History of The Canberra Raiders
Written by the fans
At the beginning of the 1980s, the New South Wales Rugby Football League (NSWRFL) was looking to expand its Sydney-based premiership into other areas of the state. The Canberra franchise was accepted in 1981 as the 14th team for the 1982 NSWRFL season. Along with the Illawarra Steelers who were also introduced that season, they became the first NSWRFL club based outside Sydney since the old Newcastle team left in 1909.
The club's initial seasons were a mixed bag, with the team earning the Wooden Spoon in their debut year. The team was notorious for late game collapses, leading to the nicknames "Canberra Faders" and "Pine Lime Splices", in what was also a reference to the team's colours. In fact, no team has conceded more tries in a season than the 1982 Raiders. The first points recorded by the Canberra Raiders were scored by Peter McGrath (later to become Chairman of the Australian Rugby Union). McGrath finished with 41 points in his first and only season with the Raiders. The club's first win, a 12–11 heartstopper v Newtown, came in its 8th match, and 3 more wins followed, most notably against then competition leaders Souths. 1983 saw 9 wins, more than doubling 1982's four. However, the team continued to struggle to win away from home. An away win first up in 1984 foreshadowed a much improved season, a positive winning record (13–11) snagging a playoff for fifth versus Souths. But this game was lost (4–23), and the Raiders had still not succeeded in reaching the semi-finals of the competition.
1985 saw regression, with the team winning only 8 games (though the reserves did reach the Grand Final). Though 1986 was similarly disappointing, the team had a core group of players, such as Mal Meninga, Gary Belcher, Steve Walters, and John Ferguson who would greatly influence the coming decade.
This was the most successful period in the Raiders' short history, with 5 Grand Finals and 3 premierships. In 1987, the team finished third, resulting in a maiden semi-finals appearance. Despite losing their first finals match against Easts, the Raiders rallied to defeat Souths (46–12) and Easts again (32–24). The latter earned the team a place in the Grand Final, but they were never really competitive against minor premiers Manly, going down 8–18. Laurie Daley, Peter Jackson and Glenn Lazarus debuted this year. 1988 featured free-scoring (over 100 tries in 22 games) and a number of large victories, with the team again finishing in third place on the ladder. Unfortunately, a narrow loss against Canterbury in the Major Semi-Final was followed by defeat against Balmain and an early exit. Notable players starting out in 1988 were Bradley Clyde, and Ricky Stuart.
With 5 rounds to play in the 1989 season, Canberra were 7th and in danger of missing the semis. But a hard fought 14–10 win over Easts started a 9 match winning streak, culminating in the club's first Premiership. In one of the all-time great Grand Finals, the Raiders sent the game into extra time after a late John Ferguson try that was converted by Meninga. Steve Jackson scored the winning try to win the premiership for the Raiders. The Raiders then went on to play in England at Old Trafford in the first official World Club Challenge against 1988–89 RFL champions, Widnes. However they were not able to win going down 30–18 in front of 30,768 people.
1990 was a stellar year for the club at all levels. All three grades making the Grand Final, with only the reserves losing. The first grade side earned their first Minor Premiership and a second consecutive title, defeating Penrith in the decider. Trouble brewed in 1991 as the club was embroiled in salary cap hardships. Nonetheless, a fourth Grand Final birth was secured – the team's third in a row. However, the team went down to Penrith in a repeat of the 1990 Grand Final. Jason Croker, the team's longest serving player, debuted this year.
The fallout from the salary cap imbroglio saw several players leave the club, most prominently Glenn Lazarus, Brent Todd, David Barnhill, Nigel Gaffey and Paul Martin. An average performance resulted, with the Raiders missing the finals for the first time since 1986. David Furner, son of former Raiders and Australian coach Don Furner, started out in this year.
