Canberra Raiders Try

The Canberra Raiders score in a big win against the Brisbane Broncos (credit Canberra Raiders twitter)

The Canberra Raiders have had a difficult season on and off-field. The Inner Sanctum has a look at how the Raiders can finish the season.

Snapshot of the season

The Canberra Raiders have experienced off and on-field issues in the most challenging season in recent years. Between Ricky Stuart’s comments on netball that went around the world and the in-camp fighting within the side, the Raiders are in trouble. With the side now five wins and nine losses from 14 games, finals are not out of the question, but the Raiders will need a turnaround to displace the teams above them.

What has worked

The Canberra Raiders have looked magnificent when playing well, much as the side has over the past three seasons. During the sides, five wins for the season, the key to winning has been strong defence and excellent ball movement through the prop Josh Papalii and onto the fast outside winger Bailey Simonsson. Jordan Rapana has also been a key for the Raiders, his ability to break through and smash packs as a 100kg winger is unmatched.

Most matches are won in defence, and Elliot Whitehead has spearheaded the Raiders defence beautifully. With over 400 tackles so far in the year, he has been vital in allowing the Raiders to stay competitive and within touch of the top eight. Against teams below them on the ladder, the Raiders have been sensational. When playing against the Broncos and the Titans, the side looked back to its premiership contending best. However, the issue has been replicating that form against the better sides.

What has not worked

Off-field issues have plagued the Canberra Raiders all season. Ricky Stuart is a decisive man, it’s an attitude that works well when the team is winning, but players and staff become divided when losing. With reports of leaking coming out of the Raiders camp, the dissatisfaction amongst players has become apparent. Former Raider John Bateman even went far enough to say he thought it was happening during his time and that it was primarily due to backroom staff in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald.

However, George Williams departure from the side has been the biggest story of the year for the Raiders. Williams was in line for a career-best season and, to date, is still the Raiders highest point scorer. When Williams left, there was much said about Stuart’s coaching and the atmosphere of the club, something that has not gone away. Williams and the Raiders are now trying to determine a contract settlement.

On the field, the apparent issue has been a lack of scoring. It was a solid defensive game that has made the Raiders so successful during the last few years, and perhaps this focus on defence has led to a lack of attacking power. A lack of discipline has also been a central talking point. Josh Papalii, Jack Wighton, and Josh Hodgson have all been victims of suspension during the year. Based on so many issues on and off-field, it’s hard to see how The Green Machine manage to make the top 8 come September.  

Papalii bashes and crashes through South Sydney’s defense

Who needs to lift

Ricky Stuart: The Raiders coach has had a tough time of it in the last year. He has been the centre of focus from the media, which is not ideal for a coach. Stuart has looked down for a considerable period at this point. He needs to find the magic of his coaching that got the Raiders to the Grand Final in 2019.

Hudson Young: While he is only 23, Young possesses the ability to be a top-quality player. Unfortunately for him, he has not quite hit the level yet. Young has managed six starts from his ten matches but, unfortunately, has not been overly impressive. The significant stat has been Young 11 errors from 608 minute played. If the Raiders can get Young to life, they will have another considerable threat on the first-grade side.

The Run Home

The bad news for the Raiders is that they will not have the opportunity to bully the teams lower than them on the ladder in the last half of the year. With only three of the final ten games of the season coming against lower-ranked opponents, the rest of the season will be the real test of whether the Raiders can compete in the finals.

Remaining Matches

July 3rd v TitansJuly 8th v Sea Eagles
July 17th v SharksJuly 22nd v Eels
July 31st v KnightsAugust 6th v Dragons
August 12th v StormAugust 20th v Sea Eagles
August 27th v WarriorsSeptember 2nd v Roosters

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Can the Canberra Raiders play finals

While it is still mathematically possible for the Raiders to make the finals, it is unlikely. The side has been too inconsistent throughout an interrupted season to warrant that much faith. However, with players now back from injury and suspension and Josh Papalii coming back from Origin, there is still hope for the Raiders supporters.

More realistically, the goal now should be to stabilise what has been a difficult season all around. Ricky Stuart needs to find a way to bring the side back together in a cohesive environment. It is all good and well to do it while winning, but the real test is to lead during difficult times. Ideally, the Raiders will look to string together a few good performances and take a heap of confidence into next year.

Players returning from injury/Origin

Josh Papalii and Jack Wighton are the two keys to returning to the Raiders squad after playing in Origin two. While the whole NRL took the weekend off to accommodate Origin, the Raiders will hope adding these two men to the team again will reignite the side.

On the injury front, Sebastian Kris received a head knock and is expected to return in round 16. Round 16 will also see the return of Harley Smith-Shields, after missing wit a bicep injury. Corey Horsburgh will likely return in round 20 once recovered from his wrist injury. The big outs are Jarrod Croker, whose knee injury does not yet have a timeline but is expected to miss most of the season. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad will also be out for the rest of the season due to a neck injury.

Raider Jack Wighton scores in Origin

The Canberra Raiders have had a difficult season but will be confident in turning it around in the coming weeks. The Raiders next play on July 3rd and will take on the Gold Coast Titans from GIO stadium at 5:30 pm.

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