Rugby League


Riddle of the Raiders is as hard to fathom as the alarming reversal of the meandering Kiwis

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It must be frustrating being Canberra coach David Furner. The Raiders were diabolical against the Cowboys at Canberra Stadium last Monday night, yet yesterday they produced a game of football synonymous with a top-eight team. But in that lies the problem.


Sure, they enjoyed a convincing victory against last year's grand finalists, but Furner should be more frustrated with what he saw yesterday than what was dished out in the 22-6 loss against North Queensland last week.

The Raiders lost their way at the start of the second half but their first 40 minutes would've left Furner bemused, asking why they fail to replicate that performance from week to week. They were without Josh Dugan, Brett White, Joel Thompson and Trevor Thurling, and skipper Terry Campese played most of the match on one leg after injuring his knee midway through the first half, yet they made last year's runners-up look like the Auckland Vulcans.

The Warriors are in disarray, but it's nothing new for a team from across the Tasman to begin the year as slow as they have this season.

Their 2-4 start to the year is exactly how they began last season, before they finally clicked into gear and won five straight, the foundation for their charge towards the grand final.


Last year, it was a 20-10 loss to Manly at Brookvale Oval in round six that triggered their resurgence, and coach Brian McClennan will be hoping yesterday's loss has a similar impact on his players. They look disinterested at the moment - falling off tackles, pushing passes, playing without any discipline and energy.

It's probably even more gut-wrenching for McClennan after his team spent the past week together in camp on the NSW south coast.

In the post-match news conference he took responsibility for his team's slow starts in every game this year, taking it upon himself to rectify the problem that has plagued them in the first six rounds.

But just like the Wests Tigers, you can never write off the Warriors.

You just know that come June-July, the rhythm will be back and they'll make their annual charge towards the play-offs.

Amid the knock-ons and the missed tackles were flashes of brilliance, passages of play - like the try Shaun Johnson set up for James Maloney in the second half - that for some reason don't stick until the back end of the season for the Warriors.

There's no doubt the Warriors look most dangerous in attack when Johnson is involved, but he's sitting back and not taking the game by the scruff of the neck as a No. 7 should be.

He admitted after the match he was finding it a lot more difficult in his second year, with teams aiming up at him and doing their homework.

His halves partner Maloney didn't do his State of Origin hopes any favours, hardly sighted in a forgettable afternoon for the visitors.

Maloney had a great opportunity to climb up the five-eighth pecking order up against Campese, but he didn't do enough to warrant selection in the Country Origin team to be announced on Sunday; Todd Carney has all but made the position his own after a dominant display for the Sharks against the Dragons' Jamie Soward on Saturday night.

While the Raiders were happy to see Campese finish the match after a first-half injury scare, he, too, did himself no favours on a sunny afternoon in the nation's capital.

His kicking game was hot and cold and he still hasn't regained the confidence to take on the line as much as NSW coach Ricky Stuart would've liked to see from the Origin hopeful. He's run the ball on more than three occasions in just one match this year - against the Tigers in round four - reluctant to challenge the line with a knee injury that almost had him miss yesterday's game.

 CANBERRA 32 (J Croker 2, R Robinson 2, B Ferguson, J Papalii, J Wighton tries; J Croker 2 goals) bt WARRIORS 12 (B Henry, J Maloney tries; J Maloney 2 goals) at Canberra Stadium. Referees: Shayne Hayne, Alan Shortall. Crowd: 10,800.