Too frantic. Too frustrated. No-one needs to tell Ricky Stuart of what went wrong for the Canberra Raiders last season. In NRL.com’s club-by-club series delving into the 2017 season, Paul Zalunardo and Margie McDonald examine why the Raiders missed the top eight when the numbers show they probably should have been there.
A team with a creditable 5-7 record on the road, which was third highest behind the Melbourne Storm and the Brisbane Broncos for points and a for-against record that was sixth-best in the NRL should have been playing finals. The Raiders finished 10th.
Defensive problems and a propensity to lose close games were crucial factors in Canberra finishing well below expectations.
“Defensively we had poor stats so I’ve got to look at why. And one of the biggest reasons was we turned over too much cheap ball,” coach Ricky Stuart said. “We were too impatient with the football and that put too much strain on our defence.
“We were a powerful attacking team and yet our stats show that we should have had more football and should have had to defend less. That wasn’t the case. We need to correct it.”
A 50-50 record at home usually isn’t enough to earn a spot in the finals, and 2017 proved no different for Canberra. Their road record of 5-7 is passable, but more wins at home will be on the wish list for 2018.
Wingers Jordan Rapana and and Nick Cotric combined for 37 four-pointers, a tally only exceeded by Storm pair Suliasi Vunivalu and Josh Addo-Carr, who notched 42 between them.
“Mate they’re tough players – very strong players,” captain Jarrod Croker said. “Those two guys were up the top of the try-scoring list and we didn’t play finals football for those extra games.”
According to nrl.com/stats, the long-kicking game of the Raiders doesn’t stack up well. A net gain of 29.4m was considerably below the NRL average. Blake Austin was the best of their long kickers.
“There’s been a lot of conjecture and criticism of our halves,” coach Ricky Stuart said. “And you have to throw Josh (Hodgson) into that as he was hooker,” Stuart said. “They are the nucleus of the team, the ones that drive the car. When you’ve got balding tyres on your car it affects the steering. It is not always the fault of who is steering.
“Having said that, I know both halves – and Josh too – are enthusiastic about lifting the level of their game. I believe they lost a bit of belief and confidence. But you don’t lose talent.
“But people outside the steering wheel have to help, and that includes me.”
The Raiders ranked last in this category and their average of 168 per game was 63 less than the league-leading Storm. Jarrod Croker and Elliott Whitehead fared best.
Considering some of their hulking forwards and powerful backs, it was surprising no Raider featured in the NRL’s top 12 for this category. Maroons back-rower Josh Papalii was their most effective over the ad-line.
In a sign they were often their own worst enemies, the Raiders conceded an equal league-high 34 tries in the set after being penalised. Centre Joseph Leilua conceded 20 penalties on his own.
“I never felt like the opposition was going to score a try in that circumstance,” Croker said.
“But if you’re going to be a competitive football side you’ve got to be mentally strong so you know you can handle your space and defend your errors. I guess it all did take a toll on us in the end. If we’re letting in tries after penalties then we’ve got to be better there and be more disciplined.”
Jordan Rapana and Jack Wighton will be spending time over the off-season working how to reduce their error rates after each made a concerning 35 mistakes during the year. That was the highest number in the competition.
Junior Paulo, who finished 30th in the NRL in terms of attracting groups of defenders, also led the Raiders’ middles in average run metres per match.
The stats suggest the Raiders didn’t get as big of a boost from their bench as most other teams. In his 11 appearances, veteran forward Dave Taylor led the way.
Second-rower Elliott Whitehead and five-eighth Blake Austin were strong in this area. Whitehead also finished second on the Raiders’ lists for effective and missed tackles.