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Raiders' split personality befuddles fans

Date: December 28 2012


Jon Tuxworth

The Canberra Raiders are the NRL's Jekyll and Hyde team. About as predictable as next week's Lotto numbers.

And the Green Machine only enhanced that reputation with a 2012 campaign full of turmoil, trauma and dramatic twists and turns.

There were mid-season rumours coach David Furner would be sacked, another shattering knee injury to Terry Campese, staying in a hotel before home games and a late-season surge which captivated a city.

As a team it could be infuriating to watch, its penchant for backing up a clinical win with an inept loss frustrating and often bewildering.

At their best the Raiders were scintillating, but their worst, for a side with such a talented roster, was sub-par.

Fans could not comprehend how the Raiders could completely outplay eventual premier Melbourne on its home turf in round 18, then be made to look second rate by the struggling Titans in Canberra the following week.

The fans' frustrations spilled over at half-time against the Gold Coast, with several spectators booing the players from the field.

But then the Raiders stumbled upon the solution to their inconsistency.

They used some of the most exciting, attacking football to turn a season of unfulfilled promise into 2012's best rags-to-riches story.

Canberra won its last five regular season games to surge from 13th to sixth, sealing a previously unimaginable home final against Cronulla in week one of the play-offs.

Almost 25,000 fans crammed into Canberra Stadium to watch the hosts dispose of the Sharks 34-16, with the fiery battle between young Raiders forward Josh Papalii and NSW skipper Paul Gallen the highlight.

The fairytale ended at the hands of a rampant Rabbitohs side in Sydney the next week, but they had done enough to save face.

And, quite possibly, save Furner's coaching career.

After Canberra's crippling 40-0 home loss to Wests Tigers in round 13, whispers began to emanate that Furner would be replaced by his 1994 premiership teammate Ricky Stuart. The rumours subsided when Stuart joined the Parramatta Eels.

Furner will hope his side can eradicate the slow starts which have plagued it in recent years.

After the Tigers loss, Furner took his players on an unprecedented trip to the central coast in a bid to boost the team's morale and bring the players closer together.

It seemed to have worked when Canberra won its next game, 32-16 at Newcastle, but it did not take long for the Raiders' evil alter ego to re-emerge. After a bye, the Raiders were embarrassed 40-18 by North Queensland in Townsville.

Their up-and-down form continued before they began their late-season revival, which had many tipping them as a potential grand final ''smoky''.

Canberra must be given credit for refusing to give up on a season which seemed lost more than once.

Every league fan felt for Campese, the skipper and chief playmaker, when in round seven he suffered a recurrence of the anterior cruciate ligament injury which had ruined his 2011 season at Brisbane. The shell-shocked Raiders lost 30-6 to the Broncos, and without their talisman were to lose four of their next five games.

It prompted most critics to dismiss Canberra as a finals hope - no Campo, no Raiders.

While they might have re-signed star fullback Josh Dugan until the end of 2014, they have a left-field entry for the ''best investment of 2012'' award.

In a quirky move to address their horror form at Canberra Stadium, the Raiders stayed at Eagle Hawk Rydges before their round-22 win at home against Brisbane.

They made this a practice for the rest of the campaign, the Raiders winning the rest of their home games, including a 34-6 thrashing of minor premier Canterbury.

Since 2004, Canberra has failed to make the finals in back-to-back seasons. But the club has its reasons, on and off field, to be optimistic that 2013 is the year this will change.

Former Toyota Cup coach Andrew Dunemann and premiership-winning halfback Brett Kimmorley have replaced Justin Morgan and Andrew McFadden as the Raiders' assistant coaches.

Bar the departure of second-rower Bronson Harrison, Canberra's best side remains largely the same. Fans have their fingers crossed that 2013 is the year Canberra closes the chasm between its best and worst for good.

