Top ten Canberra Raiders stories of 2020

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Don Furner
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Top ten Canberra Raiders stories of 2020

Post by greeneyed »

Top ten Canberra Raiders stories of 2020: What you clicked on The Greenhouse

2020. It was a year that arrived with high hopes for Canberra Raiders fans. The Raiders were coming off their best season in 25 years. The Raiders had not made the Grand Final for a quarter of a century - and the Raiders got "oh so close" to a fourth premiership in 2019. 2020 would surely be the year that their long title drought would be broken? Surely the old adage would apply? That you have to lose a Grand Final to win one. But the 2020 season turned out to be one like no other in the 113 year history of the game in Australia.

The year started with the country engulfed by bush fire and then by a pandemic. The coronavirus forced the suspension of the season after two rounds - and with broadcasting and other revenues evaporating, the game was on the brink of financial collapse. The remarkable efforts of ARLC Chair, Peter V'landys, somehow put the game back on course. The season resumed at the end of May, with a shortened competition concluding well into October - and Origin played well into November.

All clubs faced challenges, but the Raiders probably faced more than their share. In the pre season, they were forced to relocate to the Sunshine Coast, due to thick bush fire smoke in Canberra. On the resumption of the season, they were forced to play their home games at Campbelltown Stadium, the only club required to travel long distances to every one of their games. That lasted until their return to Canberra Stadium for the Round 8 clash with the Dragons. The Green Machine also had to overcome a massive injury toll. They lost co-captain and main play maker, Josh Hodgson for the season due to an ACL injury, while the forward pack was decimated by long term injury.

Despite it all, the Raiders finished in fifth place and played in a Preliminary Final, their third in the space of five years. They were in there fighting for a top four finish right up until the final round of the regular season. We've not seen that consistency of performance from Canberra since 1997. It told us a lot about the players who stepped up to fill the breach. It told us a lot about the courage, grit and determination of players and coaches.

So in a truly unique season, what did the fans discuss the most? What news did they crave? Today, we reveal the top ten Canberra Raiders stories on The Greenhouse of the year.

Click here for more of the Canberra Raiders 2020 season highs and lows.

The pandemic

It is no surprise that the pandemic was the No. 1 story of 2020, causing four of the top 10 spikes in site traffic on The Greenhouse this year.

On the day of the Raiders' season opener against the Titans, professional sports competitions all around the world were closing down. Just hours before the game at Canberra Stadium, the Prime Minister and Premiers agreed that large crowds would not be able to gather - from the following Monday. It only became clear that the Canberra game would proceed, with a crowd in attendance, just before the gates opened. It was just the start of the chaos. The Raiders planned meeting with the Warriors in Auckland in Round 2 was switched to the Gold Coast. It was played in front of no crowd. It was the Raiders' last game for two months.

Peter V'landys quickly set a target of 28 May for the resumption of the season. It was ambitious. The "Project Apollo" process was established to do everything necessary to return the game to the field. It was so called, because it seemed almost as unlikely as putting man on the moon.

But by early May, the "Project Apollo" plans were crystallising - and record numbers of readers on The Greenhouse followed every new step. News broke shortly before a revised 2020 draw was announced that the Raiders would have to play their home games at Campbelltown Stadium - three hours up the road by bus. The players returned to training at the same time, in a "COVID safe bubble". Meanwhile, controversy raged over whether all the players should have an influenza vaccination - as the NRL promised the State governments that they would, under the "Project Apollo" protocols. The Raiders had three players who refused the injections - Josh Papalii, Joe Tapine and Sia Soliola. In the face of opposition from some players, the NSW Government relented on the requirement, but the Queensland Goverment stood firm. As it turned out, by the time the Raiders players had to cross the border into Queensland, it had become a "non issue". Special exemptions were provided to the players by Queensland Health on medical grounds.

Ultimately, the NRL resumed on 28 May, as Peter V'landys had promised. Ironically, the return of the Raiders to the field in Round 3 - an impressive win over the Storm in Melbourne, which saw Canberra installed as an early premiership favourite - didn't feature in our top 10 lists.

The footy

The football proved to be secondary, based on the stories clicked by the fans, at least. Despite the Raiders again making a Preliminary Final, interest in the actual games seemed to decline as the season progressed. The Week 3 finals clash with the Storm at Lang Park was one of the most commented upon on game day... but it was outside the top 10 spikes in our site traffic.

The games that generated most interest - according to site traffic - came in the middle of the year: the backs to the wall Grand Final re-match against the Roosters at the SCG in Round 10 and the gritty win over the Rabbitohs in Round 11. Both games were played at the height of the Raiders' injury crisis and the wins showed that the season was not over for the Green Machine. Given the adversity that Canberra faced in the Grand Final re-match - six of their 2019 Grand Final team missing due to long term injury, left with a squad of just 18 fit players with any NRL experience - it surely will go down as one of the most courageous in the history of the club.

