8 September 2023

The Raiders are rank outsiders (and that's why they're so dangerous)

| Tim Gavel
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Raiders celebrating after a win

Raiders fans celebrating the win over the Broncos on 9 April 2023. Photo: Raiders.

The siege mentality so effectively utilised by Canberra sports teams on the national stage since the 1970s was odds-on to be part of the build-up ahead of the Raiders-Knights elimination final on Sunday.

Raiders coach Ricky Stuart said as much in the wake of the 24-6 loss to the Sharks, which came on the back of the 29-18 defeat at the hands of the Broncos.

After two losses in a row heading into this weekend’s finals, Stuart declared, “I don’t know if anyone knows we are in the finals. We weren’t meant to be”.

This is an indication, of sorts, that he was ready to embrace an ‘us against them’ approach.

The underdog Canberra against the rest of the world has been a tactic used in a range of sports, including rugby league.

Raiders fans at Canberra Stadium. Photo: Raiders.

Raiders fans at Canberra Stadium. Photo: Raiders.

It was a highly effective motivational tool leading up to the 1989 grand final against Balmain. Again, nobody expected the Raiders to make the finals, let alone win the title.

Understandably, it was hard to fly under the radar the following season.

The Brumbies built a psyche around being rejected by everyone outside the ACT.

Again, it proved to be highly effective until the Brumbies emerged as the most successful of the Australian Super Rugby teams and, in turn, became the hunted.

READ MORE Telling it like it was: Raiders legends prepare to tell the true story of the Green Machine

Before the Brumbies and the Raiders, the two most prominent uses of the ‘us against the world’ approach occurred in 1978 and 1980.

In 1978, the ACT rugby union team caused one of the biggest boilovers in world rugby with a 21-20 victory over Wales at Manuka.

Two years later, at Manuka, the ACT defeated the might of the VFL, 95-82, in an upset deemed to be of titanic proportions in Victoria, in particular.

Now, as the Raiders prepare to face Newcastle, they have their backs to the wall.

They went down to the Knights in both games between the two sides this season.

They head into the do-or-die contest without key players Josh Papalii, Corey Horsburgh and Sebastian Kris.

Rugby League player

The Raiders will be without Josh Papali’i for the clash against the Knights. Photo: Liv Cameron.

Newcastle has won nine games in a row heading into the finals. The Raiders have lost two in a row.

The Raiders have the worst for and against (-137) of any team with a winning record (13 wins, 11 losses) in NRL history.

Canberra hasn’t beaten a team in the top eight since Round 17 when they accounted for the Roosters 20-18.

But they made the finals, and in the minds of many, the competition starts now.

Which Raiders team runs out onto the field on Sunday against the Knights is anybody’s guess.

READ ALSO Explaining the ACT’s new pool rules

One thing is certain: the Raiders have demonstrated an ability to turn things around in the space of a week. We only have to cast our minds back to Rounds 5 and 6 earlier this season.

In Round 5, they went down 53-12 to the Panthers before beating the Broncos 20-14 in Round 6.

It proves that anything is possible. A win would be right up there among the greatest against-the-odds victories in the history of Canberra sport.

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Ricky Stuart needs to retire

Think they need a new coach, sick of seeing the same old thing – they lose and the coach then blames everyone but himself. Time to give Rick the flick.

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