The Canberra Raiders were simply hoping to ride the momentum of their previous seasons and haven’t put in the hard yards to be contenders in 2021, says NRL guru Phil Gould.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow for the Green Machine, who after transforming themselves into genuine premiership challengers now find themselves languishing in ninth on the ladder this season.
But it’s the nature of their downfall that has turned heads across the league.
Four consecutive losses marred by abysmal second-half capitulations have given way to salacious off-field rumours and pushed NRL favourite, coach Ricky Stuart, to his wit’s end.
Speculation swirled around Josh Hodgson amid a developing crisis in the nation’s capital, with Joseph Tapine’s wife publicly attacking Stuart, English halfback George Williams suffering homesickness and gun prop Josh Papalii sitting out a game because he was felling “flat”.
The drama puts Canberra at a crucial crossroads, one that could determine the outcome of their season, and Gould believes the Raiders now, more than ever, need their iconic coach to steer them back on track.
“When a team is struggling, generally you’ll hear rumours and innuendos of internal strife,” Gould told Wide World of Sports’ Six Tackles with Gus.
“I just think football-wise at the moment, the Raiders aren’t on the same page. It looks to me like they’ve just assumed everything would pick up where it left off over the last couple of seasons. And it hasn’t.
“Every team gets their premiership window and the Raiders have been knocking on the door for a few years now, they were unlucky in the grand final a few years ago. But it just feels as though it’s all gone a little bit beyond them. And they probably haven’t worked as hard on their football as they think they have.
“So, what happens then is, because a team that were expected to do very well is not doing very well at the moment – and some of their performances have been pretty ordinary, particularly second halves – you’ll start to get these little stories emerge.
“Now, it’s my mail that Josh Hodgson is going nowhere, that he’s not going to the Broncos.
“Coaches all the time are dealing with player managers and family members and parents that will have an opinion or two if their son is not getting time on the field. That’s not an uncommon type situation for a coach to deal with.
“Josh Papalii virtually stood himself down last week, I don’t think he was dropped, he’s just going through one of those periods where he’s struggling with life, struggling with the football where it isn’t the priority it should.
“But I do think that Ricky Stuart has got some issues down there that he probably needs to deal with on a deeper level. Ricky’s been around a long time and he’s coached a lot of top sides. He knows what wins and what doesn’t and he’s not happy with what he’s seeing.”
The drama follows a raw assessment from league great Peter Sterling who branded the Raiders “soft” after a 30-24 capitulation to South Sydney in the nation’s capital.
It’s been a worrying trend for the Raiders who have only been able to sustain intensity over 40-minutes.
And Gould believes it’s indicative of a mental fatigue issue plaguing the club.
“I don’t see anything dangerous about their football, which tends to make me think they haven’t worked hard enough on it, or they just assume that what they’ve been doing in previous years would be good enough,” he said.
“I don’t believe you ever lose your talent. They’re a very talented football team. The attention to detail is just not there. What I see is a sense of frustration that their attack is not scoring points, and that’s eating into their discipline and their resolve in defence, it just gets beyond them.
“It’s a mental issue for mine. A mental or a mental fitness issue that’s bugging them at the moment. If the coach is having to find different ways to motivate people to play, that’s very tiring stuff. If they’re not self-driven, then that’s not the optimum position.
“The Raiders in this competition could be a live chance to win it, but they’re not seeing it themselves.”
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