The Raiders' Week 2 finals win over the Roosters was possibly the best of the year... but it finished just outside the top 10 spikes in our site traffic. Pre season interest in the Raiders was high for the NRL Nines in Perth. Other big games included the disappointing loss to the Sea Eagles at Campbelltown in Round 6 and the Round 7 golden point loss to the Eels. The loss to the Storm in Round 9 at Canberra Stadium - the game in which Josh Hodgson suffered his ACL injury - finished just outside the top 10 topics based on daily site traffic. The wins over the lowly ranked Broncos and Bulldogs surprisingly generated a lot of discussion.

Comings and goings

Player departures and arrivals have generally been a popular topic of discussion on The Greenhouse - except in 2019. It was a return to normal transmission in 2020.

The most long running contract saga involved John Bateman. That produced the most viewed thread on The Greenhouse in 2020. Bateman first raised the issue of re-negotiating his contract in Grand Final week of 2019. The saga ended on June 30, with the Raiders releasing him a year early - and he soon signed a deal to return to England and the Wigan Warriors. His contract negotiations for a new deal at the Raiders were protracted and messy, and at the least, did not reflect well on Bateman's agent, Issac Moses. He reportedly promised deals with other NRL clubs but they did not eventuate. In the end, however, there is no doubt that a return to England was the best outcome for Bateman. He’s now re-united with his daughter and his family after a year of separation caused by the pandemic.

Nick Cotric's departure for the Canterbury Bulldogs was another significant, and sad, loss for the Green Machine. The local Canberra junior, still aged just 21, signed with the Bulldogs in July - reportedly on a three year deal, worth $600,000 a season. After an extended period of contract negotiations, the Raiders decided to take their offer off the table, believing they had made a generous offer for a winger - and after Cotric's manager reportedly upped the ante one time too many.

The mid-season signing of Corey Harawira-Naera in July was welcomed by Raiders fans for two reasons. Not only was he desperately needed by a club in the midst of an injury crisis, he offered the prospect of a long term replacement for John Bateman. In early April, Harawira-Naera and Jayden Okunbor had their contracts terminated by the Bulldogs, and they were deregistered by the NRL, due to off field incidents during a pre season trip to Port Macquarie. In mid July, the NRL Appeals Tribunal determined that the contract terminations were too harsh and should be reversed - with Harawira-Naera handed a 10 game suspension and $15,000 fine instead. Harawira-Naera, however, refused to return to the Bulldogs - and on July 22 signed a two and a half year deal with the Raiders.

Jordan Rapana's return to the Raiders in May, after a short stint with Japanese rugby union, was another piece of good news. One of most significant re-signings came in early February, with Jack Wighton signing a record four year deal with the Raiders. He went on to win the Meninga Medal and Dally M Player of the Year award. Wighton's contract extension didn't make any of our top 10 lists, however, with most of the negotiations taking place in 2019. The re-signing of Josh Papalii to the end of 2024 - the man who shared in the Meninga Medal and produced the Dally M Tackle of the Year - was also outside our top 10 lists... as was the signing of Titans prop Ryan James.

Unlawful arrest

It was a difficult year for every NRL player in a season affected by the pandemic. But for Curtis Scott it was a year he'll definitely want to forget. He was signed by the Raiders from the Melbourne Storm on a four year deal in late November 2019. But before he could play a game in green, he was arrested in Moore Park, after a "big day out" in Sydney on Australia Day. It turned out to be one of the most discussed stories of the year.

Various charges, including assaulting police, hung over Scott for much of the season, before he was found to have been unlawfully arrested in September. Body cam footage of the arrest showed he'd been subjected to horrible treatment from NSW Police, tasered and blinded by capsicum spray. It was unprovoked by Scott, who was in a deep sleep under a tree before the arrest. The magistrate concluded he would have been "safer if he'd wandered onto the roadway and been hit by a car", than left in the hands of the arresting police officers. He was subsequently awarded $100,000 to cover his legal costs. He’s now seeking damages.

Both Raiders coach Ricky Stuart and Scott himself said that the incident and the legal case impacted his training and his football. Scott was upfront in admitting that his own behaviour put himself into the situation - and he apologised to his family and the club for it. But he certainly did not deserve the treatment he received from police and the aftermath.

"It was tough there for nine months, waiting," Scott said after being cleared by the court.

"Knowing that the allegations that were tossed out weren't true. Now, it's a big weight off my shoulders, a big cloud that's finally passed over my head. I can walk around with my head up and get on with everything."

"I've been coming in and putting on a brave face. Knowing that I'm at such a great club that supported me through it all and such a great playing group, it just made it much easier to come in. But always laying down in bed at night thinking, 'What if these charges stick? I could be out in the workforce every day'. That's pretty scary and I'm pretty grateful."

Hopefully, Curtis Scott heads into a much better year in 2021. We hope we all do. Raiders fans will be dreaming that the Green Machine can finally break their long premiership drought. Will 2021 be the year of the Raider?


