With the Raiders nosediving after four straight losses and the players craving sunnier locales like Bradford, the euphoric days in Canberra of grand finals and tormenting Melbourne are starting to feel like a distant memory.
Inevitable questions have been raised in the nation’s capital in the wake of the Raiders’ recent slump, with the dire losing streak raising suspicions the side may have either lost its mojo, or gained Josh McGuire.
Naturally this has compounded pressure on coach Ricky Stuart, with the lacklustre performances triggering speculation his golden age may be ending with losing the dressing room and/or gaining the full support of the board.
Despite commencing the season as one of the competition’s heavyweights, an increasingly desperate Stuart appears unable to stem the Green Machine’s unravelling with his usual trusty methods of more sprays and Englishmen.
This has been exacerbated by a series of off-field dramas that have only served to fuel notions the mutually enamoured union may have reached its shelf life, much like the final state of a big bath of lime milk marinating a naked Terry Campese.
These include George Williams requesting a release and people’s champion Josh Papalii taking leave after revealing “football is not my priority at the moment”, a concession that would usually infuriate a coach, if only it wasn’t coming down from Josh Papalii.
This was worsened by Josh Hodgson revealing he no longer wanted the captaincy, and after being subsequently linked with the Bulldogs and Broncos, he probably no longer wanted the ball either.
Anxiety then spiked with the treasonous Joe Tapine Instagram affair, an incident that triggered fury among diehard fans of the Raiders and grammar alike.
In an impassioned defence of her beau after he spent 50 minutes on the pine, Tapine’s partner Kirsten pleaded with Stuart to better utilise his interchange by posting “Refs call count means jak [sic] when coaches are [rubbish bin emoji].”
Raiders fans were in furious agreement with the accusations of his gross under-usage, but only because none of these interchanges were used to permanently bench Jarrod Croker.
It was a spat that reinforced Stuart as rugby league’s most bristly character, a man who can pick a blue anywhere, even social media – despite not being on any platform whatsoever.
But despite rumours of a fierce dressing down for Tapine at training, Stuart ultimately poured cold water on the feud by conceding he was only upset the feedback was not communicated via his preferred medium, that being ‘textas’.
Nevertheless, it has posed serious questions for Canberra. Is there player unrest towards Stuart? Has his message lost impact? And is Kirsten available as an assistant coach if technology could communicate a rubbish bin emoji via headset?
A messy ending for Stuart and the Raiders would be the latest in a long line of theatrical divorces for the former halfback, and a tragic way to extinguish a dynasty that beckoned years of playing finals and being repeatedly shrifted by Ben Cummins.
For those unaware, Stuart’s coaching arc usually begins with acute spikes of emotional synergy and a two-or-three-year afterglow, before neatly concluding with a series of $10,000 fines and an update to his honour board of lifelong foes.
However, there are positive signs this time may not mirror the last. He turned around a similar funk in 2017, he’s a sacred old boy, and the Raiders don’t discard coaches like single-use plastic and the Wests Tigers.
Additionally, there’s plenty of serviceable personnel remaining in the playing group and a fine replacement for Hodgson in the shape of Tom Starling, a talent who has proven his tenacity by surviving finals footy and a Central Coast house party.