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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The best Canberra Raiders team in my time

Being born in 1994 isn’t ideal for a lifelong Raiders fan.

Not being able to witness the club’s three premierships in 1989, 1990 and by just a couple of months, the 1994 grand final victory and all those great players has been tough.

Unfortunately, since then the Raiders’ success has been rather limited. Last year’s amazing run was the best we’ve seen since 1994 but led to a brutal grand final loss. I know, sorry to bring it up (6) again.

As a sport tragic, the past few weeks have been bloody tough. I know there’s lots of people struggling at the moment in all walks of life, but for me it’s always been sport that brings joy when I’m feeling blue.

Now that’s been taken away from me, it’s meant watching a lot of classic games on Fox League, including the great 1989 grand final.

The other form of rugby league fix has been reading lists of the greatest sides to ever play in the NRL. Many legends in recent days have been producing their best teams to play for each club, including Mal Meninga’s greatest Raiders team.

The only players in his side that I have seen play are the ones on the bench. So I thought why not come up with my own greatest Raiders side from my time watching the Green Machine. There is a definite bias towards recent players so if you’re a fan of the old era I apologise in advance.

1 – Clinton Schifcofske 139 games

One of my absolute favourite players as a kid. I used to love the way he kicked for goal. The ball boy would come onto the field with a pile of sand, he’d carefully mould it so the ball would sit just right for him, take his steps back, close one eye for what felt like an eternity, run in and go bang. Had to be in my side for that alone. I have a feeling in a couple of years though, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad might take his place in this prestigious side.

Clinton Schifcofske lining up to kick at goal with his trusty pile of sand. Getty

2 – Nick Cotric 71 games*

(* player still playing)

Cotric burst onto the scene in 2017 as one of the largest 18-year-olds I’ve seen in the league and slotted right into the Raiders first grade side with ease. He’s still only 21 years of age but has already played 71 games for Canberra and represented NSW and Australia. It was between him and Adam Mogg for this spot but went with Cotric because he’s simply a beast. Lavish.

3 – Jarrod Croker (C) 258 games*

First picked in my side and easy choice as captain. The Goulburn product has been consistently good for the Raiders since making his debut in 2009. He’s been so solid through the good years and bad years it’s hard to believe he hasn’t represented his state. Croker is the leading try scorer and point scorer for the Raiders and still has plenty of good footy left in him.

4 – Joel Monaghan 121 games

The local boy was a star for the Raiders. Monaghan provided the team with plenty of strike power, scoring 67 tries over his two stints for the Green Machine. He earned himself rep honours for NSW and played for Australia at the 2008 World Cup. Would’ve gone down as a Raiders legend if he hadn’t been released after some mad Monday antics went too far. Ah well, I’m sure a place in this side more than makes up for that.

5 – Jordan Rapana 113* games

My all-time favourite Raider. Rapana won a lot of Raiders fans’ hearts in 2016 when he tore it to shreds and broke the club record with 23 tries in a season. A prolific try scorer, Rapana scored 69 tries in 113 games with the Raiders but it was his damaging ball running that I enjoyed so much. Deceptively strong, Rapana always seemed to break a tackle when it seemed unlikely. His runs out of dummy half were a sight to behold. Was sad to see him go to Japanese rugby but who knows, maybe we’ll see him back one day soon.

Rapana celebrating one of his many tries for the Green Machine. Getty

6 – Jack Wighton 157 games*

He’s played fullback and is now one of the best five eights in the NRL but I believe he could just about play anywhere. In fact, he played outstandingly for NSW at centre in last year’s Origin. Scored the Raiders only try in the grand final, was clearly the best player on the field and was rewarded with the Clive Churchill medal. With his supreme athleticism and much improved kicking game, he had to be in my side.

7 – Todd Carney 71 games

The controversial Goulburn boy made plenty of headlines off the field but it’s hard to deny his talent on the field. Not a huge list of great Raiders halfbacks to choose from in my time and although it was brief, I enjoyed watching Toddy the most. Carney ended up representing his state and country while playing for the Roosters after being sacked by Canberra.

8 – Josh Papalii 197 games*

Another of my favourite players to pull on the lime green jersey. Papalii turned himself into the premier front rower of the competition last season while collecting his third Mal Meninga medal at the Raiders awards night. He’s been a regular fixture in the Queensland and Australian sides the past few years. His barnstorming try against the Rabbitohs in last season’s preliminary final to seal a spot in the grand final will forever be etched in my mind.

