History repeating as Canberra Raiders facing another painful rebuild

Gavin Dennett 4 July 2021 29
Ricky Stuart

Coach Ricky Stuart has some tough decisions to make as the Canberra Raiders rebuild their playing roster. Photo: File.

Here we go again, Raiders fans.

The 2021 NRL season started with so much expectation for the Green Machine, but it has spiralled out of control.

On the back of a grand final appearance in 2019 and a preliminary final in 2020, the Green Machine was touted as a contender this year. But after winning three of their first four games, the club has bottomed out, losing seven of their past eight.

They are currently mired in the bottom four and appear dispirited, fractured and rudderless.

In the past six weeks, the club has endured player unrest: Joe Tapine’s partner bagging coach Ricky Stuart online; testy post-game press conferences; and the ugly departure of homesick halfback George Williams, in which several players ‘liked’ the Englishman’s stance against the club on Twitter and Instagram, indicating a possible mutiny behind closed doors.

All while onfield performances have gone from underwhelming to utterly grim.

With the Raiders’ 2021 season all but terminal, rusted-on supporters are left to lament where it all went wrong.

On the surface, several factors have contributed to the Raiders’ rapid decline.

Going into the season, there were concerns about the club’s ageing outside backs and a perceived lack of speed. This was highlighted in the 2020 preliminary final against the Melbourne Storm, where the Raiders were scorched out wide in a game that was over after 25 minutes.

READ ALSO: Big Mal: ‘Canberra Raiders will always be my number one’

Nick Cotric scored two tries for the Raiders that night, but his departure to Canterbury Bulldogs this year left much of the backline looking like Dad’s Army.

Compounding this has been the NRL’s six-again rule changes that have made the game more rapid. The emphasis on fast play-the-balls, continuously retreating defences and fatigue has swiftly changed the rugby league dynamic. The teams that have best adapted – the Penrith Panthers and the Storm – are thriving. Teams that haven’t, such as the Raiders, are floundering.

The collateral damage from this shift is that less-mobile players of certain dimensions are becoming redundant. The days of teams rolling up their sleeves and getting into the attritional grind of the game have evaporated in favour of speed.

The Raiders have the fifth oldest squad in the NRL. Ironically, the defending premiers, the Melbourne Storm, have the second oldest, but they also boast speed machines Josh Addo-Carr, Ryan Papenhuyzen and Justin Olam, and a pack of mobile, athletic forwards.

Just look at how the table-topping Panthers are travelling for proof of the NRL becoming youth dominated. Penrith has the third-youngest team in the competition and plays an electrifying brand of league. They’re a million miles from where the Raiders are.

The other major factor is coach Stuart. The Raiders icon bleeds green and is as passionate as they come. There is no doubting his commitment to the club and unwavering dedication to the Canberra community.

George Williams at Canberra Raiders training

The departure of halfback George Williams turned ugly for the Raiders. Photo: File.

He is also renowned for rewarding loyal warhorses who bring experience and drive standards. It can be argued he’s too loyal – possibly a by-product of being scorned by his own premature departure from the Raiders as a player in 1998 – but every club needs personnel who have been there and done that.

However, blind loyalty can cloud judgement for when a player needs a tap on the shoulder.

Stuart’s surly press conferences of late reveal a man taking the losses to heart and, worryingly, he seems bereft of ideas.

The team’s poor attitude in defence, leaking of soft tries, inadequate forwards’ run metres, and second-half fadeouts that have seen the return of the dreaded ‘Faders’ tag, all reek of something rotten within the camp, be it a lack of fitness, lack of desire, or division between players and club.

Is it a case of entitled, troublesome players or a hardline, inflexible coach? It’s probably all of the above, and tough questions need to be asked.

But that won’t come from the majority of the mainstream NRL media.

Stuart is fairly immune to scrutiny, with certain Sydney journos happy to play cheerleader rather than apply the blowtorch in the same way the Cronulla Sharks’ John Morris felt the heat earlier this season.

READ ALSO: The Raiders need to grow a ‘spine’ to be premiership contenders

Is Stuart the man to fix things at the Raiders? The jury is out.

He isn’t exactly renowned as an innovative, progressive coach – more old-school passion, fire and brimstone – and his track record, particularly at the Sydney Roosters and Sharks, indicates when that fire begins to flicker, it’s difficult to reignite.

With the Raiders famously loyal to favourite sons – they took an eon to oust underperforming coach David Furner in 2013, with former chairman John McIntyre referring to the club as the ‘family farm’ – Stuart isn’t going anywhere in a hurry.

If he is the man to turn around the Raiders, hard decisions are looming. With this season on life support, attention turns to 2022 and beyond. The club is facing a dreaded rebuild and needs to nail its recruitment strategy – not something that comes easy in the national capital.

Recruiting from Sydney has never been the club’s forte. Historically, Queensland, New Zealand and, more recently, England have been fertile recruitment patches. But most important is identifying and nurturing local and regional talent and developing players within the Raiders system.

