“It’s the same old story, same old song and dance, my friend” – Aerosmith (‘Same Old Song and Dance’, 1974)
This 40-plus year old Aerosmith lyric sums up Canberra’s frustrating season, another year of squandered opportunity after the heights of 2016.
2018 Club Record
Competition Points: 22 (10th placed)
2018 Player Achievements
Player of the Year: Josh Papalii
Most Tries: Joseph Leilua (14)
Most Points: Jarrod Croker (154)
After an underwhelming 2017, Canberra fans hoped 2018 would be kinder. A last-minute trial loss to Canterbury (at Canberra’s spiritual home ground Seiffert Oval) was an omen for a nightmare first month that became a frustrating habit, with 11 of their 14 losses by nine points or less and eight by four or less. In a perfect world, Canberra should have been comfortably in the eight (especially with the second-highest attacking record behind South Sydney); instead they finished 10th. While their 7-5 home record was passable, they only won three away from Bruce Stadium. Without Josh Hodgson, Canberra lost their first three games by two (Gold Coast), two (Newcastle) and one (NZ Warriors) – all squandering big leads – before a heavy Easter Saturday loss against Manly. Canberra finally found form, with wins against Canterbury, Parramatta, North Queensland and Gold Coast (interrupted by a big loss to Souths). Two more close losses followed against Cronulla and St. George-Illawarra, before Aiden Sezer got Canberra home 21-20 against Manly, a relief for frustrated fans. Old habits returned two weeks later, losing to Penrith 23-22 after leading 22-16 with 12 minutes left. Hodgson returned against the Wests Tigers in round 15 and Canberra lifted with a 48-12 win. Any optimism was destroyed at Lang Park the following Saturday. Leading Brisbane 16-0 at halftime – and 22-12 after 60 minutes – Canberra should have won easily, only to watch Brisbane win 26-22. With their season all but gone, Canberra rallied again, Blake Austin conjuring a comeback 32-28 win against Canterbury at Belmore, followed by a 38-12 win against North Queensland. After 17 rounds, Canberra were 8-9 and looked ready for another late finals run. Then it fell apart, with only two wins from their last seven (losing to Cronulla, Melbourne, Penrith, Wests Tigers and NZ Warriors). The most controversial loss was at Shark Park, with some puzzling referee calls leading to a 28-24 loss. Disheartened, a 44-10 loss in Melbourne killed off Canberra’s finals hopes. There was some genuine optimism with home wins against the Sydney Roosters and Souths. Against the Roosters, Canberra led 14-12 with 11 minutes left…and finally held on. Against Souths, they trailed 12-0 early, then scored 24 straight points. They couldn’t make it three in a row against the Warriors (losing 20-16), but at least they lost coming from behind, rather than blowing another lead. After a horrible year, the late wins against Sydney Roosters (2018 premiers) and Souths (preliminary finalists) gave fans hope for 2019.
Canberra’s 2018 season was damaged in late 2017, with Hodgson injured playing for England in the World Cup, tearing his ACL and requiring off-season surgery. After missing the first 14 rounds, Hodgson played 11 games, scored one try, had nine try assists, five offloads and made 405 tackles. Hodgson made Canberra dangerous again, but not even he could drag the Raiders to the finals. If he can play a full 2019 season, Canberra should return to the finals.
Jack Wighton’s late season suspension was also crucial. He played Canberra’s first 14 games, scoring three tries. He was missed as Canberra struggled in the last seven games.
Emre Guler may not have debuted until round 23 against the Sydney Roosters, but he could be crucial to the Raiders for 2019 and beyond. Guler played Canberra’s final three games, making 57 tackles (tackle efficiency of 91.4%) and averaging 90.2 running metres. While not as spectacular as Cotric’s breakout year in 2017, Guler’s promise is there.
NothingButLeague Player of the Season
Jarrod Croker: Canberra’s captain played in eight of their 10 wins, with his injury against the Cowboys in round 18 a blow to the Raiders’ finals hopes. He scored 154 points in 17 games (seven tries and 63 goals), and played the full 80 in 14 of those games. His personal best was 18 points (two tries and five goals) in Canberra’s opening win against Canterbury in round five. Had Croker kept playing after the Cowboys game, Canberra may have snuck into the finals.
2019 GAINS AND LOSSES
John Bateman (Wigan Warriors, 2024), Ryan Sutton (Wigan Warriors, 2020).
Blake Austin (Warrington Wolves), Shannon Boyd (Gold Coast Titans), Masivesi Dakuwaqa (released), Craig Garvey (released), Charlie Gubb (released), Junior Paulo (Parramatta Eels).