most dynamic player in Anthony Milford only adds to the desperate state they're in, and unless there's a dramatic improvement from their batch of kids, then it's hard to see them taking any huge steps next season.
Home Record: 4-8
Away Record: 4-8
Longest Winning Streak: 3 (Rounds 24-26)
Longest Losing Streak: 5 (Rounds 19-23)
Players Used: 28
Tries Scored (after 26 rounds): 81
Tries Conceded (after 26 rounds): 113