Since their final premiership in 1994, the Raiders have been unable to scale their previous heights, largely due to their inability to lure representative players to the capital. The team bowed out in Round 1 of the 1996 finals series, losing to St George. The next year, they were one of several teams that joined the breakaway Super League competition, losing in the preliminary final to the Cronulla Sharks. It was upon rejoining the newly formed National Rugby League the following year that the team began their decline. The Raiders' problems came to a head in the late 1990s, when club legends Ricky Stuart and Bradley Clyde were forced out in order to accommodate players such as Brett Finch. Finch would ironically leave the Raiders soon after to play under Stuart, now a coach at the Cronulla Sharks.
The Raiders had mixed results in the new millennium, often finishing just inside or just outside the final eight and usually being bundled out of the finals in the early weeks, However, in 2003, the Raiders unexpectedly led the competition for most of the season, almost clinching the minor premiership. The Raiders then lost narrowly to the Melbourne Storm in the opening finals game, but still advanced to Week 2 due to ladder position. In one of the closest games in recent history, the Raiders were eclipsed by one point in the preliminary final by the New Zealand Warriors and eliminated from the 2003 competition.
Many fans believed the achievements of 2003 would be improved in the following years. However, the Raiders finished a disappointing 8th in 2004, being knocked out in week one of the finals by the Sydney Roosters. Club legends Ruben Wiki and Mark McLinden left the Raiders for other clubs in this year. Wiki's loss, in particular, was a bitter pill to swallow for many Raiders fans, as it was found that the New Zealand Warriors had significantly breached the salary cap in signing him. The 2005 side was written off by fans and critics alike, as the club's two major signings, Jason Smith and Matt Adamson, were ageing veterans considered well past their prime. However, both, particularly Smith, proved formidable campaigners, and the Raiders were joint competition leaders in Round 10. But as the season progressed, injuries took their toll and the Raiders finished second last on points differential to the Newcastle Knights. The Raiders started Season 2006 heavy favourites to run last, but despite this pessimism and heavy losses to the Knights and the Roosters early on, fought back and guaranteed themselves a finals berth with a round to play.
2006 saw club stalwarts Simon Woolford, Clinton Schifcofske and the club's longest serving player, Jason Croker, leave the club, going to St George Illawarra, the Queensland Reds rugby union team and the European Super League club Catalans Dragons respectively. Outgoing backs Schifcofske and Adam Mogg both earned representative berths with Queensland in State of Origin. Saturday 9 September 2006 saw Jason Croker, Simon Woolford, Clinton Schifcofske, Michael Hodgson, Jason Smith and Adam Mogg all play their final games for the club. The round one finals series clash with the Bulldogs saw the Raiders defeated 30–12 in slippery and muddy conditions at Telstra Stadium, and eliminated from the 2006 premiership race. This was also the final match for coach Matthew Elliott, who is coaching Penrith in 2007. His replacement is former North Queensland Cowboys' assistant coach Neil Henry.
In 2007, the Raiders were an unknown quantity. Having lost star players such as Schifcofske, Smith, Croker and Woolford in key positions, the Raiders found themselves with a new captain in Alan Tongue relying on young, inexperienced players such as Todd Carney, William Zillman and Michael Dobson to step up and take on more prominent roles within the team. The sense of inexperience was reinforced by the selection of Neil Henry as coach, despite his lack of first-grade coaching experience. Though the Raiders were bolstered by late season signings Neville Costigan and Matt Bickerstaff, several critics believed that the Raiders' significant loss of experience would result in their "winning" the wooden spoon.
2007 was, overall, a disappointing season for the Raiders, who finished in 14th place despite entering the top 8 midway through the season. However, two players – Phil Graham for Country Origin and Neville Costigan for Queensland – achieved representative status. The season was notable for the difference in the team's performance at and away from home, with just 2 of their 9 wins occurring outside Canberra. Coach Neil Henry incurred a fine of $10 000 for questioning the impartiality of the referee after the round 19 clash.
