Top ten Canberra Raiders stories of 2023: What you clicked on The Greenhouse this season

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Top ten Canberra Raiders stories of 2023: What you clicked on The Greenhouse this season

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Top ten Canberra Raiders stories of 2023: What you clicked on The Greenhouse this season

2023. It was the season that did not add up. The Raiders finished the regular season in the bottom five teams in attack and defence - and with a negative points differential of 137 points. Yet they finished in the top eight - and just missed progressing to the second week of the finals after a classic quarter final loss.

Most were predicting that the Knights, on a nine game winning streak, would easily win that elimination final in Newcastle. The Raiders limped into the finals really. They won two of their last seven games of the regular season. But Canberra forced the final into extra time and lost by only two points.

"It wasn't what everybody expected," Raiders coach Ricky Stuart said after the game.

"It wasn't what anybody expected outside our club. That's the Raiders DNA, what you have seen here tonight. That just showed so many people why we are in the eight. That's why we're a top eight team. Unlucky not to be in the top four. But not according to so many people. I can't be any prouder."

It was a Ricky Stuart special. He loves being the underdog, plotting an ambush, pitting the team against the world. The team was courageous, gallant and intense. They were "brawlers" - as Ricky Stuart described the style of team he was building this year - and bled green. It was Ricky Stuart siege mentality and grindball at its best. Kick high, kick long, kick often, tackle hard. But the trouble with that style of football is that it is too hard to sustain. It's too hard to consistently play like that week after week.

The best teams can grind when they need to, but they also have a second gear. Their standard of attack and defence is consistently high, but can lift mid-game when needed. For most of 2023, the Raiders did not have a second gear. The standards of attack and defence were not consistently high either.

Were the Raiders unlucky not to be in the top four? Not in my view. They finished three wins shy of the third placed Storm and fourth placed Warriors. They did do well to scrap their way into the top eight, considering some of the problems and challenges. Some were out of the Raiders' control, but some were not.

2023 Canberra Raiders NRL season review

2023 Canberra Raiders NRLW season review

2023 Highs and Lows

So, 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.

Wighton departs... and new beginnings

The biggest story of the year was the departure of Jack Wighton for the South Sydney Rabbitohs. It had widely been expected he'd be taking up the option in his contract to stay with the Raiders in 2024. But it was announced in late March he'd be testing the market, and before April was over - after a brief flirtation with the Dolphins - he'd signed with the Rabbitohs.

The Raiders had offered Wighton, their highest paid player, their key playmaker, in excess of $1 million per season to stay. He took a lot less money to go to the Rabbitohs - and it was widely reported that his motivation was to win a premiership. The Raiders did their best to deny that was the driver, given the obvious implications. We were told he was leaving simply because he "wanted a change".

The shock Wighton departure had the potential to derail the Raiders' season, but they did well to steady. And the fans were quickly looking to the future. The potential line up for 2024 was a hot topic, with coach Ricky Stuart declaring at season's end that youth is the way of the future.

The club pursued Gold Coast Titans second rower, David Fifita, hard. Coach Ricky Stuart even dropped in on Fifita's mum while on holidays on the glitter strip. But that "will he, won't he" contract saga ended with the Green Machine missing out on their man - twice. Fifita re-signed with the Titans in early March, to the end of 2026. As it turned out, his deal included a get out clause, should Titans head coach Justin Holbrook depart. And when Holbrook made way for new coach Des Hasler in June, the Fifita saga was briefly re-ignited - before it finally fizzled in early August.

Raiders fans were excited by the prospect of signing the NSW Blues Under 19s and junior Eels halfback, Ethan Sanders. It was reported in early June that he'd put pen to paper on a Raiders deal - but that proved to be premature. First it became clear that he could not actually sign until after November 1. Then, the NRL changed the contracting rules for "developed juniors" - so no one else could sign Sanders until after Round 6 next year. The Eels are still hoping to keep him. But his pathway to first grade at the Eels is blocked by Mitchell Moses and Dylan Brown. Hopefully, Sanders will be in green in 2025, at the latest.

Late in the year, the signing of English forward, Morgan Smithies, created some waves. Canberra's interest in the Wigan Warriors back rower was kept very quiet - until after the Super League season had finished. The news of the signing broke in mid October - and it only took a couple of weeks to agree on a transfer fee and for the deal to be made official.

Birthday blues

Jack Wighton was also in the news in February, after his 30th birthday celebrations ended in his arrest and the arrest of his cousin, Rabbitohs fullback Latrell Mitchell. There was allegedly an incident at Fiction nightclub in Civic, but onlookers said there had just been a bit of a friendly wrestle between the Blues and Kangaroos team mates. That the police had over-reacted. That there was nothing in it. That proved to be true, when the matter went to court. The case spectacularly collapsed when police evidence was found to have been falsified. Wighton and Mitchell had been put through an ordeal that was utterly unjustfied. On the third day of the trial, on November 1, the charges were dropped.


Jarrod Croker's 300th NRL match in green. It was emotional. A full stadium, at home. A special Viking clap for the entrance of Canberra Raiders captain, Jarrod Croker. In the third minute, the crowd rose as one and applauded, to honour the man in the No. 3 jersey. The night was the culmination of a week of well-deserved tributes for the boy from Goulburn, just the second Raider to reach the milestone of 300 NRL games. Just the 18th man to do it at one club.

