The 2021 Canberra Raiders season was one of ups, downs, and plenty of controversies. Unfortunately, the side couldn’t capitalise on their good end of season form and finished in 10th position.
The Raiders seem to be on the way down. After making finals in both 2019 and 2020, Ricky Stuart’s men couldn’t continue that form. The issue behind this rebuild is that they haven’t quite realised that’s their position. With an average age of 25.09, the Raiders are the 5th oldest team despite being well outside the top five teams.
The Raiders season was one of inconsistency. On only two occasions did they manage to win two games in a row. Canberra struggled with off-field issues, including a coach that was actively antagonistic to many. The team will need to bring their focus on the field and add some attacking firepower in the future.
The Inner Sanctum looks at a year in review for the Canberra Raiders.
The quality defence that Ricky Stuart had built made the Raiders so good through its successful seasons. The Raiders finished better than its ladder position in tackles and kicked metres, with the Raiders often looking to bomb the ball out of their back half.
The season was marred by inconsistency, with the side not managing to garner any rhythm. Importantly the Raiders managed wins against the Sharks, Titans, Sea Eagles and Eels, who all finished higher on the ladder than them. It may have been a dark year, but there is no doubt light at the end of the tunnel for the Raiders in 2022.
While point scoring wasn’t the team’s strength overall and criticism of the side as they weren’t attacking enough, the Raiders had a solid spread of scorers. Croker and Rapana were obvious standouts; however, another three players scored more than 30 points and another three above 20 for the season.
The Raiders started the season off well with two wins from the first two matches against quality opponents. With issues off-field, it’s hard to have consistency on the field, and that was the problem for the Raiders. Issues around Ricky Stuart and George Williams’s leaving proved too big of a distraction for the side.
The Raiders clearly had an on-field discipline issue. Three of the Raiders players finished the season in the top 20 in penalties with Hodgson being the biggest offender giving away 15.
Overall, the team gave up 114 Penalties putting them fifth overall. Giving away this many penalties is impossible to sustain, especially in a defensive brand of football that the Raiders play.
While having a good spread of scorers can be an advantage, as opponents find it difficult to shut down a spread of point scorers, the Raiders just didn’t score enough to be effective. The Raiders finished 10th on the ladder, the side was only 12th in terms of tries scored. While the defensive style has been effective over recent years, it hasn’t brought the team a premiership. Going forward, Stuart will need to create a more attacking brand.
Jordan Rapana was the leader of the Raiders in many ways during the 2021 season. The Kiwi-born winger was one of the only Raiders to take on an attacking style in what is a largely defensive club.
Rapana was the leading try scorer, point scorer has the most runs, run metres and line breaks for the Raiders. He will be a key for the side going into the 2022 season.
Another who impressed was Josh Hodgson, the Englishman was a behemoth on the defensive end yet again. He may be older than many of his Raider’s teammates at 31, however, it is this experience that has shown him to be an elite player year after year.
Hodgson finished ninth in the competition in terms of tackles and while the defensive style of the Raiders has been rightly criticised, no one has criticised Hodgson for the excellent work he has done in 2021.
While he may not be the best player in the Raiders side of the most spectacular to watch, but Jack Wighton had a tremendous all-around season. He kicked almost 5000 metres as well as contributing 1200 run metres. The most impressive achievement, however, was not for the Raiders, as he played all three matches of the State of Origin.
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The Raiders best night came on Thursday the 8th of July. It was an away match at 4 Pines Park in Sydney against the Manly Sea Eagles. The Raiders started on the wrong foot as Manly player Dylan Walker strolled past the try line in only the 7th minute. However, from there, it was all Canberra.
The Raiders then went over the try line five times, including two from Sam Williams on either side of halftime. Considering the Sea Eagles finished in fourth position overall, this was a massive win for a club that still had finals aspirations. Jarrod Croker was also incredible, converting all five of his attempts.
It wasn’t the Raiders biggest win of the season however it was their most impressive.
Unfortunately, Ricky Stuart has been the lowlight of the Raiders. His attitude has no doubt been a distraction throughout the season. Firstly, the way he looked at the George Williams situation was a disaster. While it’s understandable to be disappointed in a star player leaving, the way Stuart criticised him was horrific.
The second issue was Stuart’s criticism of netball. Stuart suggested that NRL players that can’t have a tough conversation ‘might as well be coaching netball.’ These comments rightly copped the criticism they deserved. Stuart needs to bring his focus back on the field to improve his side in 2022.
Number one off-season priority
While the defensive end was a key strength for the Raiders led by Hodgson, the offence needs some work. Whether this is a new player or Ricky Stuart changing his game plan, the Raiders need to find a way to score more often.
There does seem to be some room in the roster for a more aggressive forward after releasing a few younger players and their loss of George Williams.
Way too early best 17 for 2022
The Raiders will be better positioned to make a finals run with some firepower to come back from injury in the new year. Ideally, the Raiders should look to add some more aggressive intent in the form of a big-name winger or fullback.
The 2021 Canberra Raiders season was a disappointment. There will be some discussion over whether the Raiders are rebuilding or if 2021 was just a bump in the road.
With the Raiders yet to bring anyone new onto the list for 2022, Ricky Stuart will need to find a new method of winning matches.
Overall, the side can look towards 2022 with a sense of optimism and hope. However, a new game plan and, ideally, some new personal on the field are needed.
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