As you may have noticed, the year, and also the decade is coming to a close. Most people doing the sports content are using this as an opportunity to look back over the decade. The result, as i’m sure you’ve noticed, has been often “Here’s [insert club name]’s team of the decade!”
It’s a fun little trop designed to engender arguments and clicks. I tend not to find it that interesting, mostly because the question for the Raiders is a bit light-on. How do you compare the 1 year Campo was good in this decade against the 1 year Wighton has played five-eighth? Who’s your starting halfback – Aidan Sezer or Sam Williams? Why does that feel familiar?
So rather than focus on old discussions or technical debates, we thought we’d take the opportunity to focus on the people that are often (though not always!) left out of these discussions. The people that have made the Raiders a joy to watch over the years, but don’t get enough recognition in our eyes.
Some ground rules. This is super subjective and mostly just based on feels. It’s the vibe of the thing. Generally though I tried to pick people who played a good chunk in the 2010s (though a few others snuck in…shoot me).
So here we go; the all under-appreciated Canberra Raiders: 2010-2019
Fullback: Reece Robinson
Smooth as silk and versatile across the back, Reece was an integral part of the first half of the decade. He could kick goals, and was quicker than people realised. Anyone that can do this is my kind of guy.
Wings: Edrick Lee and Jordan Rapana
Edrick Lee and Sandor Earl fought it out (in my head) for this spot. There’s similiarities. I’ve always felt they both copped a worse rap than they deserved. Sandor was the only person in league to lose their livelihood over the Dank PED’s scandal and given how open he was with the investigation (and what was offered to the Sharks players) that never felt right for me. Before that he was part of Dorguson with Blake Ferguson, which was like the first season of the Simpsons compared the Leipana’s seasons 3-9.
Edrick bungled a try in the 2016 preliminary final and some Raiders fans never ever forgave him for that. The anger towards him for that obscures that he was actually a pretty good Raiders, capable of good yardage and great leaping skills, as well as having an impressive set of wheels. He lost his job to Nic Cotric, which meant he never got a chance to win back our hearts. I was excited when did well at the Sharks and Knights. I gave it to him because he was part of a better side, but if Sandor was your pick here I wouldn’t have been mad.
It feels silly to put Jordan Rapana in here. How is a guy that played international football and was part of the most acclaimed centre/wing pairings underrated? Fair question. We’ve written about Rapana before (please read here). When he came to the club no one thought he’d become the player he was. Even when it seemed like he was settled it took a while before he was a certain starter in the side. And when the Raiders couldn’t pay the price this offseason, the rest of the NRL just let him go, despite him being only 31 and still have plenty of good footy in him. It’s a disgrace.
Centres: BJ Leilua and Joel Thompson
Look if you read these pages you know I think it’s criminal how BJ Leilua is underrated. When fit he’s been one of the elite centres of the competition for four years. On the field he does all the dirty work of a prop, with all the pizzazz of a half. He does have some mental errors, but these have been fewer and farther between over the years. He’s been rumoured to be on the outer every other year since Sticky brought him here from Newcastle. And now the Raiders have signed his younger, more handsome replacement. Well, call me the loyal wife/husband, but i’m not ready to move on.
Joel Thompson gets in here because I still wish he was a Raiders. A brilliant ball runner with a great off-load, I always thought he was going to form a back-row for the ages with Joe Picker and Shaun Fensom (I actually told Shaun Fensom this to his face once. He laughed and looked embarrassed and probably thought I was a little slow. A lot of people think i’m a little slow). He’s gone on to be appreciated by the Dragons before they decided he was expendable (they would kill to have him now), and was excellent for the Sea-Eagles in 2019. Oh yeah, and he’s a champion off the field too.
Halves: Sam Williams and Aidan Sezer
I did this because I’m sad that we spent so much energy debating between the two of them over the years. I’ll never forget that Sam played one of the greatest games by a Raiders half ever against the Sharks in 2012 (you can read my 3000 words on that game here). He’s been an increidble game-manager, a smart footy player and a critical depth player over the years. His only flaw has been his size, something that he could do little about.
