The Canberra Raiders have pulled off a dramatic late escape to avoid another horrendous defeat, scoring late to avert disaster against the Newcastle Knights.
As for previous articles in this series, I will attempt to put together a quality team for each NRL club made up solely of players since 1980 who never went beyond club level. The criteria for selection is:
– No representing at senior level: internationals, State of Origin, Prime Ministers XIII, City vs. Country or All Stars
– Current players are excluded
– Players are only eligible for the club they played the most first grade games for.
This is a pretty handy side (maybe the selectors struggle to see west of Parramatta) and the on-field coaching would be handy. There is some depth here, with Canberra being the first team in this series to leave out a player that played over 100 first grade games for the club.
Fullback: David Milne (50 matches) – 2005-2011. 21 wins 29 losses. 23 tries. 1 final 1 loss
So quick, but so injury-prone, David Milne was a talented fullback who played seven seasons for the Raiders from age 17, but only played ten games in a season twice. When on the field the club’s 2005 Rookie of the Year managed to score 23 tries in just 50 matches.
After leaving the Raiders, Milne moved to Mackay and played three seasons with the Mackay Cutters in the Queensland Cup, winning a premiership in 2013. He then returned to his home in Griffith as captain-coach of the Black and Whites.
Matthew Corkery (57) – 1984-1989. 33 wins 24 losses. 19 tries 5 goals. 5 finals 2 wins
Matthew Corkery played six season for the Raiders, including appearing in their first grand final in 1997. That was by far his most successful year, playing 26 games and topping the club’s try-scoring list. He never played more than 12 games in any other year and was out of the first grade side by the time they broke through for the 1989 premiership.
After leaving the Raiders, Corkery played for Cronulla for a couple of seasons before retiring.
Corkery was a Raiders fan as a kid, and before the club joined the competition in 1982, he put a few entries into the competition to design the club jersey.
Matthew Wood (74) – 1989-1996. 50 wins 23 losses. 23 tries 38 goals from 64 attempts. 11 finals 9 wins
Matthew Wood has the distinction of playing in all three Raiders grand finals in his first three seasons, between 1989 and 1991 and was the club’s Rookie of the Year in their 1989 premiership season. A local junior, Wood made significant contributions to Canberra’s success, scoring the final decisive try in their 1990 win over Penrith and scoring two tries and kicking a goal in their loss to the same side in 1991.
After 1992, Wood was only a fill-in, playing no more than five matches in each of his last four seasons with the club. After retirement, Wood spent some time coaching in Queensland, including the Broncos Under-20s in 2010.
Wood was inducted into the Canberra Raiders Hall of Fame in 2020.
David Boyle (117) – 1991-1998. 81 wins 35 losses. 35 tries 2 goals. 8 finals 2 wins
David Boyle was a regular for the Raiders for nine seasons, playing in five consecutive finals series between 1993 and 1997. Unfortunately, he missed selection for the 1994 grand final.
After leaving the Raiders, Boyle moved to England to play for Bradford, winning a premiership with the club in 1999 and a Challenge Cup title in 2000.
Rugby league is certainly in David Boyle’s genes. His son Morgan has played nearly 50 NRL matches for the Gold Coast and Manly. His daughter Millie is a dual international, the Brisbane Bronco representing Australia as a prop in league and a flanker in union as well as appearing on the TV reality show SAS Australia.
Adrian Purtell (64) – 2006-2009. 31 wins 33 losses. 30 tries. 2 finals 2 losses
Adrian Purtell was a prolific try scorer for the Raiders in the late 2000s, scoring two hat-tricks and five doubles in his career. He played in the club’s 2006 and 2009 qualifying final losses, scoring a try in 2006. Purtell was the club’s Rookie of the Year in 2006.
After leaving the Raiders, Purtell spent a couple of years at Penrith, appearing in their 2010 finals series, before heading to England where he played nearly 100 games for the Bradford Bulls and London Broncos. While in England in 2012, Purtell suffered a heart attack and was unable to play for a year.
After returning to Australia, Purtell became captain-coach of the Albury Thunder, his home town. In 2022, he is coaching the Eden Tigers.
Five-eighth: Craig Bellamy (150) – 1982-1992. 64 wins 82 losses. 46 tries. 3 finals 1 win
I’m thinking captain-coach.
Bellamy played for a decade for the Raiders from their entry into the NSWRL before becoming possibly the greatest coach in rugby league history.