The club’s two best players – Queenslander Josh Papalii and Jack Wighton from Orange – are testament to early talent identification, as were club greats including Laurie Daley, Bradley Clyde, Glenn Lazarus and Stuart.

Bouncing back may not come quickly as there isn’t a wealth of talent remaining on the NRL open market for next year, and it would be madness to pay overs for a short-term fix.

But whatever direction the club takes, it’s important fans remain true and weather the feast-or-famine existence of being a Raiders diehard.

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29 Responses to History repeating as Canberra Raiders facing another painful rebuild
Didi Carmody Didi Carmody 2:31 pm 19 Sep 21

As a long time Raiders supporter it's been a tough year to watch. So much talent on the field but just not connecting. We missed Bateman. Croker and Sam Williams are past their best playing prime. How can last year's Daly M winner have such an average year. Are the Raiders playing the wrong type of game these days. Are they unfit.......not trained to play the standard required. Is it time for Don Furner to step down after telling listeners on ABC radio that there were no problems within the Raiders team and then a week later George Williams is let go. Management please think of the Raiders supporters. We're over the excuses. We just want a great and exciting team of players to support.

Michael Simpson Michael Simpson 6:28 pm 08 Jun 21

Time for Ricky to go

Shane Lovelock Shane Lovelock 2:32 pm 08 Jun 21

I’m tipping a cranky coach and a few dirty poms is not a good combination. There’s a start

Con Tricolas Con Tricolas 2:32 pm 08 Jun 21

Can someone tell Ricky to stop jumping up & down on the sideline as if he was coaching Under 10's???

Azza Mick Azza Mick 12:32 pm 08 Jun 21

They need a new young coach his pathetic

Alan Jennings Alan Jennings 9:10 am 08 Jun 21

I think over time Stuart's intensity begins to wear thin. It is very evident that journos favour Stuart from the moment they labelled him Super Coach after winning a premiership with the Roosters these same journos do not go hard on him and orchestrate media campaigns if he looks in any sign of trouble so he will be with the Raider long term.

David Cutmore David Cutmore 8:15 am 08 Jun 21

if he looked around his own country instead of chasing poms probably wouldn't be in this mess

Dudley Ingram Dudley Ingram 8:28 pm 07 Jun 21

Start at the top

Start with Ricky

Butch Wooldridge Butch Wooldridge 8:05 pm 07 Jun 21

How close were the Raiders in that grand final . I don’t follow them but I feel they were ripped off badly . So hard to win a title in the NRL . Give credit to the top clubs thou , they are run well from the top

Patrick Booth Patrick Booth 6:51 pm 07 Jun 21

Why is rebuild needed? All that is need is a half back

Jeffrey Fitzgerald Jeffrey Fitzgerald 4:29 pm 07 Jun 21

Snooze ya loose

Michael Taylor Michael Taylor 9:22 pm 06 Jun 21

In a worse position than madge

Dubbo Kathleen Dubbo Kathleen 7:15 pm 06 Jun 21

Stewart Shannon what’s the issue here? Roster or coach ?

    Stewart Shannon Stewart Shannon 11:48 pm 06 Jun 21

    Dubbo Kathleen hmmm interesting question. I would say a combination of both. No doubt Ricky has an intense coaching style and I am sure it would burn out most players eventually.

    Micka Martin Micka Martin 2:20 pm 07 Jun 21

    Dubbo Kathleen well, look at the history. Ricky destroyed roosters, sharks, eels and now canberra. Do u know what a common denominator is?

Bill Bloxham Bill Bloxham 6:12 pm 06 Jun 21

Maybe another 10 to 15 years before finals again

Dan Dicks Dan Dicks 4:56 pm 06 Jun 21

Mark Norton James Gardiner up the panthers

    Mark Norton Mark Norton 5:03 pm 06 Jun 21

    Dan Dicks go the riff

    James Gardiner James Gardiner 5:41 pm 06 Jun 21

    bleed green till I die💚

    Mark Norton Mark Norton 5:48 pm 06 Jun 21

    James Gardiner how’s Curtis Scott last night hahaha

    Dan Dicks Dan Dicks 5:56 pm 06 Jun 21

    James Gardiner hope you don’t have to suffer too long

    James Gardiner James Gardiner 6:01 pm 06 Jun 21

    Dan Dicks use to it, been at Lupo for 17 years

    Dan Dicks Dan Dicks 6:05 pm 06 Jun 21

    It’s called ‘panthers’ pumping now I’m not sure your good enough anymore.

Anthony Briscoe Anthony Briscoe 4:47 pm 06 Jun 21

While Stuart remains the results will stay the same

Lachlan Vandedonk Lachlan Vandedonk 4:18 pm 06 Jun 21

Jordan Darcy very interesting reading what the experts are saying.....ooohhhhh well whats another 20 odd years

Michael Smith Michael Smith 11:17 pm 05 Jun 21

As long as we retain Ricky and the current board we will be back on top soon.

Good Work Canberra Good Work Canberra 10:10 pm 05 Jun 21

Come on Raiders!

Pete Repeat Pete Repeat 7:20 pm 05 Jun 21

Ha ha ha.

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