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Raiders' mid-season report card

Date

Jon Tuxworth

League great Terry Lamb has dealt with his fair share of coaching pressure, and says David Furner must stick to his guns at the Raiders.

A 40-0 loss to the Wests Tigers was a low point of the Raiders' season.

A 40-0 loss to the Wests Tigers was a low point of the Raiders' season. Photo: Colleen Petch

Terry Lamb knows first hand how the walls seem to close in on you when at the helm of an under-fire team.

Player ill-discipline, mounting losses and fan frustration – his short tenure as Wests Tigers coach was tumultuous to say the least.

And his advice to Canberra Raiders coach David Furner is to avoid a siege mentality and trust his natural instincts.

The Raiders' defence, in particular that of centre Jarrod Croker, has struggled this season.

The Raiders' defence, in particular that of centre Jarrod Croker, has struggled this season. Photo: Melissa Adams

The Canterbury great endured the drug suspensions of Craig Field and Ken McGuinness and the infamous John Hopoate "finger poking" scandal at Concord.

Wests finished near the bottom of the ladder when he was in charge in 2001 and 2002, and Lamb has some regrets.

He doesn't want Furner to make the same mistakes.

"You start questioning yourself, that's what you do," Lamb said.

"I probably went in and made some rash decisions I shouldn't have, and you can't change them.

"Especially when you've only been there a short time [criticism gets to you], I'm sure Wayne Bennett's used to it and Timmy Sheens and Brian Smith, and don't pay too much attention to it.

"He just has to be true to himself and do the right thing by the club."

The Raiders' frustrating first half of the season has featured five wins from 13 matches, club-imposed player suspensions and rumours the coach is on notice.

"I couldn't get away from the pressure to tell you the truth, it hangs around all the time," Lamb said.

"It's pretty hard – you read papers and listen to the news and people ring you up.

"I was probably too close to some of the players when I was coaching and didn't know the difference between being a coach and being a mate.

"If someone doesn't want to get on your side, you either stand him down or get rid of him.

"He probably needs to ask questions to mates, ring Ricky Stuart and those guys up and ask for advice."

After Canberra's embarrassing 40-0 home loss to Wests Tigers a fortnight ago, Furner took his side on a soul-searching camp at Swansea last week.

It helped unify the club enough to produce a crucial 32-16 win against fellow struggler Newcastle.

"I would never question the players, they were out there trying [against the Tigers], but when you come up with those errors you put pressure on everyone," Furner said.

"We definitely weren't happy with where we were, and rather than beat them down any more it was more about refocusing, because I believe in the talent in the squad.

"It [the camp] was probably about the players and the group in themselves being a bit tighter ... you turn up to headquarters and sometimes don't get to learn about some of the players and vice-versa really.

"That was one of the factors and I looked at a couple of exercise, which instilled the belief in the individual and the belief in the team."

The win over the Knights was a timely boost for a young outfit struggling for confidence.

Furner knows beating a side that hasn't won since round eight doesn't amount to a form reversal.

But it provided a foundation he hopes they can build on to make a charge to the finals similar to the Raiders' fairytale run in 2010.

"I'm happy with the response of the players from last week but I still think we can be stronger, we have to build confidence through our defence," he said.

"If we want to aim for the semi-finals we have to be a better defending side, bottom line.

"The biggest thing for us, regardless of age, is being able to keep the same players on the park week-in, week-out."

Furner insisted the constant speculation over his future wasn't affecting his vision to turn the club's fortunes around.

"Am I worried about it? No, and the other thing is ask the players," Furner said.

"I haven't lost the players. There's still a few things we have to change, but I am that competitive and put pressure on myself.

"The external things I can't control."

Former skipper Simon Woolford, a specialist hooker coach at the Raiders this year, admitted the side's application in defence had been questionable this season.

At times, especially against the Tigers, Canberra has looked disinterested in defence.

The Raiders are currently ranked eighth in attack, but only bottom side Parramatta's defensive record is worse.