After the match he was presented with the game ball and he struggled to speak. He was overcome with emotion... as he had been when waiting in the tunnel for the Viking Clap to reach its crescendo. There were many in the crowd with a tear in their eye too, as he made his speech.

"I'm probably more proud now to be a Raider than ever I have been," Croker said later.

Sadly, the result in the match, a big loss to the Warriors, was not what Raiders fans wanted. But they were probably never more proud of their captain. Croker hung up the boots at the end of the year - and he is sure to be remembered as one of Canberra's greats.

A new Canberra Stadium

For the Raiders' faithful, a new Canberra Stadium was again a big issue. More correctly, the lack of a new Canberra Stadium. When the ACT government kicked off the stadium debate in 2009, the aim was to have a new stadium in Civic by 2020. But this year, Chief Minister Andrew Barr described a new stadium as a "tenth order issue". In June, the ACT government released an update to the ACT Infrastructure Plan. In it, Canberrans were told that they'd have "a new or enhanced Canberra Stadium" by 2033. Maybe.

There was no actual plan for a new stadium. Just another feasibility study. Civic has been ruled out. The main focus will be on a 30,000 seat stadium at Bruce. However, one option is to simply "upgrade" the current stadium - despite all its major shortcomings. The Raiders said they'd support Bruce as the location, provided the stadium is completely rebuilt. ACT Senator David Pocock has still not given up on the Civic dream. No doubt, we'll hear a lot more about this "tenth order issue" in 2024.

On the field

Sadly, 2023 was a year in which some Green Machine losses attracted the most attention. Late season defeats at the hands of the Broncos and the Sharks. Early season losses to the Cowboys and Dolphins. The 41 point defeat to the Panthers in Round 5 didn't make it onto the top 10 lists. But the 46 point loss to the Storm did. The Raiders had been hoping to push their way into the top four, with a victory. But their five game winning streak in Melbourne came to a brutal end. The Raiders had scored a try in every match since Round 16 of 2013, but that record came to an end on that day too.

There were also some close shaves that made it onto the top 10 lists. The Raiders just staved off a late charge against the Tigers in Campbelltown, while the Bulldogs refused to go away in Magic Round. On the positive side, they were the sort of games that showed how the Raiders could scrap their way to a close victory.

Coaching reins

In July, reports began to link Ricky Stuart to the job of New South Wales coach - in the event there was a vacancy. It was thought that the Raiders board would be agreeable to him taking the job on, alongside his club duties. Incumbent Brad Fittler finally quit in September. But by early October it became clear that Stuart and the Raiders board was of one mind: Stuart must focus exclusively on an inexperienced Raiders team in 2024. That's when Stuart suggested suggested to Raiders assistant, Michael Maguire, that he should put his hand up.

Maguire quickly became the favourite for the NSW job - but it took until the end of November before he was confirmed as the new Blues coach. He ended up having to give up his job as the coach of the New Zealand Kiwis, as well as his role of "senior NRL consultant" with the Raiders. But he will be a part time consultant with the Raiders in 2024 - analysing Canberra's upcoming opponents from his Sydney base. NSW Cup coach Justin Giteau will replace Maguire as NRL assistant for next season. It is a well deserved elevation. Hopefully, it'll be a coaching team that has a successful reign in 2024.


Top ten stories based on daily site traffic:

1. Jack Wighton and Latrell Mitchell arrested over alleged fight (5-7 February)
2. Raiders lose against Broncos at Canberra Stadium (26 August)
3. Raiders ring in changes for Round 27 clash with Sharks (29 August-3 September)
4. Raiders suffer big defeat at the hands of the Storm in Melbourne (13-14 August)
5. Jack Wighton signs with South Sydney Rabbitohs (25-29 April)
6. Raiders suffer narrow finals loss in epic encounter in Newcastle (10 September)
7. Raiders sign English forward Morgan Smithies (17-19 October)
8. Rabbitohs enter race for Jack Wighton, while Ricky Stuart backs Wighton's decision to retire from representative football (19 April)
9. Raiders repel last gasp comeback from Tigers, winning 20-19 (2 June)
10. Raiders fall to Cowboys, 19-18, in season opener (4 March)

Top ten individual threads based on views:

1. Jack Wighton departs Raiders
2. Raiders miss out on David Fifita
3. Raiders target Eels junior half Ethan Sanders
4. A new Canberra Stadium
5. Ricky Stuart coaching issues
6. Raiders assistant Michael Maguire takes up Blues job
7. Raiders team for 2024
8. 2023 Finals Week 1 v Knights: Game Day
9. Raiders sign Morgan Smithies on three year deal
10. Jack Wighton and Latrell Mitchell cleared after alleged fight

Top ten individual threads based on replies:

1. Jack Wighton departs Raiders
2. Ricky Stuart coaching issues
3. 2023 Finals Week 1 v Knights: Game Day
4. Raiders miss out on David Fifita
5. 2023 Rd 14 v Tigers: Game Day
6. 2023 Rd 26 v Broncos: Game Day
7. 2023 Rd 10 v Bulldogs: Game Day
8. 2023 Rd 22 v Knights: Game Day
9. 2023 Rd 2 v Dolphins: Game Day
10. Jarrod Croker's 300th NRL match

* Individual threads from the Canberra Raiders forum, excluding permanently stickied and recurring threads.
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