Having reached the 2019 grand final and last year's preliminary finals, another top-eight finish was expected from Ricky Stuart's men this season but instead they struggled to a 10th-place finish with a mid-season slump they failed to recover from.
The mid-season departure of star English halfback George Williams obviously had an impact, as did a long-term injury to star fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad from round six to round 22.
Canberra's 2019 Clive Churchill Medal winner Jack Wighton wasn't quite the attacking force he'd been in previous seasons, with five tries, four line breaks and 36 tackle busts this season – down from 13 tries, nine line breaks and 57 tackle busts in 2020.
But in a high-scoring NRL season the biggest issue facing the Raiders was in defence. Canberra conceded 578 points in 2021 – the most since they finished 15th in Stuart's first season as coach in 2014.
2021 season by the numbers
Regular-season win/loss record
The Raiders started the season well, winning three of their first four, before a couple of heavy defeats against premiership contenders Penrith and Parramatta. But losses to the Cowboys, Rabbitohs and Knights followed and the Green Machine found themselves on a five-game losing streak.
They snuck away with a two-point win over eventual wooden-spooners Canterbury before English halfback George Williams departed the club after just 10 rounds, with the team losing four of their next five matches without him. A late rally included wins over Manly and the Eels, but a 4-4 record when the league relocated to Queensland from round 18 wasn't enough to get them into the finals.
Run metres differential
The departures of star England forward John Bateman and metre-eating outside back Nick Cotric at the end of 2020 hurt the Raiders here, with the team's go-forward taking a hit in 2021. Star fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad (161 metres per game) was restricted to just eight matches due to injury, with eventual Mal Meninga Medalist Jordan Rapana (165 metres per game) topping the tally at the club.
Try scoring – game time
The Raiders blew their fair share of first-half leads this season, but their attack stayed fairly consistent across the 80 minutes. The 20 minutes before half-time was their most dangerous period with the ball in hand, but their real issue as the game went on was in defence.
Tries conceded – game time
In the first quarter of matches the Raiders were rock solid, with only 15 tries conceded in the opening stages of their 24 NRL games this year. But then the problems began. Their next 20-minute period was bad, the 20 minutes after half-time was worse, and by the final 20 the Raiders had often already lost momentum in the match. Whether it was a due to a build-up of fatigue or simply coincidence, the late fades will be something the Raiders will need to rectify next season.
Tries scored from six-agains
While the presence of six-again rule and a lack of non-try-related stoppages in play could well have contributed to the fatigue-factor that plagued Canberra's defence, the Raiders did well when it came to immediately capitalising on being granted set restarts.
They were third in the league when it came to scoring tries after a six-again, just one try behind league-leaders Melbourne and Manly in this category. Defensively they were just below average, but still scored more tries than they conceded after restarts.
Metres gained from offloads
Canberra's 229 offloads had them in the bottom half of the league in this category, although they were amongst the most effective when they did pop an extra pass with an extra 7.6 metres per offload. That put them equal-fourth in the league, behind the Storm (9.4m), Titans (8.6m) and Dragons (8.5m).
Sharpshooting captain Jarrod Croker only played 12 matches this season but his team still ranked first in the league for goal-kicking percentage, with Croker's 38 goals at a 90% conversion rate a huge factor. George Williams (16 goals), Sam Williams (15 goals) and Jordan Rapana (9 goals) all filled in admirably when Croker was missing to ensure the Raiders were the best in the competition at turning four points into six.
Canberra were in the middle of the pack in this stat, with the equal fifth-fewest players used this season (Sharks had the fewest with 27, while the Warriors and Broncos were at the other end of the scale with 36). The Raiders' average squad age of 26.4 made them the second-oldest team in the league behind Cronulla.
The Raiders were the NRL's clear frontrunners in this category in each of the past three seasons, with Ricky Stuart's men seemingly making a tactic of stealing possession whenever possible and players like Josh Hodgson mastering the move. It was a real advantage when the rest of the league struggled to capitalise on the one-on-one steal rules.
But this year they dropped right back to the middle of the pack, ranking seventh, with Hodgson pulling off just one steal all year. Forward Dunamis Lui was the only Raider to strip the ball multiple times, with three.