This is the first of a three part review of the Canberra Raiders 2018 season. Check back later for Part II and Part III.
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The Canberra Raiders took the most spectacular road to nowhere in 2018. They started with middling expectations, ended up exactly thereabouts, and still somehow frustrated their fans. It was an incredibly painful way to go nowhere.
At the start of the season almost everyone had them sitting on the precipice of the finals. Maybe in, maybe just out, but thereabouts. Through the 25 rounds of the season they found every bump in every road, needed repairing at every pit stop, and put their passengers through the kind of twists and turns that will make the hardiest traveller nauseous. All just to end up exactly where they started.
What made the Canberra Raiders so compelling in 2018 was that they so often looked much better, and much worse, than ‘just a middling’ side. It’s not news how many close games they lost (8 by less than a converted try), and how many they lost despite leading late (8 times they lead in the last 20 minutes and lost), or how often they gave away seemingly insurmountable leads (3 times they lead by more than 12 in the second half and lost). The 2018 season was nothing if not a thorough examination of what doesn’t work.
These crushing losses happened so often that it went beyond being a running joke. It became part of the culture of the side. It became endemic within the men on the field and the fans of it, to the point where the mere expectation of being in front made the Green Machine feel more frail.
In order to throw these games away, the Raiders had to play some pretty good football. In a single game they could look like the best side in the competition, as they did in the first half destruction of Brisbane. In the same game they could have weaknesses so glaring you wondered how they ever got in front. As did the second half collapse against Brisbane.
That is part of what made them so maddening. Were they a good team simply down on their luck? Or were they simply a flawed team that could only hide their weaknesses so long?
Both PythagNRL.com and Cleartheobstruction.com’s ratings systems had the Raiders as the 7th best side after 25 rounds. The Raiders under-performed their Pythagorean win expectation – generally considered a measure of luck – by 2.34 wins. So maybe the Raiders did lack the blessing of the good lady. Anyone who watched the loss to the Cronulla Sharks in round 19 can attest to that. If the Raiders had gone fifty-fifty in close games (decided by six or less) instead of 3-7 that would have covered that difference.
Effectively, instead of being a ten win team, they should have been a 12 win or better side. This means lucked played a significant role.
But the Raiders have under-performed their statistically expected win total in every season of Coach Stuart’s reign except for 2016, so at some level there’s probably truth in the old adage that you make your own luck. Regardless, two more wins would have only improved them to ninth, and they still would have been on the outside looking in comes finals.
This is all a fancy way of saying the Raiders were actually pretty good in 2018 for large periods. As the joke went, and the stats showed, the Raiders were the best team in the competition for sixty minutes of each game. But their flaws and their failing so often caught up to them.
It was rare to see the Raiders put in a consistent performance for 80 minutes – in either direction. By our count they had 5 ‘full-game’ performances in 2018:
- Round 5 v Bulldogs (26-10)
- Round 15 v Tigers (48-12)
- Round 18 v Cowboys (38-12)
- Round 23 v Roosters (14-12)
- Round 24 v Bunnies (24-12).
Even these games with their caveats. None of the Bulldogs, Tigers or Cowboys were elite teams in 2018. The Roosters and the Bunnies sights were firmly fixed on the finals, and in particular were still integrating their devastating left-side attack back from injury. Similarly, the only games they never had a chance in were against Souths (42-22 in round 7) and the Storm (44-10 in round 20). The rest of the time they were there and thereabouts. They just conspired to lose games in tragicomic ways.
Sidebar: My personal favourite victory is probably the round 5 victory over the Bulldogs. Maybe they weren’t as skilled as they were in other games. They didn’t look as fluid, and to be honest they were up against a side that was only just discovering it was rubbish. But coming off 4 straight losses, including three of the most heartbreaking games of anyone’s career. Then being called soft by your coach. Then losing your winger, bench utility and starting half, forcing Elliot Whitehead to six and Sia Soliola to centre. And still finding a way to manufacture points behind the brilliant Aidan Sezer? Just tremendous.
You can choose your own adjective to describe the season. For most frustration would suffice, though disappointing would also suit. Plenty ventured and only a little gained. At the end of 25 rounds they ended exactly where they started. Questions of whether they can finally put it together remain. They are still the ‘dark horse’ of the competition, the one with unfulfilled potential that one day set fire to the rain. Whereas we had said 2018 may be the last chance for Coach Stuart, now 2019 is his final hope. So many of the questions that burdened us before 2018 are no more clear after it. It was a journey to anywhere, and the Raiders made their own map.
Whatever the Raiders did in 2018, it’s clear that despite ending up exactly where most people thought they would, they under-performed. That’s almost impressive.
Do us a solid and like our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or share this on social media. Don’t hesitate to send us feedback (thesportress at gmail dot com) or comment below if you think we are stupid. Or if we’re not.
[…] This article is part of our series reviewing the Canberra Raiders 2018 National Rugby League season. You can check out Part I here. […]
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