St George Illawarra will be desperate to end one of rugby league’s most famous hoodoos on Saturday afternoon when they travel to the nation’s capital to face the besieged Canberra Raiders.
No matter where the two teams are on the premiership ladder, and no matter the venue, the Raiders always seem to lift when they play the Dragons.
The Raiders have only lost to the Dragons once since 2001, when mid-season import Jamie Soward scored 22 points as the Dragons thumped the Raiders 58-16 at Wollongong in July 2007.
Other than that, the closest the Dragons got was a 21-all draw at WIN Stadium in 2002.
They thought they had done enough when Jamie Soward kicked what appeared to be the match-winning field goal in Round 20, 2011, only for the Raiders to score the match-winning try straight from the kick-off.
Their latest bid to end the Canberra curse will feature three ex-Raiders wearing the Red V on Saturday afternoon: Josh Dugan, Joel Thompson and Bronson Harrison. The trip to Canberra will also be the first for Dugan since he was sacked by the club in March last year following a series of repeated breaches.
Dugan’s form has improved since Paul McGregor took over as head coach towards the end of May, earning him State of Origin selection on the back of scoring a hat-trick in the Dragons’ 30-0 thrashing of Cronulla in Round 13.
Although the Dragons have lost their last two matches to further drift away from finals contention, the team has improved on a whole since the sacking of Steve Price in May, and there are calls for McGregor to be given the full-time role ahead of the 2015 season.
The Dragons’ most recent win in Canberra came in a year where they failed to reach the finals, as opposed to the Raiders finishing fourth under the coaching of now-Queensland State of Origin coach Mal Meninga.
Additionally, Trent Barrett won the Dally M Medal that year after moving into his more comfortable position of five-eighth following Anthony Mundine’s shock defection to boxing midway through that year.
Meanwhile, the Raiders have had it tough this year, and will miss the finals in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1985-86. They are also in danger of claiming the wooden spoon for the first time since their first year, 1982.
Coach Ricky Stuart is also in danger of becoming the first coach since Tommy Raudonikis in 1998-99 to claim consecutive wooden spoons, having finished last with the Parramatta Eels last year.
Only the Cronulla Sharks’ poorer percentage is keeping the Raiders off the bottom of the table, and their showdown next week may well decide who claims the NRL’s most unwanted prize for season 2014.
But this week, the Raiders can only focus on what’s in front of them as they return home for the first time since suffering an embarrassing 54-18 loss to the New Zealand Warriors in Round 21.
For the Warriors, who have remarkably improved under the coaching of former Canberra favourite son Andrew McFadden since he replaced another former Canberra identity in Matthew Elliott, it was their first win in the nation’s capital since 2001, and first at Canberra Stadium since 1997. Surely it served as inspiration for the Dragons.
It’s time for the Dragons to draw a line in the sand, like New South Wales did to end their long losing State of Origin drought to Queensland. Or as Hawthorn did to defeat the Geelong Cats, after 11 straight losses between 2009 and 2013, to reach last year’s grand final at their expense. And the Waratahs when they ended a decade-long hoodoo against the Crusaders to win the Super Rugby title earlier this month.
Will the Raiders, despite their woeful season continue their dominance against the Dragons, or will the tide finally turn?