Look away Raiders fans.
It was only last year when the Viking clap was booming around the Nation’s Capital as a sniff of a premiership was in the brisk Canberra air. Crucial Edrick Lee mistakes all but cost them their first grand final appearance since 1994.
Fast forward to the end of 2017 and the future is bleak in the Nation’s Capital. Many ‘experts’ gazed into their crystal ball for 2017 and saw the Raiders painting ANZ stadium green come October first.
This was not the outcome as Ricky Stuart’s men failed to make the top eight in a very lacklustre season. With a very similar team line-up to their 2016 squad, you wouldn’t raise many eye-brows in saying that the Raiders can compete for the title in 2018, however I believe the decline will only continue and here’s why.
As the competition becomes closer each year the need to have the best players in key positions has been more crucial than ever. The Raiders have made no notable signings for the second year in a row, exposing them to the risk of becoming even more predictable. Maintaining the same line-up for consecutive seasons is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you are a Melbourne Storm fan.
Nevertheless, the Storm try to resist change based on their continued success over the years. 2017 was not a prosperous year for the Raiders so player turnover may be needed.
Unfortunately, if you are a Raiders fan, this trend won’t change in the immediate future as it has been published that the club is under pressure to shed players due to salary cap pressures.
Now, let’s examine the coach, Ricky Stuart. He took the Sydney Roosters to a premiership in his first year at the club and even followed that up with grand final appearances in 2003 and 2004. Following this success, Stuart’s hard disciplined approach grew stale at Bondi with back-to-back poor seasons before he was sacked.
In his first full year at the Cronulla Sharks, Stuart enjoyed success with the club making the preliminary finals. Once again however, the atmosphere within the playing group became unsettled the following year with the Sharks finishing in an underwhelming 15th.
It is hard to know whether Stuart could have had success at the Parramatta Eels as subsequently, he quit to take up the gig at the Raiders for family reasons. As the past has shown, Stuart can bring immediate success however, maybe there are underlying issues in his coaching techniques as players seem to loose motivation in playing for the former star over time.
Now let’s delve into the playing roster. Joseph Leilua exhibits such raw power and speed that in 2012 he was named in the emerging NSW Blues squad. Attitude problems have marred the hulking centre’s career so far shown by his sacking from the Roosters for disciplinary reasons, and his early release from the Knights somewhat due to being on the outer with coach Rick Stone.
Fast forward to 2017 and the Samoan international has backed up a strong first year with a club with an uninspiring second year yet again. Déjà vu right? Just from history we can see that Leilua thrives with change while not responding well to a stagnant environment.
2016 was so successful for the Raiders largely due to the impact of their halves and origin back-rower Josh Papalii. Much like the rest of the squad, Aidan Sezer and Blake Austin failed to live up to expectations in 2017.
Furthermore, on paper the two can’t match combinations such as, Luke Keary and Cooper Cronk, or Michael Morgan and Johnathan Thurston. Papalii had a reasonably good 2017 however comes off contact at the end of 2018 which could propose a distraction as no doubt other clubs such as Souths, will be looking for back-rowers.
There is no doubt that predicting the Canberra Raiders for the spoon is controversial. Some betting companies have placed the Wests Tigers at $4.50 for the spoon compared to the Raiders at $17. However, the Viking clap might not be enough to inspire the ‘Green Machine’ to a successful 2018.