Can the Green Machine find the limelight in 2015?
Let’s get the obvious out of the way; season 2014 was nothing short of a disaster. In a pre-season that seemed so full of good signs—one of the greats returning to coach; the 20th anniversary of the club’s last premiership—the end result was a shambles.
But premierships aren’t built on signs, they’re built on performance—and the Canberra Raiders of last year only threw together a handful of those. They barely avoided the wooden spoon, and were never consistent enough to pose a real threat even when they were still in contention for the finals.
A new season always brings renewed hope for everyone: the players, the coaching staff, and the fans. This lead-up sees a host of changes that create both optimism and uncertainty for the club’s chances this year.
Firstly, the new recruits. The likes of Sisa Waqa, Frank-Paul Nuuausala, Josh Hodgson and Blake Austin will all be donning the lime green in 2015. They all bring a bit of x-factor to the club that has been lost from the departure of players like Anthony Milford and Terry Campese.
Waqa and Nuuausala in particular also bring plenty of experience and leadership—something that will be invaluable for the younger players looking to step up, like Mitch Cornish and Jack Ahearn.
Ricky Stuart has made leadership a priority this season—instilling a core leadership group consisting of senior players, capped off by new captain Jarrod Croker. Croker has been one of the most consistent performers of the last few seasons, and has quickly risen through the ranks to be one of the most respected players on the field.
This emphasis on leading by example will hopefully go a long way to inspiring the team to play for 80 minutes each week. The side has been guilty of switching on and off during the games, earning them the tag of ‘The Canberra Faders.’
Stuart has also been emphasising the proud history of the club to the new recruits and younger players. A recent trivia event made the players study up on the greats that have come before them, and why they should be immensely proud to be a part of the Raiders legacy.
In terms of the side’s pre-season form there hasn’t been a lot to get excited about. The Auckland Nines was disjointed, with the side only registering one win and failing to make the finals. They have also played two trials, beating an under-strength Melbourne and losing convincingly to Newcastle.
But the premiership is not won in the pre-season, and the Canberra Raiders are quite the unknown entity heading into round 1. The side has a great mix of youth and experience on paper, not to mention plenty of talent through names like Edrick Lee, Jack Wighton, Joel Edwards, Josh McCrone, Josh Papalii and David Shillington.
The success of the Raiders will depend on how well the team gels. If the combinations don’t start to stick pretty quickly the side will be in for another long year of fleeting victories. But if the former master Ricky Stuart can finally get it right, if he can bring back the winning culture of the dream-teams of yesteryear, then the new-look Canberra Raiders of 2015 could be on the verge of something big.
Will there be less heartache for Raiders fans this year?