The 2008 season started with some promise for the Raiders – a good showing despite a loss in round 1 vs. Newcastle was followed up with two solid wins against Penrith and St.George-Illawarra. The club then suffered a series of losses, whilst snaring only the occasional victory, with a big come from behind victory against Wests being noteworthy. In the representative field, Todd Carney and Joel Monaghan picked for Country Origin, and Monaghan being a shadow player for the New South Wales Side. In September 2008, despite a heavy injury toll, the Raiders guaranteed themselves a place in the NRL 2008 Finals Series winning seven of their last nine regular season games, a feat which was at the start of the season impossible according to Rugby League punditry in Australia. The Raiders semi-final appearance was brief, however. After being defeated by the Cronulla Sharks, the Raiders 6th place finish was considered to be enough to get them a second chance. However, a huge upset with 8th place New Zealand defeating minor premiers Melbourne saw the Raiders eliminated.
The season had not been without controversy however, with star halfback Todd Carney and fullback Bronx Goodwin being stood down by the club after an altercation at a Canberra nightclub following the round 19 win against the Roosters. Carney was eventually dismissed by the club after failing to agree to the punishment plan the club had laid out for him, Goodwin was also sacked from the club.
A slow start to the 2009 season saw the raiders lose to the tigers and the roosters. However with the help from under 20s debutants Josh Dugan, Jarrad Croker and Travis Waddell they won their next two matches. Despite a disappointing season for the raiders losing to many close games the raiders were able to beat the Melbourne Storm for the first time in 14 games and 7 years 26–16 in round 16 to keep their slim finals hopes alive. The Raiders also had a memorable win over the number one team at the time St George-Illawarra Dragons, by 24–12. Despite wins against three of the top four (St George Illawarra Dragons, Gold Coast Titans and the Melbourne Storm) and coming within three points of the other (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs) losses to bottom placed teams Cronulla Sharks and Sydney Roosters at home saw the raiders finish in 13th.
The 2010 season began traditionally poorly for the Raiders with a loss to Penrith in the opening round however against early-season expectations that the Raiders would again struggle the club posted early season wins over Brisbane in round two, Parramatta in round five and the New Zealand Warriors in round eight in New Zealand in what was the club's first win in New Zealand since the early 2000s. However, losses to Todd Carney's new club the Roosters in round six and a narrow loss at home to the South Sydney Rabbitohs in round seven saw the club sitting second from last after round seven (last had the Melbourne Storm not been stripped of competition points due to salary cap breaches) of the 2010 season. Wins over the ladder-leading Dragons and the Gold Coast Titans followed until a four-game losing streak ensued; with the club sitting third from last after a round 17 home loss to the Roosters in what was Todd Carney's return to the nation's capital. The Raiders then began a run similar to that of Parramatta last year; winning eight of their next nine regular season matches to sneak into the top eight by season's end. The regular season's highest home attendance came when 20,445 fans filled Canberra Stadium to see the Raiders defeat the ladder-leading Dragons 32-16 for the second time in the season.
The Raiders advanced to the finals on the back of eight wins from their past nine and were drawn a tough away final against the second-placed Penrith Panthers whom the Raiders had beaten just five weeks earlier. The Raiders led from the start and despite lapses at times during the match the Raiders managed to sniff out a narrow 24-22 win, thus achieving its first final win in a decade, which ironically was also against the Panthers. This saw the Raiders draw a home final against the Wests Tigers in round two of the finals. Having lost to the Tigers twice during the regular season, it was hoped that a record crowd of 26,746 would inspire the Raiders to continue their fairytale run deep into the finals, however a missed penalty attempt by Jarrod Croker in the final minutes of the match saw Canberra lose by 26-24 and therefore draw a curtain on the Raiders' 2010 season.
The Raiders will look to build on their strong finish to the 2010 season in 2011. Whilst vice-captain and star playmaker Terry Campese is out indefinitely due to a knee injury suffered in the semi-final loss to Wests at the end of the 2010 season, the club has bolstered its already strong roster with the addition of Blake Ferguson, Brett White and former Dally M medalist Matt Orford.