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Raiders, don't make me wear a dress

There hasn't been this much talk in the sports department about a dress since Rebecca Twigley first strutted the catwalk that is the AFL Brownlow Medal presentation night, barely wearing that low-cut red number with Chris Judd as her only real accessory.

Unfortunately, I fear the dress I'm about to adorn will be about as flattering as Serena Williams's infamous catsuit of the 2002 US Open, with bits bulging out in all the wrong places (c'mon, you can laugh, it's not like I had a crack at Leisel).

Let me explain.

At the start of this NRL season, sitting down at a conference with some of this newspaper's other section editors, small talk from the ill-informed among them turned to ridicule of the Raiders.

The Raiders had just come off one of the club's worst seasons, so of course the part-time followers had little more than recent history to base opinions on.

The Raiders were rubbish in 2011, so why or how would things be any different in 2012?


They had virtually the same playing roster bar the addition of Shaun Berrigan, a 33-year-old recruit who had already earned his rugby league pension in the Old Dart and had made his debut when Raiders coach David Furner was still running around in shoulder pads for the Green Machine.

So, as sports editor, I stood on my soapbox and set about giving them a quick education.

For starters, I told the chief of staff, Canberra's chief playmaker Terry Campese had only played eight minutes in the 2011 season. Campo's rehabilitation from a knee reconstruction had been flawless and he'd be back tougher than Andrew Hoy's saddle.

To the photographic editor I pointed out that there'd be fewer social snaps in the paper this season of Raiders players like Josh Dugan and Blake Ferguson hanging out at Canberra nightspots. The Raiders had such an exciting nursery of young kids who had matured another season and were now ready to knuckle down, lay off the booze and realise their NRL potential.

Sure, I conceded to the arts editor, Canberra's left-side defence had been atrocious in 2011.

But the Raiders had put a stiff new structure in place so they'd be plugging more holes than John Hopoate ever did in his rugby league career.

To the property editor I expressed my confidence that Canberra Stadium would become a fortress again, because I'd heard a consistent sales pitch from every Raiders player who spoke about it in the pre-season.

I had an answer for them all. Had our horoscopes writer been there, I would have told her that the Raiders are always lucky in even years. Since 2004, the Raiders had alternated in and out of the finals, always more successful in years ending in an even number. In 2012, how could they lose!

So, declaring my faith in a Raiders resurgence, I made this bold declaration: ''With the football Gods as my witness, if the Raiders fail to make the NRL finals then I will wear a dress to work for a day!''

Usually such shenanigans would be reserved for Mad Monday. I could wait the five weeks until the NRL season is officially over, but I'm all but conceding defeat right now. Frock me up.

The Raiders could mathematically sneak into the finals with four wins from their final five games, but realistically they need 100 per cent to give them a chance - a number they haven't gone close to all season.

The more disturbing thing is that no one at the Raiders can answer why the club has been so inconsistent.

But if you compare the average winning margin and average losing margin of every NRL team in the comp, the Raiders rate by far the worst. When they win they win big (on average, by 18.3 points). When they lose, they lose big (on average, by 16.5 points). So the difference between their good and bad is almost 35 points.

It would be too convenient to use injuries as an excuse, because the Raiders have shown the capability to win against quality opponents like St George Illawarra and Melbourne. That's what makes it so frustrating.

My running joke with Raiders fans is to tune in every second week and make yourself the happiest supporter in the world. Just make sure you pick the right week to start.

Everyone has an opinion, of course. One of the funnier accusations I've heard is that the Raiders are throwing results to get juicier odds. That seems as farcical a suggestion as badminton players throwing matches by playing silly buggers with shuttlecocks.

Another sore point is that the Raiders have a superior record on the road this year than at home. I know one member of the Raiders coaching staff asked the team's travelling bus driver if he could take them to their next home game as well. He was joking, but it's maybe not a bad idea.

There's been booze bans, team bonding camps, even players bringing in photos of their loved ones to stick on change room walls, ''do it for the Gipper'' style.

But this is the last straw. They say it ain't over until the fat lady sings, but does a pudgy sports editor turning up to work in a dress count? I beg you Raiders players, don't subject my colleagues and your fans to that.

Prove me wrong again and start winning.