Raiders need big start for Campo's sake - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Raiders need big start for Campo's sake

By Matt Sadler 02/03/2011 02:21:13 PM Comments (0)

The Canberra Raiders are in unfamiliar territory entering the 2011 NRL season, unused to critics expecting them to do well.

For nearly a decade the Raiders were widely tipped to occupy the bottom of the table, and year after year they defied such grim predictions by exceeding expectation with no-frills rosters.

But the green machine have shown enough in the last couple of seasons to suggest their young and talented ensemble could soon be ready to deliver a premiership.

It seems their best chance has now come.

Coach David Furner's side has tremendous balance, with a massive forward pack, speed in the outside backs, clever halves enhanced by key signing Matt Orford, and the influence of the game's latest star, fullback Josh Dugan.

The glaring question this season is how the emergent Raiders cope with the unfamiliar pressure of expectation - and being without key playmaker Terry Campese for the first half of the season.

The Raiders enjoy being 300km from the Sydney spotlight, but they have been preparing themselves to receive more attention.

"We've spoken about it. We're not a side that'll go under the radar any more," said Furner.

Getting off to a good start will be vital for Canberra's chances, given Campese is expected to be sidelined for the first 10-14 weeks.

The star five-eighth is still recuperating from knee surgery from his devastating injury in last year's 26-24 semi-final loss to Wests Tigers.

The Raiders finished last year on a high, winning nine of their last 11 games, charging into the playoffs with more momentum than anyone, and were desperately unlucky to be knocked out by the Tigers.

But before their run, Canberra were languishing in 13th place on the ladder.

They can't afford a similarly slow start and will have to fight hard to keep themselves in the finals mix so that, when Campese returns, the climb to the playoffs isn't too steep.

"We've got a very strong squad," says Furner.

"We'll have a narrow focus going into the season on making sure that we get away to a good start."

The Raiders have recruited well with Orford the perfect signing, especially with Campese out of action.

The former Manly premiership captain has the experience to direct the team from halfback, and the kicking game to establish as threatening a combination with Dugan as he did with Brett Stewart at the Sea Eagles.

The 20-year-old Dugan has been lauded as the next Brett Mullins, but even that comparison with a Raiders legend might prove an understatement for a player who seems destined for NSW Origin selection in 2011.

Josh McCrone is one of the game's most promising young halves and he has a chance to make a go of the five-eighth position to start the year, and learn from Orford about how to steer a team around the park.

"It's a role there that's learnt by experience and Matt's had a tremendous amount," Furner said.

Canberra's other key acquisitions include former Cronulla speedster Blake Ferguson and ex-Melbourne enforcer and NSW Origin player Brett White, who adds more representative experience to the Raiders' forward back.

The Raiders are a genuine dark horse.

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