The fact that the Raiders qualified for the finals for the third consecutive season shouldn�t disguise the reality that season 2004 was a failure for the �Green Machine�.
After the Canberra club enjoyed the success of being top four finishers in 2003 and many of their up and comers were involved in last year�s Premier League winning side, it was reasonable to expect another strong showing in 2004. But the truth is the Raiders never recaptured their 2003 form.
Despite winning four of their first six matches, the signs were apparent early in the season that the Raiders were going to struggle. The Raiders looked disorganised in the halves and at times they looked lost in their opponent�s end zone. Mark McLinden produced his best form in flashes, but he failed to deliver consistently. Brad Drew alternated between the halves and the bench and his form was up and down as well.
The Raiders went back to old losing habits away from the nation�s capital. After doing superbly to win 10 away matches in 2003, the Raiders won just 3 in 2004. A 36-22 defeat at Brookvale to lowly Manly was one of their poorest efforts.
The Raiders couldn�t complain so much this season about being overlooked by representative selectors. Clinton Schifcofske missed out on Queensland selection again. Prop Ryan O�Hara was selected in Game 1 for New South Wales but only played 20 minutes.
Coach Matt Elliott came under criticism late in the season after coming out in the media saying his side could still win the competition. Raiders fans were critical of him making such statements when a top eight place was far from guaranteed. Raiders fans were also frustrated with the lack of direction in the attack under Elliot as well as his continued selection of under performing players such as Jason Bulgarelli and Brad Drew.
The Raiders got a reprieve in their quest to make the eight after the Wests Tigers lost at Newcastle. Canberra took advantage and belted Souths 62-22 at home, a rare exhibition of free flowing football from the Green Machine. Marshall Chalk scored 4 tries against Souths to raise expectations of the young talent for 2005. The Raiders put in a valiant effort the following week against Minor Premiers, the Sydney Roosters, but were never a show after Clinton Schifcofske was sin binned for 10 minutes, losing 38-12.
BEST WIN: The Raiders displayed a rare determined 80 minute effort to upset the Brisbane Broncos 21-14 at Suncorp Stadium in Round 16. It was also only 1 of 3 away wins for 2004. Halfback Mark McLinden had one of his better games, weaving his magic around the rucks and setting up his outside men. The Raiders showed a steely resolve in defence more reminiscent of their 2003 form.
PREDICTION FOR 2005: Canberra fans were disillusioned with the club�s inability to hold on to rising star Joel Monaghan and club veterans Luke Davico and Ruben Wiki. They�ll probably miss Wiki the most because of his aggressiveness and the leadership he brings to the team. The club has replaced veterans with veterans, signing Jason Smith and Matt Adamson who�ve played several seasons in the English Super League competition. The question is, will Smith and Adamson be able to re-adjust to the quicker pace of the NRL in their twilight years? Bronco flyer Craig Frawley is a good signing and he could fill the void left by Monaghan�s departure. I don�t expect the Raiders to make a dramatic slide down the ladder but I think they were lucky to make the eight in 2004 and won�t get so lucky next year.
Match Records 2004 ROUND OPPONENT VENUE RESULT SCORE 1 St.George-Illawarra Dragons Oki Jubilee Stadium WIN 21-12 2 Penrith Panthers Canberra Stadium LOSS 18-34 3 North Queensland Cowboys Dairy Farmers Stadium WIN 19-18 4 Parramatta Eels Canberra Stadium WIN 26-12 5 BYE
6 Cronulla Sharks Toyota Park LOSS 24-38 7 Newcastle Knights Canberra Stadium WIN 19-18 8 Sydney Roosters Aussie Stadium LOSS 8-28 9 Brisbane Broncos Canberra Stadium LOSS 20-34 10 Wests Tigers Campbelltown Stadium LOSS 12-26 11 Melbourne Storm Olympic Park LOSS 18-22 12 Manly Sea Eagles Canberra Stadium WIN 48-22 13 New Zealand Warriors Ericsson Stadium LOSS 14-20 14 Cronulla Sharks Canberra Stadium WIN 26-16 15 Bulldogs Express Advocate Stadium LOSS 20-24 16 Brisbane Broncos Suncorp Stadium WIN 21-14 17 Wests Tigers Canberra Stadium WIN 32-24 18 North Queensland Cowboys Canberra Stadium WIN 32-28 19 Penrith Panthers Penrith Stadium LOSS 8-42 20 New Zealand Warriors Canberra Stadium WIN 30-29 21 Manly Sea Eagles Brookvale Oval LOSS 22-36 22 Newcastle Knights Energy Australia Stadium LOSS 14-20 23 Melbourne Storm Canberra Stadium LOSS 18-36 24 Sydney Roosters Canberra Stadium LOSS 22-38 25 BYE
Canberra Raiders � 2005 Player Movement
Gains: Jason Smith (Hull), Michael Howell (Dragons), David Howell (Dragons), Matt Adamson (Leeds), Craig Frawley (Broncos), Jermaine Ale (Roosters), Bronx Goodwin (Sharks), Damon Alley-Tovio (Rabbitohs), Ben Jones (Redcliffe).
Losses: Brad Drew (Huddersfield), Joel Monaghan (Roosters), Ruben Wiki (Warriors), Luke Davico (Wigan), Kosta Kouparitsas (Tigers), Nick Kouparitsas (Tigers), Matt McLay (Tigers)
By Michael Allen � Freelance Journalist