A Shallow Dive into the 2022 Canberra Raiders

Your men’s Canberra Raiders finished the 2022 NRL season in eighth place with a 14-10 record and +63 points difference. Conceding 461 points, the Raiders had the sixth best defence but only the eighth best attack, with 524 points being more than the bottom half of the table could manage but no better than the top half. Canberra’s Pythagorean expectation worked out to 13.5 wins, perfectly on target for their season. The Raiders beat the Storm in Melbourne, 28-20, in week one of the finals – as they are wont to do – and then were crushed by the Eels in Sydney in week two, 40-4.

The Canberra Raiders will join the NRLW next year.

The Victory Lap

From the pre-season deep dive:

For a team without dramatic turnover, choosing to cut loose deadweight like Curtis Scott and Dunamis Lui, there’s really two questions:

  1. How good is Jamal Fogarty? (that is, once he returns from a four month layoff)
  2. And can Ricky Stuart get the team back to their best?

I guess that makes me bullish on Canberra (perhaps more ethusiastically when Fogarty returns), although it’s largely for a lack of compelling reasoning as to why not to be bullish, than anything particularly inspiring the mean green machine has to offer. Many of these previews will read like their reviews from the season before because so little has really, meaningfully changed and, in that vein, the Raiders sit in the same group as the Sharks, Titans and Knights, vying for the last scraps of finals football. The order will likely be different this year and the Raiders look as good as any to be there in September.

This looked like a terrible take for most of the season but the FAITH was repaid, although let’s not look too closely at the teams that were vying for the last scraps of finals, considering the Sharks cleared that bar easily and the Titans and Knights were nowhere near it.

What happened

The Raiders began 2022 with a 2-6 record over the first eight games and then came home with a 12-4 finish to the season. Alarm bells were ringing after that opening phase to the season, although the power of retrospect mitigates that panic somewhat. The Raiders beat the Sharks by five and the Titans by only two but lost to the preliminary finalist Cowboys by 20 and then by six, the Storm by 14 and the defending premiers by 30. Yes, they should have beaten the Warriors (lost by one) and at least been closer to Manly (lost by 19) but that’s not a terrible start to the season given the opposition.

The four losses they clocked in the back two-thirds of the season were by eight to the preliminary finalist Eels, by six to a then-red hot Broncos (despite repeated off the ball infringements by the Raiders to attempt to cheat their way to victory!), by 20 to the defending premiers and a lapse of judgement two point loss to the Dragons. Signature wins included clocking the Sharks by 20, Souths by the same margin the following week and a win over the Storm by four in round 18.

For a middle of the pack team, that’s not bad. It’s good, even. As much as you might expect three of their losses to have fallen the Raiders’ way (vs Dragons, Warriors and either Manly or Broncos), there were close wins over the Knights and Dragons they could’ve dropped in potentially an equally embarrassing fashion. 14-10 was a perfectly respectable outcome for this team.

It’s a bit trite to say that everyone just got better from the first phase of the season to the second, but that seems to be the case. Tapine, Papali’i and Horsburgh were immense in the pack and Savage, Timoko and Kris were particularly productive out of the back lines.

In particular, there was a bigger output of production from the back five, including an increase in metres from 470m per game to 648m per game, a gain mirrored by the starting forwards, that pushed Canberra from also-ran to finals contention. If they start from there in 2023, things might go a bit more smoothly.

There’s always next year

It’s going to be more of the same isn’t it? The Raiders will continue to have one-to-two good years on and one-to-two bad years off, as they have since the end of their golden age.

Like the climate, the oscillations between peak and trough are getting bigger year-on-year. Given the lack of roster turnover and the fact that Ricky Stuart will likely be entombed at Bruce Stadium, you’d expect more of the same, maybe more, next year. The Raiders could be, maybe should be, a team that expects to be in the mix for preliminary finals each season but whether they will have a run quite like 2019 or, for that matter, 1987 through 1994, ever again, remains to be seen.