For his part Aidan has been a lightening rod for fans’ frustration that he wasn’t all they demanded. I’ve written a bucketload about him in the past, but he was an integral part of the Raiders making the grand final for the first time in 25 years, dragged us to victory with both his boot and his run over the years, and should be loved more than he was by the community. I’ll miss him in 2020 as he dominates for Hudderfield. I just hope the Raiders don’t also.
Our team of the decade if you actually care:
1. Wighton 2. Cotric 3. Croker 4. BJ 5. Rapana 6. Campese 7. Sezer
13. Fensom 12. Bateman 11. Whitehead 10. Papalii 9. Hodgson 8. Vaughan
14. Shillington 15. Tongue 16. Soliola 17. Learoyd-Lahrs
Lock: Shaun Fensom
I love Shaun Fensom. You love Shaun Fensom. How did we let him leave and why were we ok with this? How did we not storm Raiders HQ and demand they re-sign him. I ask myself this at least once a month.
When he was with us he tackled. And tackled. And tackled. He lead the team in tackles. He lead the league in tackles. All he did was give his every inch of strength for Canberra. He did it healthy. He did broken.
Second-rowers: Elliot Whitehead and Joe Picker
Elliot Whitehead seems to be forgotten to often when people look at raesons for the Raiders success over the last few years. He’s played middle forward, edge forward, five-eighth and defending every position except wing and fullback. He through one of the best cut-out passes you will see as a stand-in six in 2016 against the Knights.
He’s covered for the defensive frailties of his teammates for four plus years now, It seems to me he’s almost forgotten in the excitement about John Bateman these days and gets some just recognition here.
Joe Picker was a bit smaller and faster for a back-rower. His left arm carry always made him stand out to me. He stood outside Terry Campese and worked off this shoulder brilliantly.
Props: Paul Vaughan and Sia Soliola
Paul Vaughan has been one of the best, and most consistent, props in the competition for the best part of five years now. A Raiders junior, we sacrificed him in order to pay Junior Paulo and Shannon Boyd which feels frustrating in hindsight. Guess who would have fit perfectly into the Raiders ‘small-ball’ approach in 2019. Sigh.
There was always something weird between him and Sticky. I’m not sure if was a Tevita Pangai Jr situation, or some other issue, but the club always saw him as expendable, and even play Clay flipping Priest ahead of him. My god.
Sia, however, is beloved by all. He’s played a million positions for the Raiders and covered a million holes in defence. Off the field he does the same, helping out at soup kitchens and generally being a role model to the community. Everyone appreciates Sia on and off the field.
I still think he’s underappreciated.
Hooker: Alan Tongue
Because he was strength when we didn’t have it. Because he played whatever position he had to in order for us to be better, even if it meant playing hooker when he had no business being a hooker. Because he never played rep footy even though he would have been excellent at that level.
Because today we don’t talk about him enough.
Bench: Josh Miller, Trevor Thurling, Kurt Baptiste and Jeff Lima.
Trevor Thurling has always seemed like a top bloke to me. He wasn’t the most talented player (he even admitted this himself) but he had a work ethic and an attitude that shone through. The day he scored three tries off the bench as the Raiders ran riot over the Panthers wasn’t in this decade, but I don’t care because Trevor Thurling is a champion.
To this day I’m convinced Josh Miller loved running into things. I always envisaged him walking down his hallway just bumping into the walls, pets, people. He just loved contact too much. He eventually retired in 2012 after too many concussions and now i’m sad.
No one complained about Kurt Baptiste more than me. Not because he wasn’t a great player, because he was, but because Josh Hodgson should be at hooker 90 minutes a game. But Kurt ran hard. Every time he got the ball he ran hard. Even after he busted his Achilles he still ran hard, which is an achievement in itself. Another victim of a tight salary cap. Sigh.
Jeff Lima is the last one here. A weird choice if you think about it. He played only 9 games across two seasons, and we were his last spot before he retired for good. But I always felt that he was a critical part of the club building a culture under Stuart. He played his heart out for Mounties, and contributed when he was needed to the top club.