The Raiders, through their history, have traditionally developed players through from juniors to seniors, but in recent years, there has obviously been a desire to sign players from the UK to put some starch into the forwards.
It is reminiscent of the days when the Raiders became the preferred option for players in the Brisbane competition. Four players originating from England started in the forwards for the Raiders in the win over Parramatta. John Bateman is relentless in both defence and attack, Elliott Whitehead has been one of the Raiders’ most consistent players in the past two seasons, Ryan Sutton has also added fire to the forward pack, and then there is Josh Hodgson.
I rate Hodgson in my top two players who have established their senior careers elsewhere before joining the Raiders and made a significant impact during their time in Canberra.
Mal Meninga naturally tops the list. Prior to signing with the Raiders, he had played 109 games for Souths in Brisbane. It was during this time that he made his debut for Australia. Meninga, who went on to play 166 games for Canberra, including three premierships, remains the most important signing from another club in Raiders history.
Hodgson I believe has emerged as the second most important import. In his third season with the club, he ranks alongside Cameron Smith as the best hooker in the NRL. His absence in the first half of last season through injury proved to be a key factor in the failure to make the finals, with the Raiders losing a number of close games earlier in the year.
Steve Walters made his debut for Brisbane Norths at 18 years of age. He played 35 games in the Brisbane premiership before going on to play 228 games with the Raiders. In the process, he became the top hooker in rugby league.
Gary Belcher played 95 games for Brisbane Souths before joining Meninga in Canberra. Belcher played 148 games for the Raiders, establishing himself as the premier fullback of his era.
At number five, I have the tackling-machine, Dean Lance, who played 40 games with Newtown before going on to play 160 games for Canberra. I have put him just ahead of winger John Ferguson who in 1988 topped the NSWRL try-scoring list. Ferguson joined the Raiders after playing with Newtown and Easts.
Both David Grant and Ron Giteau were key signings in the Raiders’ formative years after establishing their careers in Sydney.
At nine I can’t go past Clinton Schifcofske who joined the Raiders from Parramatta. He went on to captain Canberra during his 139 games with the Green Machine.
Jason Smith signed with the Raiders in 2005-2006 after a lengthy playing career with the Bulldogs, Parramatta and Hull. His influence on the team, which had been lacking in experience, was crucial.
Just missing out on the top ten is Peter Jackson who came to Canberra from Brisbane Souths. In his day he was capable of doing everything on the football field. He played 43 games for the Raiders.
In years to come, I expect the likes of John Bateman and Elliott Whitehead to join the list of the most influential imports signed in the Raiders history.