Raiders 2015 season review
Raiders fans will once again be disappointed with another bottom half of the table finish this season.
However, looking past Canberra's 10th place finish, the 2015 season has placed the Green Machine in a great position to revisit their glory years in the near future.
With three of the best purchases of the 2015 season in Iosia Soliola, Josh Hodgson and Blake Austin, the Raiders surprised many this year and appear to be building a team that will be very competitive with a group of players committed to each other and the long-term vision of coach Ricky Stuart.
But they're inability to win close games at home ultimately proved the death of their campaign, their inexperience and lack of game-management skills extremely evident as they went down five times at home by two points or less.
Where They Excelled: Attack. Thanks to the acquisitions of Blake Austin, Josh Hodgson and assistant coach Mick Crawley the Raiders became one of the game's best attacking teams in 2015. And it came out of nowhere.
For a large part of the season, the Raiders had the best attacking statistics in the league, before their season fizzled out in the closing rounds. Their success was largely due to the brilliant running game of Austin, but all their backs contributed well. Meanwhile the forwards tore through the middle and some unlikely heroes such as Shannon Boyd and Paul Vaughan even crossed the stripe multiple times.
Where They Struggled: Defence, and more particularly their defensive decisions out wide. The Raiders continually struggled with their decision making in defence when opposition teams spread the ball. Their centres and wingers struggled to work as a unit as well as they should. Their communication and combination should be a key focus in the off-season.
Missing In Action: The Raiders were relatively unscathed by injury during their campaign. However the absence of the controlled Sam Williams with a pectoral tear at a crucial juncture in their season was a big loss.
Iosia Soliola's late-season cheekbone fracture also put a dent in the Raiders finals chances as the Green Machine struggled to fill his void.
Fringe first-grader Joel Edwards suffered the most serious injury of the season with a badly injured toe.
Turning Point: The Round 22 loss to the Wests Tigers. The Raiders had everything to play for but threw their hopes away with an uninspired home performance. Canberra will look back at their late season slide and see this huge upset loss as a turning point. They were never really in it after this 20-18 loss.
Hold Your Head High: Blake Austin. What an amazing year this man had for the Raiders, leaving the Wests Tigers shattered at what they missed out on by letting him go over the 2014-2015 off-season.
Austin was arguably the best buy in 2015, for a large part of the season he was the form player, and also was placed in the top few players in the NRL for tries (14) and linebreaks (16).
The bearded five-eighth was rewarded for his superb form with an upgraded and extended deal that will see him stay at the Raiders until the end of 2017 alongside Aidan Sezer.
2016 Crystal Ball: The Raiders will be far better in 2016. Firstly, their young team has had another year to gel and develop combinations. Secondly, because they're main weakness, game management, looks likely to be filled by star recruit Aidan Sezer.
"His signing is great for the club," halfback Sam Williams said.
"He's a quality player and Blake had a great year as well so it's really exciting to be able to work with him to learn off each other and push each other because that's what it comes down to.
"We need to push each other and make sure we're all improving."
With Seizer and star English recruit Elliot Whitehead, the Raiders should be a force to be reckoned with next year, and finish in the lower half of the top eight.
Conclusion: The excuses are exhausted from now on. 2015 was a rebuilding year for Ricky Stuart with fresh faces and youth throughout the team. But from now on, success is what the Raiders need after three straight seasons without the finals.
2015 was certainly a year of hope and heartbreak for the Raiders but there's no doubt that they'll be better for the experience next year.
"The amount of steps we've taken from 12 months ago, it's been a really big difference." Williams said,
"We had a really new squad this year and a lot of players who haven't played with each other before so there's a lot of positives, we'll have another big preseason with each other and get a couple of new faces which is really exciting for the club going forward."
Position (after 26 rounds): 10th
Home Record: 3 wins, 9 losses
Away Record: 7 wins, 5 losses
Longest Winning Streak: 3 (Rounds 7-10)
Longest Losing Streak: 3 (Rounds 9-12, 21-23)
Players Used: 26
Tries Scored: 92
Tries Conceded: 97