BY A.J NASH and SCOTT DILLON
Some could not help but laugh when Canterbury coach Dean Pay recently said the Bulldogs were a chance of playing finals footy in 2019.
It makes it slightly harder to believe him after Thursday night’s 14-8 loss to fellow battlers Parramatta at ANZ Stadium.
But history says it is possible.
If the Bulldogs are looking for inspiration then they should look no further than Matt Elliott’s Canberra Raiders sides of the early 2000’s.
Those Canberra teams were never premiership heavyweights – they were barely a top 8 team. But what they lacked in fire power they made up in heart. They were teams you could bet your mortgage on. They would never beat themselves and always gave 100%.
The NRL is such a tight competition that if you give 100% every week, you’re going to win more games than lose.
Elliott’s Raiders finished 8th in 2002 and 2004 and qualified for the 2006 finals by finishing 7th.
Despite a weaker roster, Canberra were always there, always fighting.
Pay has already been forced to watch Moses Mbye and Aaron Woods walk out the door mid-season while the Morris twins are leaving at season’s end. There’s also whispers hulking prop David Klemmer could be headed to cashed-up Newcastle.
It got worse on Thursday when they fell to the last place Eels.
Pay backed the young halves pairing of Lachlan Lewis and Jeremy Marshall-King.
“You can’t just throw them out; we’ve got to stick with them and keep working hard,” he said.
“They’re going to get better but it’s just a progression of where we’re at.”
God knows what the Bulldogs will look in 2019.
All Pay can do is teach his team to fight. To give 100% just like those Raiders sides.
The 2002 Raiders were knocked out in week 1 of the playoffs by minor premiers the New Zealand Warriors. Canberra’s bench that day was Alan Tongue, Darren Mapp, Sean Rutgerson and Troy Thompson. New Zealand boasted Lance Hohaia, Ali Lauiti’iti, Wairangi Koopu and Richard Villasanti.
Two years later they were back in the finals with Brad Drew at halfback and Jason Croker at five-eigth. They were soundly beaten by the Sydney Roosters.
In 2006 they qualified for September on the back of big seasons from the likes of Lincoln Withers and Adam Mogg.
The Raiders were never considered a contender for the title and only Canberra’s own fans would dare tip them to make the top 8 at the start of each season. But they always showed up.
Canterbury could do worse than study the Canberra Raiders of the early 2000’s.
Catch The81stMinute Call Team this Saturday from 12.30pm live on steelesports.com.au for the Intrust Super Premiership clash between the Canterbury Bulldogs and Western Suburbs Magpies.