But the Swansea camp has helped build the unity and trust in each other the players need to be successful.

"Defensively there are a number of issues there and it's got nothing to do with structures, it's commitment and desire in defence that's been an issue," Woolford said.

"That's been addressed and if they can use the Newcastle game as a platform in setting the bar, I can see significant improvement in their defence.

"They were on our line for quite a period in the second half and we leaked some points, but in weeks gone by we would have leaked a lot more.

"They were a lot more resilient and they have to bottle that and produce it every week."

Woolford said the side had made a pact not to use its mounting injury toll as an excuse over the back half of the year.

"Injuries don't help, but they're not an excuse for not turning up with 17 men and having a dig," Woolford said.

"It's commitment to your teammates and commitment to your own personal pride in the way you play, too.

"That's why the results have been inconsistent in terms of the lopsided results ... that's not a structural or technical thing, that's an intensity and commitment thing from the players.

"We're going to have losses at times, no doubt about it, but it's the way we lost a couple of those games that wasn't really acceptable and there's no one at our club accepting that either."

Woolford said the harrowing month that awaits the Raiders will gauge whether they are prepared as a unit to band together and pull themselves from the mire.

They face North Queensland in Townsville next Saturday before games against St George Illawarra (home) and pacesetter Melbourne (away).

"One week's performance isn't going to cut it, they've got a tough three weeks ahead," Woolford said.

"It's a tough period and it's really going to shape our season.

"We can hang around where we are [on the ladder] and cop that, or we can really make something of it over the next month."

REPORT CARD

ATTACK GRADE: B-

The Raiders have shown that when their completion rate is up to scratch, they have no problem scoring points. Much depends on how Josh Dugan continues to adapt to five-eighth. There was some promising signs against Newcastle, but the Raiders know there are far stiffer tests ahead, starting in Townsville next week. Reece Robinson has been solid at fullback, while the forward pack continues to punch down the field, but needs more second-phase play. Some costly 'brain explosions' have crept into the Raiders' game. They have lacked direction since Terry Campese's season-ending injury, and Josh McCrone, pictured, needs to step up.

KICKING GRADE: C-

The Raiders' inability to control a game with their kicking has been an area of concern. Sam Williams, pictured, has the best short kicking game in the club, but his defensive flaws have seen him demoted to NSW Cup. Dugan has one of the biggest boots in the NRL and can fill the void left by Campese. The short kicking game, in particular the ability to mount pressure through repeat sets, needs significant improvement.

DEFENCE GRADE: D-

Coach David Furner summed it up best: "If we want to be a finals team we need to be a better defending side, that's the bottom line." Only Parramatta has a worse defensive record than the Raiders so far this season. The Raiders have conceded nearly 25 points per game. The left side has been particularly woeful with opponents regularly sending their mobile back-rowers in that direction. Dugan's elevation to the front line in place of Williams was mainly designed to help fix that weakness. Teams have hurt them with second-phase play at times, and reducing opponents' offloads will be a focus.

COACH GRADE: C-

Furner, pictured, remains under constant fire from fans, but continues to receive full backing from the club's board and management. Canberra has only beaten one top eight side this year – the Wests Tigers when they were in an early-season slump. However, Furner should be commended for trying different options to revive the Raiders' season, notably Josh Dugan's switch from fullback to five-eighth. His decision to stand down Dugan and Blake Ferguson from the round 12 loss to South Sydney was a gutsy statement that proved he is prepared to put team culture ahead of pleasing his players.

ROOKIES GRADE: B+

One of the big highlights of Canberra's season has been the continued emergence of promising rookies from its vibrant junior nursery. Before his untimely injury, Jack Wighton justified the massive raps he's commanded for some time with strong performances out wide. Impressive 19-year-old winger Edrick Lee, pictured, scored two tries against Newcastle in just his third NRL game and appears a long-term prospect. Second-rower Jarrad Kennedy was solid in his NRL debut in round eight against Cronulla.

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