The NSW Blues have been named for the first game of the 2017 #Origin series.
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It could not have happened at a worse time. Amidst a dramatic comeback in their first home final since 2003, Canberra lost inspirational playmaker, Terry Campese, to a terrible ACL injury that effectively ruined their 2010 premiership ambitions. It was a disappointing end to what was a fantastic run that saw Canberra amount an impressive nine wins from ten matches including their first finals win since the days of Laurie Daley.
It was a wonderful time to be a Raiders fan, but it took some time to get there. Before their magnificent run Canberra had claimed a mediocre five wins from fifteen starts record and had something of a reputation for dropping sizeable leads as they did against the Tigers (lost 35-22 after leading 22-4 after 39 minutes) and Souths (lost 26-24 after leading 24-6 at half time).
This record was arrested at Brookvale when the Raiders made the most of their chances, taking a number of intercepts and turning threatening situations into successful ones for their own side. This was just the boost they needed as they went onto dismantle the Knights in a impressive display at Canberra. The 50 point barrier was broken and the belief was back in the club.
The real test for Canberra came in Round 24 against premiership heavyweights St. George Illawarra. Despite holding the wood over the would be premiers, fans wondered whether the Raiders could handle a full-strength Dragons side that had just recovered in spectacular fashion accounting for the red-hot Roosters side. After a tense start the Raiders opened up the flood gates in the second half scoring an impressive 26 consecutive points before finishing off the Dragons in the final five minutes with a try to underated hooker Glenn Buttriss.
That win announced the Raiders as the real deal and after disposing of the out of form Queensland contingent (North Queensland and Brisbane) they set their sights for Penrith. In what was a very even game, the Raiders were able to take advantage of their speed and size pipping Penrith 24-22 to claim their first final win since 2000.
This victory set the scenes for a gripping contest at Canberra and boy did it live up to expectations. In one of the best games of the final series both Canberra and Tigers played at light speed in a game that went right down to the wire. Canberra got off to a nervous start, conceding a couple of emotionally charged errors that gave the Tigers room to take a 18-6 lead within the opening 20 minutes. The Raiders fought back and just as they looked likely with going on with it, Campese suffered that untimely injury and it cut their run disappointingly short.
Where They Went Well
When they were on, they were good all over the park but especially their forwards. The Raiders have one of the biggest packs in the game and in 2010 they all played to potential marching over opposition defensive lines with relative ease gifting the likes of Campese and Dugan to weave their magic.
Where They Struggled
It took awhile for the combinations to gel. Campese had an indifferent start where he struggled to take control of matches. Another issue were finding players in the halfback and hooking role. The Raiders toyed with the position relentlessly before eventually deciding on a McCrone/Buttriss combination that coincided with their impressive run.
Players of the Future
How much time do you have? Dugan stepped up his game another level, Vidot is looking incredibly talented, Thompson looked great even out of position, Waddell had his moments, Fenson became a fantasy darling with his incredible work-rate and Jarrod Croker added another bow to his already impressive quiver.
Raiders welcome Blake Ferguson and Brett White amongst others and there is word they could sign former Storm and Sea Eagles halfback Matt Orford from the English Super League. Of course they lost Joel Monaghan in bizarre circumstances, while Adam Mogg and Scott Logan retired, and a few players like Marc Herbert and Brett Kelly were moved on. The biggest change though is the health of Campese and where it was 12 months ago. His recovery is paramount to the future of the Raiders.
The Raiders did well to turn what could've been a season of disappointment to a season of celebration that sets the tone for what appears to be a very exciting decade for the Green Machine.
The vital stats
Finished: 7th, progressed to semi-finals
Played: 26 matches incl. finals (2 byes)
Won: 14 matches
Lost: 12 matches
Points for: 499 points
Points against: 493 points
Points differential: +6 points
Top pointscorer: Jarrod Croker (centre) 126 points
Top tryscorer: Daniel Vidot (winger) 16 tries
Club player of the year