“With Melbourne Park and the new Perth multi-sport facility representing the benchmark, where does that leave dated venues such as Canberra Stadium?” asks sport columnist TIM GAVEL
TO suggest a city’s temperament is determined by the success of its sporting teams is an overstatement, but there’s no doubt the success of the Raiders, so far this season, has provided a sense of inspiration in the midst of a cold, wet winter.
The Brumbies provided that comfort from the late 1990s until the mid 2000s as the Raiders struggled to re-establish their identity in the wake of Super League.
Crowds for Brumbies’ games exceeded the Raiders and many found it hard to see a day when rugby league would again rival rugby union for the hearts and minds of the majority in Canberra.
Although GWS attracted a record crowd at Manuka Oval last month, I am yet to sense that the AFL team has had a major impact on Canberra’s psyche at the level of the Brumbies and Raiders at those “peak” times.
However, this year the Raiders have emerged as the sleeping giants after many frustrating seasons stumbling in the wilderness. In contrast, the Brumbies defied their worst year off the field to make the finals, but there is still plenty of work to do in terms of re-connecting with the community.
At the moment, I think the Raiders are thriving on stability.
It took a tough decision by the board three years ago to dispense with one of their favourite sons, David Furner, and install another club legend, Ricky Stuart, to guide the team’s fortunes.
At the time, I was one who questioned if it was entirely the coach’s fault believing the players had to take more responsibility for what was happening at the club as we watched an Origin backline of Carney, Monaghan, Dugan and Ferguson given their marching orders.
In hindsight, the hard decisions were probably the best things the club could have done as it now represents a culture that’s strongly linked with the community and understands the commitment required on and off the field.
What I didn’t fully understand at the time was the vision Stuart had for the Raiders. He cleaned the place out and virtually started from scratch in rebuilding the club. The side he has now is virtually unrecognisable from the one he inherited two and a half years ago.
Stuart has promoted a family-oriented focus at the Raiders and it is paying dividends. There have been few problems with off-field discipline, which is no mean feat when you consider some of the players who have come to Canberra had issues at other clubs.
One player I spoke to said the spirit within the club extends very much outside the playing arena, as families become a support network for each other. There are plenty of strong leaders at the club showing the younger players what is required.
Ricky Stuart will say there’s still plenty of time left in the season for things to fall apart. So far as I’m concerned, this season has already been a success.