Rugby League


Canberra Raiders great Brett Mullins says Ricky Stuart is the right man to lead rebuilding at embattled club

Canberra Raiders great Brett Mullins says players need to "pull their fingers out", launching a passionate defence for former teammate Ricky Stuart as the club faces one of its darkest periods.

The Raiders' nightmare season got even worse on Monday, with David Shillington (pectoral), Shaun Fensom (knee) and Kurt Baptiste (shoulder) ruled out for the rest of the season, while skipper Terry Campese will miss up to two games with a rib injury.

Mullins declared Stuart was the right man to lead the Raiders out of the doldrums as they fight to avoid the wooden spoon for the first time since 1982. The Raiders will also miss the finals in consecutive years for the first time in almost 20 seasons, and have their lowest crowd average since moving to Canberra Stadium in 1990.

The Raiders have won just five games this season and are battling with the Cronulla Sharks for last spot on the ladder.

Their 54-18 loss to the New Zealand Warriors two days ago was another embarrassing performance, with centre Jarrod Croker labelling it as "garbage".

Stuart is in the first year of a three-season deal with the Raiders, and is in danger of collecting his second consecutive wooden spoon as a coach.


"Bloody oath it's hard to watch, it's really tough. There's obviously something going wrong there, but I've got no doubt 'Sticky' [Stuart] will get it all sorted," Mullins said.

"He would be doing it tough, he takes everything to heart. He's a great coach and a great bloke, it's up to the players to pull their finger out.

"I still think Ricky's the right man for the job. He's only just got there, he inherited that cattle so we have to wait and see, judge him after a couple of years.

"It comes down to wanting to win and doing it for your mates, and working hard. I didn't really see that [against the Warriors], it looked like they were having a bit of a bludge."

Talented junior Mitch Cornish could be thrown back into the NRL this week to replace Campese in the halves, while the Raiders could seek second-tier salary cap exemptions for their mounting injury toll.

The Raiders did release some good news on Monday, signing British Super League duo Josh Hodgson and Iosia Soliola for the next two seasons.

But it will do little to ease the mounting frustration among fans as the Raiders close in on one of their worst seasons.

Crowds have dropped at an alarming rate. Sunday's meagre attendance of 7084 was the lowest of the year and dropped its average to just 9220.

It is the first year crowds have dipped below 10,000 since 2001 and just the third since the then-premiers moved to Canberra Stadium in 1990.

The Raiders have three home games to finish the season, against the St George Illawarra in round 23, the Wests Tigers (round 25) and Parramatta Eels (round 26).

Two-time Mal Meninga Medal winner Fensom will be out for between 6-9 months after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament in the woeful loss to the Warriors.

Shillington has torn his right pectoral muscle and will meet with surgeons this week to decide if he will need an operation. Even if the prop avoids surgery, he will miss the last five games of the year, while hooker Baptiste's shoulder problem will be assessed this week.

Stuart is preparing to face the Parramatta Eels on Saturday night - the club he led to the wooden spoon last year before defecting to the Raiders.