As the Raiders lined up for their opening game in the NSWRL in February 1982, there was little understanding beyond the club’s inner circle of the battle behind the scenes to get to that particular moment.
The Raiders faced significant opposition from rival centres to be the 14th team in the competition.
Initially, there were three bids: one from Canberra led by the McIntyres, another from Newcastle and a third from Campbelltown. Newcastle pulled out leaving Canberra and Campbelltown to fight it out.
The Campbelltown bid attempted to torpedo Canberra’s campaign with claims that fog in winter at Canberra Airport would severely impact interstate teams. This was met with statistics disputing the claims and Canberra was admitted to the NSWRL for the 1982 season.
The Raiders endured heavy losses in the opening season before winning four games. There had been earlier predictions that the team would struggle to win a game in 1982.
The recruitment of Mal Meninga for the 1986 season surely ranks as one of the Raiders most significant moments.
It turned out to be a game-changer. Meninga, who had played for Souths (Brisbane) and UK team St Helens, attracted players from Queensland who would become some of the greatest players in the game.
The following year, Wayne Bennett was recruited to co-coach the side with Don Furner. The impact of Meninga and Bennett joining the club was almost immediate – the Raiders made the 1987 Grand Final.
By the time Bennett left in the following season, the platform for success had been established. Tim Sheens was recruited as coach. He guided the side to the greatest moment in the club’s history in 1989.
And in the next year, Sheens notched up back-to-back premiership wins, coaching the team to victory in 1990. Again, in 1994, he steered the team to premiership victory.
Following the 1994 premiership season, the Raiders struggled to emulate that success for a number of seasons.
The Super League war didn’t help things with the Raiders caught in the middle before opting to play in the Super League competition in 1997.
The whole process took its toll and the club struggled on and off the field. Supporters turned their backs on the team, and it wasn’t until Ricky Stuart’s arrival as coach that crowds began to return.
But this wasn’t immediate. The return of fans followed success on the field, culminating in the club’s first grand final appearance since 1995 in 2019. Importantly, initiatives such as the Viking Clap helped return fans, en masse, to Canberra Stadium.
So as the Raiders prepare for their 40th season, here are my top five moments in the club’s history:
- Admission to the NSWRL in 1982 following years of campaigning and lobbying is undoubtedly the most significant moment in the club’s history.
- The 1989 Grand Final victory was rightly celebrated with jubilation never witnessed before in the city marking this significant win.
- The recruitment of Mal Meninga ahead of the 1986 season, followed by Wayne Bennett, who joined the club ahead of the 1987 season, resulted in considerable momentum for the team. It propelled the Raiders to their first appearance in a grand final.
- The 1994 premiership victory was sweet, but it remains the club’s last premiership win.
- The Super League war was not the club’s finest moment, but it was significant because the Raiders were forced to fight hard to restore its supporter base.