Dead men walking

You may have seen the movie, but this is real life and the Raiders are dead men walking at the moment.

Canberra finished the 2003 season in fourth position and after years in the finals wilderness, the Raiders finally earned the respect of the Rugby League world with their brutal defence and smart attack which, although not flashy, was certainly effective.

A heartbreaking loss to the Warriors in the finals ended the Raiders premiership campaign but at least they went down fighting and could still hold their heads high after what could only be described as a break out season for the Green Machine.

The feats of 2003 brought a much higher level of expectation for 2004 but this season to date can best be described as a disaster. The Raiders have gone off the boil at an alarming rate and currently find themselves in 11th place on the NRL ladder. It looks to be a steep mountain to climb if the Raiders are to make a dent in the 2004 finals.

When Canberra lost last year, they lost by small margins to quality teams but this year the Raiders have lost by 20 points to the Roosters, 18 points to the Panthers, 14 points to the Broncos and Sharks and we still have to play all these teams again and you can throw the rampaging Bulldogs into the mix as well. No doubt about it, things are looking bleak in Canberra.

The question on everyone?s lips is how did this happen so fast? The answer is I don?t know but I have my suspicions and the first is the Raiders are trying to play an expansive game that simply does suit their conservative, yard gaining style. Last year other teams criticised the Raiders for playing a boring style of game and it looks as though Matt Elliott has tried to please them rather than the Raiders own fans.

The other glaring problem is the lack of cohesion between the halves. Brad Drew is not a halfback and Matt Elliott?s persistence to play Drew at half has borne no results and earned the ire of the Raiders faithful. This move has also stifled the development of Mark McLinden. McLinden has the chance to establish himself as one of the best halves in the game but because he is shuffled around so often, his game has not excelled as a result of Elliott?s master plan.

Brad Drew is an impact player and should not be on the field at the same time as McLinden and Woolford. McLinden can get the team off to a great start but it all starts to unravel when Drew comes on. Is Drew solely responsible? Yes and no. It?s not his fault Elliott is persisting with a sterile game plan but Drew certainly does himself no favours with some very poor options in attack and his defence is questionable at best. Drew was palmed off by Brett Hodgson a fortnight ago and Hodgson is one of the smallest men in the NRL. It was embarrassing and cringe worthy to see him swept aside by such a small player.

The Raiders defence as a team has also gone south and in a hurry. The defence on the fringes of the ruck is non-existent and opposing sides are literally having a field day exploiting this obvious weakness. I certainly don?t have all the answers but if it ain't broke, why fix it? It seems we have forgotten what it is and what it takes to be successful.

We have just passed the halfway point of the season and although I am resigned to Raiders missing the finals, as a fan you would like to think the miracle run of wins could happen. So, whilst I sit here and contemplate another miserable off-season, I do slip in the odd prayer that the team I follow are not beyond salvation.

The last straw will be if Joel Monaghan and Ruben Wiki leave the club. We have already lost Michael Monaghan to Manly and it hurts to see promising juniors released at the expense of new players to the club who are not up to scratch. Todd Carney, the NSW under 19?s halfback is an exceptional talent but Matt Elliott refuses to give the kid a chance in the top grade. The Broncos and Bulldogs have already given Karmichael Hunt and Sonny Bill Williams a taste of first grade football and both have revelled in the step up in class, with Williams representing the Kiwi?s earlier this year and Hunt on the fringe of Qld selection. This is how superstars are made. If you are good enough, you are old enough.

Politics is the main game in Canberra, but Matt Elliott, leave it to the experts and stick to coaching and trying to win the Raiders first premiership since 1994. Then you can run for PM and you?ll have my vote.

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