Purgatory’s favourite football team, the Canberra Raiders, are running a promotion at the moment to pick your favourite 17. So I thought I’d share my thinking about my selection for your reading pleasure.
You know the deal. This isn’t the best. It might not even be good. And to be honest you could convince me to change almost anyone in this list (except the hooker and the fullback). I did it intuitively and didn’t think too much. But these are the people that I loved. Even if they played poorly. Even if they left the club. These 17 people will always have a special spot in my heart.
Fullback: Gary Belcher
If you’ve been in these pages for a while you’ll know I have quite the thing for Gary Belcher. A legend of the game, both in the NSWRL and the Brisbane competition (where he won comps with none other than Big Mal and Wayne Bennett). He played for Australia. He played in Origin. He was Canberra’s best in so many crucial games that were part of Raiders’ premierships. The jink. The mo’. The way he chimed in on shifts like he knew what Darren Lockyer and Billy Slater would ‘invent’ 20 years later. What a player.
Honourable mention: the rest of them. Brett Mullins was unbelievable. Clinton Schifcofske a reason to believe when there wasn’t many. And Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad’s courage will always be inspiring.
Wings: John Ferguson and Jordan Rapana
Chicka was a legend to me as a kid. My dad would say he’d have a cigarette and a beer at halftime and still go on and run through, and around, players big, theoretically better, and definitely younger than him. By the time he retired in 1990 he was 36 and still probably the fastest player in the team.
Jordan Rapana broke his head and kept playing. Every run is a like a personal affront, like he’s annoyed that people have the temerity to try and tackle him. He can be a hot-head. Sometimes that results in mistakes. Sometimes is results in tries, glory and forty-fucking-twenties.
Honourable mentions: Noa Nadruku was like a drag-race. Shot out of a cannon and pure adrenaline. Kenny Nagas was a Lamborghini; smooth, brilliant, and going 200km an hour while still looking like she was in 3rd gear.
Centres: Big Mal and Adam Mogg
As a child Big Mal seemed like a god walking amongst men. The body of a prop with the pace of a back. He did everything you could in rugby league. And so they recognised him as an Immortal. Turns out little me was right.
Adam Mogg is the little engine that could. He wasn’t fast. He wasn’t strong. But he just kept trying. When he played origin, a mate and I went to the last game of the series (his second game) with home made Adam Mogg shirts. He scored a brilliant try, and gave us a thumbs up when we screamed his name and showed him our jerseys.
Honourable mentions: Leaving BJ Leilua out of this list killed me. The dude was a genius and infuriating, depending on what day of the week it was. Captain courageous Jarrod Croker is underrated, and his commitment to the club in tough times can never be questioned. What a legend.
Halves: Laurie Daley and Ricky Stuart
People remember Laurie Daley, the stunning athlete who tore the world apart in the early 90s. That player was amazing, and his 1995 may have been one of the great seasons by a rugby league player. But my favourite Laurie is the one who’s body gave up on him. The one who took the reigns after Sticky, Mal, Clyde, Belcher, Chicka etc had all left. The one who kept Canberra afloat well after the magic had gone.
I will go to my grave telling people that Ricky Stuart invented the modern halfback. All the kicking, long passes, and organisational play that most take for granted from star 7s. He should have retired a Raider.
Honourable mentions: I’ll always believe in you Aidan Sezer. And Chris O’Sullivan doesn’t get enough recognition in Raiders history.
Lock: Brad Clyde
Brad Clyde was nominally a lock but arguably he payed every position on the ground. Wherever the ball was, that’s where he was, tearing into the defence. He could beat you with strength. He could beat you with agility. Chuck in a grubber here and there too.
Honourable mentions: Alan Tongue and Shaun Fensom because they had hearts bigger than their bodies.
Second rowers: Ruben Wiki and Elliott Whitehead
Watching Ruben Wiki play football put the starch in your spirit. He was like a super hero. No matter how big the opposition he could handle them. I reckon standing next to him in the defensive line would make you feel a hundred times bigger.
Elliott Whitehead may be one of the most skilled and cerebral non-spine player I’ve had the pleasure of watching. Seeing him shift easily into whatever role the Raiders need from his was a privilege. But that he did that while being one of the highest effort players in Canberra history? What a blessing.
Honourable mentions: Shit where to stop? I never wanted Joel Thompson to leave. David Furner had that step. Ben Kennedy was brilliant before he had to leave. John Bateman was all the fight you needed for a whole side. Gary Coyne is in the list later (spoiler!) but it killed me I never found a spot for Dean Lance, wbo was tougher than nails.
Front row: Josh Papalii and Tom Learoyd Lahrs
Two big dudes who could rattle the soul of anyone they ran the ball at. The way Josh Papalii has carried the Canberra middle in the last few years cannot be ignored. I said they should build a statue for him at some point. I stand by that.
Tommy was less successful, but no less exciting. Watching him come off the back fence on a Saturday afternoon gave you the same feeling as a rocket taking off. All loins and grunting and jaws clenching. Just me? The main thing was every hit up felt like an event. It was awesome.
Honourable mentions: Sam Backo and David Grant were both before my time but seemed to matter to the club in a ‘you had to be there’ way. I couldn’t claim either because they’re not mine to claim. Mick Weyman could have been in picked for the same reason I picked Tommy. I’ve always been a Joe Tapine truther. Troy Thompson always gets a mention cos my mate’s favourite way to cheer for the Raiders was to yell for ‘Troy Thompson!’ Even when Troy wasn’t playing.
Hooker: Josh Hodgson
If you didn’t realise this was coming you must be new here. Josh Hodgson made the Raiders go for the best part of five years, and was only cruelled by repeated knee injuries. He was a savant who saw the game better than anyone else. *the drums from Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love you” kick in*
Honourable mentions: Boxhead obviously. Luke Priddis played one of the best games ever by a hooker in the 2003 grand final. It was a shame it wasn’t for the Milk.
Bench: Gary Coyne, Shaun Fensom, Jarrod Croker, Terry Campese.
This is pure favouritism. Gary Coyne is like Chris O’Sullivan – critical to the first generation of Canberra greatness but rarely mentioned for some reason. Shaun Fensom was all heart and effort. I wish the 2022 Raiders had a Shaun Fensom. Jarrod Croker will end his career with a bunch of Canberra records and the only thing I want is for him to make 300 games. Not enough people realise how amazing Terry Campese was in 2008, or 2010.
Honourable mention: about 400 other players
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