Daniel Nichols looks back at the 2013 NRL season for all 16 clubs. Today he looks backs at the Canberra Raiders season.
Fan Prediction: Top 8
What Went Wrong: Canberra finished 13 in a season that promised so much. This was to be the year Terry Campese finally lived up to his undoubted potential. This was to be the year problem children Blake Ferguson and Josh Dugan finally matured into men and lead their side to the finals. This was to be the season coach David Furner finally went a full season without his job being questioned. It simply was not meant to be, Campese played well but did not have the career year many expected, both Ferguson and Dugan were dumped, as was Furner.
It all started to go wrong for the Canberra side when Dugan and Ferguson decided to skip a training session to drink on the roof. For Dugan, who had a long list of indiscretions, it was the final straw and he was given his marching orders. It got to the point where you had to seriously doubt Dugan’s commitment to the club given the ridiculousness of the photo posted on social media during the infamous drinking session.
Ferguson, who starred in Origin 1, was released by the club after a range on incidents, highlighted by the alleged indecent assault charges he still faces. Once again his commitment to the club can be called into question as he went MIA instead of meeting with the club at their request. Furner’s support of wild child Ferguson ultimately lead to his downfall as the senior players reportedly fell out with him over the decision. He had lost the fans due to the poor results of the side, and when the players turned, there was no other option but to terminate his contract.
Star fullback Anthony Milford’s public plea to be released to join the Broncos to be closer to his sick father further added to the club’s problems in 2013 as their successful replacement for Dugan now wants out of the club. The club also had to endure the fallout of winger Sandor Earl’s dealings with Asada, although the club no part in the charges, it was forced to deal with the negative PR. Also after chasing big names during the season, they were only able to ad Lagi Setu from the Storm to their roster for 2014.
What Went Right: Early in the season Josh Papalii signed a big money deal to switch to the Eels, but invoked a controversial clause in contracts signed before round 10 to remain with the Raiders. It was a move that infuriated Eels fans but excited Raiders fans. Papalli had a brilliant season, highlighted by his selections for QLD and the Kangaroos world cup squad. The young New Zealand born second rower is fast becoming an important piece of the puzzle in the nation’s capital. He and Fensom form a tough, hard working and aggressive second row with Shaun Fensom.
When Dugan was released from the club, fans of the Raiders were left wondering if it would be another Carney situation. The club were forced to release Carney, who went on to star with another club whilst the Raiders struggled to replace him. Although Dugan certainly has played well since his move to the Dragons, there was no such problem in terms of a replacement. Anthony Milford stepped into the number 1 role and quickly became one of the most exciting players in the competition.
Raiders fans will be hoping incoming coach Ricky Stuart will be able to persuade him to stay as he has a huge future. Reece Robinson also came of age this season when he originally stepped into the vacant fullback position before switching to the wing to accommodate Milford.
When Furner was removed from his coaching position, the Raiders embarked on a search to find a long term coach. Surprisingly Ricky Stuart was the one hired, not surprising that the Raiders went with the former NSW mentor but surprising that Stuart was willing to leave a long term deal with the Eels after only one season. Stuart has signed a long term deal and has been promised control over the club. The Raiders will be looking to Stuart to inform discipline within the club, something they have lacked for a few years now. Stuart himself is under pressure to perform with some experts saying the Raiders could be in a tussle with Ricky’s last club the Eels for next year’s Wooden Spoon. Stuart, a Canberra legend will be closer to family and has the support of the fans, meaning surely he will be given every opportunity to succeed.
Verdict: 2013 will be remembered as the year the Raiders lost their two best attacking players due to off field problems. They also lost their coach and failed to make an impact in the transfer market. All hope is not lost though as the Raiders still contain Campese, Milford, Robinson, Shillington, Papalli and Fensom, as well as a successful under 20’s team. Ricky Stuart will be looking to snare a late signing or two whilst getting the very best out of his existing roster. No one is expecting the Raiders to perform a Roosters rags to riches story in 2014 but the club and its fans will demand improvement from what was a disappointing 2013.