Raiders faithful say its finals or bust in 2018

Most Canberra Raiders fans entered the year dreaming of a drought-breaking premiership but a horror night in Bathurst has been giving them nightmares for months.

But the Green Machine faithful believe things will turn around and some are even expecting the Viking Clap to shake ANZ Stadium to its core on grand final day next year.

More than 1400 fans completed this year's The Canberra Times fan survey and say it's top eight or bust in 2018 after this season fell well below expectations.

But Raiders hooker Josh Hodgson and Mal Meninga medallist Junior Paulo are both looking to extend their stay in Canberra in a bid to turn things around.

Canberra finished 10th in a year where many tipped them to contend for the premiership, which saw them battle to get a pass mark in the eyes of the fans.

But green-eyed supporters are confident things will turn around next year, adamant that this season provided a much-needed learning curve for the Raiders.

Team performance

The majority of fans gave the Raiders a five out of 10 for their season - not surprising in the wake of a campaign that left coach Ricky Stuart "empty and disappointed".

The fans believe the tide will turn - 63 per cent say the Raiders can win a drought-breaking title next year and nearly 70 per cent think coach Ricky Stuart will be the man to deliver it.

Hodgson says the Raiders are "down in the dumps" as they helplessly watch rivals fight for the premiership but 84 per cent of fans believe they'll make amends and return to the finals next year.

"It's one of those times of the year where you're probably a bit down in the dumps and you wish you were still competing in the big games at the moment," Hodgson said.

"It can be tough to watch them on the TV because you wish you were in them. At the same time there's no point walking around kicking stones."

So close but so far

Eight losses by six points or less will make this year go down in history as a tale of what could have been for the Raiders.

Two heartbreaking losses to Penrith ultimately cost Canberra a spot in the finals and it's the Bathurst horror show that hurts the most.

The Raiders are one of the NRL's most dangerous attacking sides but almost 48 per cent of fans believe game management was their Achilles heel.

Hodgson admits Canberra's attitude needs to shift away from the "big finish" to the lower risk plays that build the pressure.

"We competed for most of the year in games but it's not good enough if you're not getting the win," Hodgson said.

"We're obviously looking at the close games that we lose and how we lose them, and how to obviously turn that around.

"I don't think there's anything major that needs to be worked on, we've got a great squad. I think it's really been a learning curve this year."

The depth factor

Raiders fans are crying out for young half Lachlan Croker to get another opportunity at NRL level in the wake of an inconsistent year from halves Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer.

Croker nudged ahead of Kato Ottio by one vote as the player fans are most excited to see - but big changes would be needed in the backline if the Papua New Guinean winger is to earn a debut.

The loss of prop Paul Vaughan was clearly one that left fans hurting and it forced Stuart to try a host of debutants in the forward pack.

But Hodgson believes so many players getting a taste of the NRL is a good thing moving forward as Canberra look to surge back up the ladder.

"A few got a taste this year, we've had a few debutants this year," Hodgson said.

"The majority of the team is going around again next year and a fair few of them have signed and extended their contracts for beyond next year as well, so that's also good to see from the club's point of view."

Season highlights

You can't go past Nick Cotric as the shining light for the Raiders in an otherwise underwhelming year, polling almost 30 per cent of votes for the best overall player.

The young winger enjoyed a breakout debut season, playing in every game and scoring 16 tries - but one stood out more than most.

Cotric's match-sealer against the Eels in round five was voted the best moment of the year by almost 29 per cent of fans, with just over 30 per cent still going crazy for the Viking Clap.

Almost 62 per cent believe Cotric should stay put on the wing, while 25 per cent want to see the rookie tossed into the custodian role at fullback.

New Zealand international Jordan Rapana continued to put together an impressive highlight reel after racking up another 21 tries.

This story Raiders faithful say its finals or bust in 2018 first appeared on Brisbane Times.