His playing achievements included a premiership in 1990, where Bellamy came on from the bench. He had earlier missed the Raiders’ 1987 grand final through injury. Bellamy also had a short stint in England with Swinton, where he won a grand total of one match for the season.
He was a utility player, but spent enough time at five-eighth (29 matches) to take this spot.
Halfback: Andrew McFadden (76) – 1997-2001. 42 wins 33 losses. 28 tries 1 goal 1 FG. 2 finals 1 win
Andrew McFadden played five seasons with Canberra and eight overall in the NRL for exactly 100 games. He was one of those players who felt on the verge of breaking through but never quite did, although he played finals with Canberra and Parramatta.
McFadden’s overall record for the Raiders is pretty handy, and he formed a popular combination with Mark McLinden as the Mac-Attack, but he suffered like so many others in the capital from ‘next Ricky Stuart’ syndrome.
McFadden took up a career in coaching after his playing days finished and has coached the New Zealand Warriors and been an assistant in the English Super League with Catalans and for the New Zealand national team. He is currently an assistant to Ricky Stuart at GIO Stadium.
Lock: Shaun Fensom (139) – 2009-2016. 58 wins 80 losses. 14 tries. 4 finals 2 wins
Shaun Fensom is a player who I really expected to have represented in some capacity. The tackling machine played 176 NRL games across an 11-year career and was one of the Raiders’ best during his eight years at the club.
Fensom came on the scene in 2008, captaining the Raiders Under-20s side to a premiership. He debuted in first grade the following year and by 2012 had experienced two finals campaigns with the club, taken out two Player of the Year awards and had his name mentioned regularly when rep teams were discussed. But Canberra’s fortunes waned and Fensom went from young star to veteran without anyone noticing.
He left the Raiders in 2017 to join the North Queensland Cowboys and played in the front row as they stormed to the grand final, only to fall at the final hurdle. Fensom himself had a match to forget, suffering a nasty broken leg just a few minutes into the match.
Fensom joined the Broncos in 2019 but only made two appearances that year before retiring from top-level footy and turning out for the Belconnen United Sharks for a couple of years.
In, 2011 Fensom made 75 tackles in a single match to equal the NRL record held by Nathan Hindmarsh.
1994 grand final player Brett Hetherington was a shoo-in for this spot, only for me to find out he represented Australia in the 1997 Super League World Nines. That well-known and memorable representative fixture rules him out of this team.
Michael Hodgson (98) – 2001-2006. 44 wins 52 losses. 8 tries. 5 finals 5 losses
Michael Hodgson was a true journeyman, turning out for four NRL clubs, but spending the most time at the Raiders.
After three years with Parramatta, Hodgson joined the Raiders in 2001 and played six seasons for the club. He appeared in five finals matches for the club across four seasons and unfortunately lost all of them.
After leaving Canberra, Hodgson spent a further five seasons firstly as a founding player for the new Gold Coast Titans, and then for Canterbury before retiring, having played over 200 career NRL games.
More recently, Hodgson has become a member of the NRL match review committee, getting to watch footy games for a living.
Terry Martin (92) – 2000-2006. 44 wins 46 losses. 9 tries. 3 finals 3 losses
Terry Martin played six seasons with the Raiders, including appearing in their 2002 and 2003 finals campaigns. A shoulder reconstruction ruined his 2005 season and he returned as a front rower, but was not able to secure another contract.
After leaving the Raiders, Martin played for the Celtic Crusaders for two seasons in England.
Dane Tilse (201) – 2006-2015. 87 wins 114 losses. 12 tries, 6 finals 2 wins
Dane Tilse has the record of the most games for the Raiders without playing rep footy and is one of only around a dozen to reach 200 games for a club and not achieve higher honours. It was not due to physique, with the 6 foot 7 inch prop an intimidating presence on the field across a decade at the Raiders.
Tilse started with Newcastle in 2004 but moved to the Raiders two years later after being sacked by the Knights for unbecoming conduct. He played over 20 matches in seven of his seasons at the Raiders and played in four finals series between 2006 and 2012.
After leaving Canberra in 2015, Tilse spent two seasons in England with Hull Kingston Rovers, where he experienced the highs and lows, reaching the Challenge Cup final in 2015 before the Robins were relegated at the end of the following year.
After playing some footy with the Maitland Pickers, Tilse is now a youth worker in Newcastle.
