sporting confidential: Fear deserts fortress Canberra

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WHAT is the problem with the Canberra Raiders and the Brumbies playing at Canberra Stadium? Statistics prove that it’s no longer the fortress that inspires a home-team win as it was in the past.

Heading into the Sunday game against the Sharks in Sydney, the Raiders had more victories away from home than at Canberra Stadium this season, with four wins away and three at home.

In the past, the ground held fears for visiting teams with a vocal home crowd and testing conditions. The theory was that teams from Queensland and Sydney didn’t want to play in Canberra in the winter because of the cold.

Before the loss against the Gold Coast, I was told by numerous people on my way into the ground that the Titans won’t like the cold. There is almost a feeling that all the Raiders had to do was turn up and they would win.

Wests Tigers’ coach, Tim Sheens, who knows too well the advantage the Raiders’ team has playing at home, threatened to fine players if they talked about the cold before they won at Canberra Stadium this season.

Part of the problem seems to be that because the team hasn’t been winning, the crowds aren’t as big, so the visiting teams are not confronted by 20,000 fans, the majority of them Raiders’ supporters, as was the case during their glory years.

That’s not to say that fans aren’t watching the games; it’s only that they are watching from the comfort of their lounge rooms rather than the stadium itself. Because they haven’t been winning, the crowd that has been turning up to the home ground has found it hard to get fired up. I have no doubt the lack of support at the stadium has had an impact on the performance of the side.

Brumbies fare better

THE Brumbies fared better overall when compared with their city NRL counterparts and their away record was great, but they lost three crucial games at Canberra Stadium this season, to the Sharks, the Queensland Reds and the Blues. Coach Jake White has this year re-built the “fortress at Canberra Stadium” theme.

Under normal circumstances, a supporter would expect a young team to perform better at home rather than away. Through the season the Brumbies won five at home with three at-home losses. Away from home, they won five and lost three.

It’s worth noting that the Brumbies won their final five games away from home, but lost the last two matches they played at Canberra Stadium.

The wins away came against the Lions, Hurricanes, the Rebels, the Force and the Waratahs. The home losses to the Reds, and Blues in particular, were crucial in the context of the season.

The good news is the crowds this season were better than they were last year.

Run more, boys

PLENTY of Brumbies’ supporters tell me that while they have been incredibly heartened by the turn around this season, the low percentage style of play has been frustrating to watch.

In the past when the Brumbies got a penalty on the half-way line they would have backed themselves rather than take a shot at goal. The hope is that with more experience and confidence they will start to run more and chance their arm.

I concede that part of the issue this year has been injuries to playmakers Christian Lealilfano and Matt Toomua.

I have no doubt that fans engage more in a running game, and in turn, the players feed off the energy provided by the home crowd.

Darcy’s on the rise

Canberra basketballer Darcy Malone.
SEVENTEEN-year-old Canberra basketballer Darcy Malone is an athlete on the rise. And on the rise literally, he is 213 centimetres tall (seven foot on the old scale) and is still growing.

Darcy was a member of the Australian team that went down to the US in the gold-medal playoff at the world titles this year.

Already he has American College teams on the phone; the Greater Western Sydney Giants AFL club is also ringing up seeking his services.

His mother Angie says he demonstrates significant common sense and isn’t daunted by the attention. For his part, Darcy says he is taking it all in his significant stride.

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Tim Gavel
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