Top ten stories based on daily site traffic:

1. Raiders face Warriors in Round 2 behind closed doors, before NRL season suspended (March 21-23)
2. Raiders forced to call Campbelltown home, while players return to training... and controversy reigns over flu jabs for Papalii, Tapine and Soliola (May 4-11)
3. Jordan Rapana re-joins the Raiders, while Project Apollo plans come together (May 7)
4. Corey Harawira-Naera signs with Raiders (July 22)
5. Curtis Scott arrested by police in early hours following Australia Day, while Wests Tigers sign Joey Leilua (January 27)
6. Gritty Raiders defeat Rabbitohs in Round 11 (July 25-26)
7. Raiders' season kicks off with NRL Nines in Perth (February 14)
8. Backs to the wall win for Raiders in Round 10 Grand Final re-match, while Cotric signs with Bulldogs (16-18 July)
9. Canberra Raiders decide to release John Bateman (June 30)
10. Raiders kick off season against Titans amidst pandemic chaos (March 12-13)

Top ten individual threads based on views:

1. John Bateman heads back to Wigan Warriors in 2021
2. Curtis Scott police charges dropped after unlawful arrest
3. Nick Cotric signs with Canterbury Bulldogs on $2 million three year deal
4. Corey Harawira-Naera signs with Canberra Raiders to end 2022
5. Canberra Raiders prepare for tough times after NRL season suspension
6. Canberra Raiders eye a return to Canberra Stadium
7. 2020 Round 16 V Bulldogs: Teams and Previews
8. 2020 Round 14 V Broncos: Teams and Previews
9. Curtis Scott denies he's heading to the Canterbury Bulldogs
10. 2020 Round 10 V Roosters: Game Day

Top ten individual threads based on replies:

1. Curtis Scott police charges dropped after unlawful arrest
2. John Bateman heads back to Wigan Warriors in 2021
3. Nick Cotric signs with Canterbury Bulldogs on $2 million three year deal
4. Canberra Raiders prepare for tough times after NRL season suspension
5. 2020 Preliminary Final V Storm: Game Day
6. 2020 Round 10 V Roosters: Game Day
7. 2020 Round 7 V Eels: Game Day
8. 2020 Round 6 V Sea Eagles: Game Day
9. Corey Harawira-Naera signs with Canberra Raiders to end 2022
10. 2020 Round 16 V Bulldogs: Game Day

* Individual threads from the Canberra Raiders forum, excluding permanently stickied and recurring threads.
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Don Furner
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Re: Top ten Canberra Raiders stories of 2020

Post by greeneyed »

It was interesting going through the site statistics in a fair bit of detail yesterday. I was surprised that the site statistics overall went up in 2020, a bit higher than last year, when the Raiders made the Grand Final. Having raked through the numbers, though, there were some interesting trends.

There was a good amount of pre season interest in the footy (the Nines)... though interest in the trial was quite a bit down on the usual.

Traffic for Rounds 1, and particularly Round 2, were out of the ball park. Huge, numbers... I guess generated by the uncertainty of what was happening.

Once the season was suspended, site traffic fell to off season levels, probably halved or worse.

Then in early May there was an absolute explosion as details of the season resumption started to come out (playing home games at Campbelltown, training bubbles, flu injections). But by the time the footy actually started, it had dropped to normal season levels... then probably lower than usual.

The peak interest in the footy on the site, came with the Rd 10 Grand Final re-match and the Rd 11 win over the Rabbitohs. From there the games were well below their usual average.

Peaks in site traffic mostly came with signing news or controversial events, rather than the footy. That was a pattern we often saw in years when the Raiders were performing poorly on field, and generating news "off field". In 2020 the Raiders were performing well, but interest in the football declined, the longer the season went.

As soon as the Raiders were eliminated, off season traffic quickly arrived. There wasn't any bump from Origin or the Grand Final.

I'm left wondering why the fall off in interest in games. I guess it is possible that it was due to other platforms and competitors taking the traffic. But we have also seen lower interest in games in television ratings: ... 19%20total.

Was it the uncertainty and disruption to the season? Were no or low crowds impacting the atmosphere and therefore the interest? Did the season extend too far into the spring? Was the quality of the football at fault? We have been told the rule changes make the game more attractive... but was the style of football and the bigger margins a turn off? I guess time will tell on that.

The NRL and clubs no doubt have their own statistics, which measure interest in the games. It'd be interesting to know if our stats are reflected in theirs.
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Re: Top ten Canberra Raiders stories of 2020

Post by Fuifui Bradbrad »

That is interesting General. Was there any spikes in viewership during the GH Voting Competitions? I’d imagine that would have been peak lockdown viewership
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Don Furner
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Re: Top ten Canberra Raiders stories of 2020

Post by greeneyed »

Fuifui Bradbrad wrote: December 30, 2020, 5:11 pm That is interesting General. Was there any spikes in viewership during the GH Voting Competitions? I’d imagine that would have been peak lockdown viewership
Helped boost the numbers, no doubt!
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