RAIDERS SEASON 2012 RESULTS

Rd 1: Lost to Storm 24-19, Canberra

Rd 2: Beat Titans 24-12, Gold Coast

Rd 3: Lost to Roosters 14-8, Sydney

Rd 4: Beat Wests Tigers 30-16, Campbelltown

Rd 5: Lost to North Qld 22-6, Canberra

Rd 6: Beat Warriors 32-12, Canberra

Rd 7: Lost to Broncos 30-6, Brisbane

Rd 8: Lost to Sharks 44-22, Canberra

Rd 9: Lost to Sea Eagles 18-12, Brookvale

Rd 10: Beat Eels 40-34, Canberra

Rd 11: Bye

Rd 12: Lost to Rabbitohs 36-18, Sydney

Rd 13: Lost to Tigers 40-0, Canberra

Rd 14: Beat Knights 32-16, Newcastle

Rd 15: Bye

Rd 16: Lost to Cowboys 40-18, Townsville

Rd 17: Beat Dragons 22-18, Canberra

Rd 18: Beat Storm 40-12, Melbourne

Rd 19: Lost to Titans 38-26, Canberra

Rd 20: Beat Sharks 36-4, Cronulla

Rd 21: Lost to Knights 36-6, Canberra

Rd 22: Beat Broncos 28-12, Canberra

Rd 23: Beat Panthers 20-10, Penrith

Rd 24: Beat Roosters 24-20, Canberra

Rd 25: Beat Bulldogs 34-6, Canberra

Rd 26: Beat Warriors 42-22, Auckland

FINALS

Qualifying final: Beat Sharks 34-16, Canberra. Semi final: Lost to Rabbitohs 38-16, Sydney

FINAL STANDING

6th - 13 wins, 11 losses

LOSSES

Bronson Harrison (Dragons), Trevor Thurling (Queanbeyan Blues), Travis Waddell (released)

GAINS

Joel Edwards (Knights), Jake Foster (Bulldogs), Haydon Hodge, Paul Vaughan (Mounties), Mitchell Cronin, Hayden Crockett, Shannon Boyd (Toyota Cup promotion)

AWARDS

Mal Meninga medallist: Shaun Fensom. Leading point-scorer: Jarrod Croker, 226 (first in NRL). Most tries: Reece Robinson (17)

AVERAGE CROWDS

11,286

HIGHLIGHT 1

Canberra's five straight wins to complete the regular season, catapulting it from 11th to sixth and a home final against Cronulla. In front of a packed house at Bruce, the Raiders smashed the Sharks 34-16, the highlight being Raiders second-rower Josh Papalii's successful targeting of NSW Origin skipper Paul Gallen.

HIGHLIGHT 2

The continued emergence of young talent. Prop Mark Nicholls, hooker Matt McIlwrick, winger Edrick Lee, centre Jack Wighton, and second-rower Jarrad Kennedy all made their first grade debuts.

LOWLIGHT 1

It doesn't get much worse than the Raiders' 40-0 thrashing at home against Wests Tigers in round 13. With rumours coach David Furner was about to be sacked reaching fever pitch, the Raiders then embarked on a soul-searching camp on the South Coast. It did the trick, with Canberra launching a stirring revival to make the finals.

LOWLIGHT 2

You're not human if you didn't feel for Raiders skipper Terry Campese when his anterior cruciate ligament gave way for a second time at Brisbane in round seven. Every Canberra fan, and league supporters in general, have their fingers crossed he enjoys some overdue luck in 2013.

2013 DRAW

Rd 1: v Panthers, Penrith

Rd 2: v Titans, Gold Coast

Rd 3: v Dragons, Canberra

Rd 4: v Knights, Newcastle

Rd 5: v Roosters, Canberra

Rd 6: v Warriors, Canberra

Rd 7: v Cowboys, Townsville

Rd 8: v Storm, Melbourne

Rd 9: v Knights, Canberra

Rd 10: v Sharks, Cronulla

Rd 11: v Sea Eagles, Brookvale

Rd 12: Bye

Rd 13: v Broncos, Canberra

Rd 14: v Panthers, Canberra

Rd 15: v Tigers, Campbelltown

Rd 16: v Rabbitohs, Sydney

Rd 17: v Cowboys, Canberra

Rd 18: Bye

Rd 19: v Eels, Canberra

Rd 20: v Dragons, Wollongong

Rd 21: v Storm, Canberra

Rd 22: v Roosters, Sydney, SCG

Rd 23: v Bulldogs, Canberra

Rd 24: v Sea Eagles, Canberra

Rd 25: v Warriors, Auckland

Rd 26: v Sharks, Canberra

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