Josh Papalii scoring that amazing try against the Bunnies. Getty

9 – Josh Hodgson 108 games*

Hodgson is an easy choice at hooker. Since coming over from the UK in 2015, Hodgo has become one of the most influential players in the side. His crafty play from dummy half has set up many tries and his astute manipulation of the rules saw him become the best one-on-one stripper in the game last year. His leadership is also a feature of his game and was rewarded with the co-captaincy last year.

10 – Dave Shillington 131 games

The gentle giant Dave Shillington was one of the best front rowers in the game in his time at Canberra. Shillington was an imposing figure on the field and consistently laid a platform for his backline to attack. He represented Queensland and Australia numerous times and won the Mal Meninga medal in 2010.

11 – John Bateman 22 games*

In just one season for the Green Machine, the English import has cemented himself as one of the best second-rowers in the game. Bateman had a stellar debut year for the Raiders in 2019 and was named the Dally M second-rower of the year. He’s got plenty of skill but it’s his toughness that I love so much. He doesn’t look overly big but I would back him in a street fight against anyone else in the comp. Tough as nails.

12 – Elliott Whitehead 101 games*

The other English second-rower has been in the national capital a bit longer than Bateman but probably hasn’t received the credit he deserves. Such a reliable defensive presence on the edge, ‘Smelly’ has also proven himself a dangerous attacking weapon with 24 tries. Pretty happy with the All-English second-row.

13 – Alan Tongue (VC) 220 games

The great man Alan Tongue was the only option for lock as far as I was concerned. Small in stature but Tonguey more than made up for it in heart. The saying “it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog” was almost made for him. He was named Dally M Lock and Captain of the year in 2008. Not just a great player but also a great bloke, he was named ACT Australian of the Year in 2017.

A much loved Raider, featuring a rather cheeky sign. Getty


14 – Terry Campese 139 games

Ahh, Terry Campese. In the late 2000’s it looked like Campese would become one of the greatest Raiders to ever lace them up. His 2008 season was a joy to watch as he came second in Dally M voting. When he was on, he was a wizard with the footy and earned himself NSW and Australian rep duties. However, injuries cruelled the Queanbeyan local and he never completely fulfilled his potential. Still good enough to grab the 14 jersey in this side.

15 – Sia Soliola 110 games*

Sia is one of the most versatile forwards in the game, having played centre, lock, second-row and now mainly prop. He has become a fan favourite in Canberra with his play on the field but also does a great job in the Canberra community. Despite being 33, Sia shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Sia loves the people and people love Sia. Getty

16 – Shaun Fensom 139 games

Shaun Fensom was an absolute workhorse for the Raiders in his time here. He won consecutive Mal Meninga medals in 2011 and 2012 through his tireless work-rate, including a 75-tackle effort against the Bulldogs in 2011. You just knew exactly what you were going to get with Fensom and that’s why he’s in my side.

17 – Tom Learoyd-Lahrs 109 games

Big Tommy Learoyd-Lahrs was an absolute man mountain. At 194cm and 115kg, he made his presence felt every time he stepped out there for the Green Machine. Went on to represent NSW and Australia but is mainly in my side because of the sheer size of the man. Couldn’t leave him out.

Coach – Ricky Stuart

A no-brainer with Ricky Stuart the head coach of this side. Stuart has brought passion and a sense of community since taking over in 2014. The former Raiders superstar halfback clearly has a love for Canberra and it shows in the way he speaks about his team and his city. Stuart has taken the Raiders to a prelim and a grand final in his time here.

A true Raiders legend. Getty

My complete side 1 through 17

  1. Clinton Schifcofske
  2. Nik Cotric
  3. Jarrod Croker ©
  4. Joel Monaghan
  5. Jordan Rapana
  6. Jack Wighton
  7. Todd Carney
  8. Josh Papalii
  9. Josh Hodgson
  10. Dave Shillington
  11. John Bateman
  12. Elliott Whitehead
  13. Alan Tongue
  14. Terry Campese
  15. Sia Soliola
  16. Shaun Fensom
  17. Tom Learoyd-Lahrs

Coach – Ricky Stuart

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