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The Canberra Raiders are the result of rugby league expansionist ideals. Formed in 1982, they pushed the boundaries for the NSWRL outside of Sydney for the first time.
Although they didn’t taste success immediately, the seeds were sown and by 1987 they had reached their first grand final. They lost to Manly, but their glory years were soon to follow.
What is interesting about the 1987 team is that they officially had two coaches. Don Furner and Wayne Bennett shared the duties. I have always wondered how that would have worked on a day-to-day basis. Did one coach do more than the other? Who made the selections? I’m not sure, but I just can’t imagine Wayne Bennett allowing someone else to choose his team.
Obviously that system was not to work. Don Furner finished up at season’s end, and in 1988 Wayne had moved to the Broncos. Tim Sheens joined the club, and while success didn’t follow instantly, 1989 was going to be their year.
South Sydney finished minor premiers and had their hopes high for a title. Balmain fans thought this was their year as they had come so close the year before. Canberra had other plans.
They finished fourth and made their way through Cronulla, Penrith and South Sydney before taking Balmain on in the grand final. The 1989 grand final is considered the greatest grand final ever. A 100-minute classic for the ages saw the Green Machine reign supreme 19-14.
Canberra was in full operation over the next four years. They dismantled opposition with ease – easy to do with the likes of Mal Meninga, Laurie Daley, Ricky Stuart, Bradley Clyde, Garry Belcher, Steve Walters in your side. Although they lost Glen Lazarus to Brisbane, they still retained a formidable forward pack to rival any other in the early 1990s.
The Raiders followed their 1989 success with a title over the Panthers in 1990, but the replay in 1991 saw them lose the grand final to Penrith. A broken leg to Ricky Stuart cruelled the clubs hopes for the 1993 season, but in 1994 there was no denying the Raiders their continued dominance.
The team was littered with Origin and international stars. They were a powerhouse of the game. It would have been interesting to see how the 1993 season would have turned out if Stuart had not broken his leg. I feel a Brisbane and Canberra grand final during this period would have been a classic.
Since the 1994 season Canberra teams may have made the finals, missed the finals, played well or not so well. The fact remains that the late 1980s and the early 1990s were the Raiders golden years. I hope under Ricky Stuart’s coaching they get back to having continued success.
I like the club, though the Raiders frustrate me when they don’t perform and I have selected them in my tips. Unfortunately for Canberra fans you just don’t know what you are going to get with the current Raiders team.
The question Raiders fans should be asking of their management is: what lies ahead? What are the club’s plans moving forward?
The club is ranked sixth for membership, with 19,091 members for the 2017 season. That’s okay. The whole ACT region has a population of roughly 400,000 people. I know portions of this community are transient; however, the Raiders should be pushing to try and double their active member numbers.
Furthermore, creating and maintaining the game day experience, such as what they already have with the Viking Clap, is going to ensure the fans show up come game day.
I know it can get chilly cold in Canberra and that for many spending a night out in the conditions is not ideal, but this just forces the club to be more active with their fan engagement and creating a welcoming and positive game day environment.
It would be nice if the Raiders could play at an enclosed stadium similar to Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin, New Zealand, which can hold 30,000 people. If Canberra had something similar near the city centre, that would greatly help the club into the future. An enclosed stadium means playing a night game in the middle of winter does not become a concern for the locals.
That may be a dream, but it is a dream the club should pursue.
For 2018 the dream should be for the title. This goal may be hard to achieve, but the side is still capable. The Raiders showed this in 2016, and although the club may have missed its chance then, if the Raiders come ready to play, then they are very much in the frame.
No doubt that’s the question that Ricky Stuart is trying to address come season kick-off and the one the fans are pondering: will the Green Machine show up?