Luke Davico (176) – 1994-2004. 102 wins 73 losses. 16 tries. 11 finals 4 wins
Canberra have a handy set of props here. Luke Davico was a great clubman for a decade across the 1990s and 2000s. Arriving on the scene at the tail-end of their golden period, Davico missed the 1994 grand final win, but was their Rookie of the Year the following season and played in six finals series with the club between 1995 and 2003.
After leaving the Raiders, Davico spent a year with Wigan that didn’t work out due tearing his pectoral five minutes into his first pre-season game. He then returned to Australia for two final seasons with Newcastle, falling just six short of 200 career games.
After retiring, Davico has been a long-term owner of Goldberg’s Coffee House in Newcastle.
Hooker: Glen Buttriss (119) – 2008-2015. 47 wins 72 losses. 7 tries. 5 finals 2 wins
Glen Buttriss played hooker for the Raiders from 2008 to 2015, including finals series in 2008, 2010 and 2012.
After leaving the Raiders, he played for the Mounties in the NSW Cup (losing the 2016 premiership by a point to the Illawarra Cutters), for the Cootamundra Bulldogs back in his home town, with the Belconnen United Sharks with Shaun Fensom and for the Currumbin Eagles on the Gold Coast in 2021. The man loves his footy.
Troy Thompson (156) – 2001-2010. 75 wins 80 losses. 6 tries. 4 finals 4 losses
Troy Thompson oddly began his first grade career with Villefranche XIII Aveyron, a semi-professional rugby league club based in southern France, after being a Raiders junior and playing in their SG Ball and Jersey Flegg teams. For some reason he then returned to freeze in our nation’s capital for ten seasons, before heading further south to Melbourne to finish his career.
Thompson won the Raiders’ Player of the Year in 2005, alongside 113-gamer Josh Miller who I have cruelly left out of this side (despite winning the club’s player of the year again in 2009 – what am I thinking?). Thompson played in four losing finals for the club between 2002 and 2006.
Thomson once described his look as “the prop that had massive shorts that looked like I was smuggling two wombats down the back of them”.
David Grant (79) – 1982-1985. 24 wins 53 losses. 9 tries
David ‘Nana’ Grant was a founding member of the Raiders after stints in the 1970s with Souths, Easts and mostly Balmain, where he played 50 games over four seasons.
Grant became the Raiders’ first captain in 1982 and led the side through their first steps in the competition. A tough player to build a club on, fellow foundation player John Mcleod said “We used to call him Nana, because when he did his nana you made sure you kept out of his way.”
After retiring in 1985, he led the Kyogle Turkeys in their local league. Grant tragically died of a heart attack at just 38 and is a member of the club’s Hall of Fame.
PS: A couple of sources say Grant toured New Zealand with a combined Sydney side in 1981 but I can find no actual records, so he is in. If you disagree, feel free to sub in Trevor Thurling or Luke Bateman.
Jason Death (57) – 1991-1995. 43 wins 14 losses. 6 tries. 4 finals 3 wins
Jason Death was a clever hooker who could easily have made this team for North Queensland, the NZ Warriors and Souths, but his 57 games for Canberra from his debut just pips them all.
Death was the club’s Rookie of the Year in 1991 and went on to play five seasons with the club. He unluckily did not get on the field for Canberra’s 1994 grand final win after being named on the interchange bench and playing in both lead-up finals victories. Death also played in the club’s 1995 finals campaign.
Death then spent two years at the Cowboys, still having to wait behind Steve Walters for the hooking spot. From 1999, Death played for the Auckland Warriors, winning the club’s Player of the Year award in his first season.
He then joined the South Sydney Rabbitohs when they were readmitted to the competition and played three seasons for them and being named Clubman of the Year in back-to-back seasons before retiring, having played over 200 first grade games.
Lincoln Withers (83) – 2000-2008. 35 wins 48 losses. 22 tries. 2 finals 2 losses
Lincoln Withers spent five seasons at the Raiders covering post-Stuart halfback and post-Walters hooking duties, a truly thankless task. Withers played four matches in 2000, including the club’s semi-final loss, before leaving to play four seasons with Wests and then St George Illawarra, where he established himself in first grade.
Withers returned to Canberra in 2005 and spent the next four years as a regular starter in a mostly mediocre period for the club.
After leaving the NRL with over 150 first grade games, Withers spent a further five seasons in the English Super League, racking up another 113 matches for Celtic Crusaders and Hull Kingston Rovers.
Withers was still running around in the local Canberra league with the Gungahlin Bulls and then Woden Valley Rams as late as 2018, leading the latter to their first title in 22 years, including kicking the winning field goal.