Ricky’s View: Greatest Canberra Raiders Team

Mal Meninga

And so with the Broncos side put together, we move onto the next team, the Canberra Raiders. They have boasted some incredible players over the years that have led them to premierships and that gave their blood, sweat and tears for the Raiders. With some success back in their hey-day of the late 80’s and early 90’s, the Raiders team of today promises a lot and is slowly delivering, full of potential future Raiders legends. And again, we stress, the information provided focuses largely on their careers with the Raiders.

Here is our view on the best 17 players that have donned the lime green colours of the Canberra Raiders:

1. Gary Belcher – An exciting player to watch for most of his career, things happened rather quickly for Belcher. In 1986, he was given an opportunity to play in the then NSWRFL when the Raiders signed him and he quickly impressed, winning the club’s Player of the Year award. In the same year, he was selected in the QLD State of Origin squad and the Australian Test squad – though he only played tour matches and not official Tests that year. That tour did set him up for future media work, though. In 1987, he again won the club’s Player of the Year Award as he helped the Raiders to the 1987 NSWRFL premiership, one they lost to Manly. 1988 was the start of Belcher’s continued rise, as he was a part of the dominant QLD Origin side that year, he lead all players in points scored in the Winfield Cup and set a new Raiders record for most points scored, before finally playing in the Australian tour as a bench utility. The elusive premiership finally came Belcher’s way when his Raiders side were victorious in winning the 1989 premiership but they could do the double and win the World Club Challenge. That same year, he managed to dislodge Garry Jack as the Australian Test fullback. The Raiders side were on a roll and again, Belcher played a big part in their 1990 season and helped them to a second straight premiership. 1991 saw him suffer his first major injury and although he returned late on and helped guide the Raiders to another grand final appearance, they were unable to win this one in 1991. 1992 is when things turned sour, as Belcher suffered a knee injury that required a full knee reconstruction and effectively ruled him out for the season. 1993 was Belcher’s last year of rugby league, as the Raiders opted not to extend his contract resulting in Belcher’s decision to retire from the game as a player.

2. Clinton Schifcofske – Hailing from Moranbah in Queensland, whilst most of his playing days were at the Canberra Raiders, the rangy fullback initially played for the South Queensland Crushers and then the Parramatta Eels. His Raiders stint started in 2001 and he spent six seasons at the club. He immediately made an impact, winning the club’s Player of the Year Award in 2001. He won it again in 2004 and ended up playing in two State of Origin games, most notably in 2006 when he was the third fullback selected by QLD in that series. Noted for his goal-kicking and the remarkable accuracy to which he was able to slot home conversions and penalty goals, that pinpoint accuracy is what has him placed in 9th on the all-time point-scoring list. His final year in rugby league was in 2006, that saw Schifcofske named as the Dally M Fullback of the Year. Interestingly, his time in the NRL saw his goal-kicking percentage at a higher rate than other noted kickers in Andrew Johns and Hazem El Masri.

3. Brett Mullins – Born in Sydney, NSW, Mullins was destined to play rugby league. His father was Australian international Bill Mullins and before long, in 1990, the utility back was selected to make his first-grade debut in 1990 against the South Sydney Rabbitohs. 1991 saw his true versatility, as across the season, he played at fullback, at centre and on the wing, but there was a tough break around the corner. In the same season, during the preliminary final, Mullins was injured and effectively missed the 1991 grand final success by the Raiders. Centre and wing are the two positions that Mullins played in for the first part of his career, before Gary Belcher’s retirement at the end of the 1993 season. Having played at fullback before, Mullins was chosen to slot straight into that position despite battling some niggling injuries. In that year, he finished with 22 tries and scored four in one game, equalling the record for most tries scored by a Canberra player in a game along with Noa Nadruku. He was selected in the 1994 Kangaroos squad playing in four tests, before he again represented Australia during the Super League Test series in 1997. Regarded as a quick player during his time in rugby league, Mullins admits that he was quick over 40-50m but not over 100m. His time with the Raiders ended in some controversy, though, when an on-field altercation with team-mate Mark McLinden – one that saw Mullins abuse and push his team-mate – led to his departure from the club and a fine of $25,000. Following that, he had an unsuccessful stint at the Raiders and one final year at the Sydney Roosters in 2002 before retiring from the game.

4. Mal Meninga – A former Australian Test captain, an accurate, legendary goal-kicking centre and regarded as one of the best players of the 20th century, Meninga had a storied career as a player and now as a coach. He is the only player to be selected in four Kangaroos tours and was a member of both the ‘Invincibles’ and the ‘Unbeatables’. Born in Bundaberg, Queensland, Meninga had heritage from both the Solomon Islands and South Africa. Although his career with the Raiders did not start until 1986, he he enjoyed numerous successes and achievements in the year prior. He started out with Souths Brisbane at just 18 and went on to represent the Queensland Origin side numerous times and later Australia, all whilst playing for the Souths side. Following that stint, he spent a couple of seasons with St Helens in the English Super League after being in high demand. 1987 saw Meninga suffer a badly broken arm during an Origin game but he returned in time to play in the Raiders grand final loss to Manly. The enigmatic, talented centre had no luck, breaking his arm two more times in the 1988 season, resulting in his playing just 17 games across the 1987 and 1988 seasons. 1989 saw the Raiders give Meninga the club captaincy as he led the side to their maiden premiership. They were the first team outside of Sydney to win the title and the first team to win it from fourth place. In 1990, Meninga again lead his side to a grand final win, finishing the year as top-point scorer and Rugby League Week’s Player of the Year. For a variety of reasons including salary cap issues, the Raiders missed the finals during the 1992 NSWRFL season but immediately bounced back in 1993 when a lot of their internationals returned. In 1994, Meninga received an off-field honour when he was awarded an Order of Australia medal and the icing on the cake in his last season came when the Raiders again won the premiership, their third in six years. In the Origin arena, the finish was not as sweet, as the QLD side went down to NSW. After his retirement, Meninga went on to coach the Raiders side for several seasons in the late 90’s and early 00’s.

5. Ken Nagas – Hailing from Bundaberg, Queensland, the utility back made his debut in 1992 and played in a solitary game in that year. With a taste of it, in 1993, Nagas played in nine games scoring four tries in the process. His first major year came in 1994 when he played in 18 games and scored 11 tries, the majority of which were long-range efforts, showcasing his raw power and speed to beat defenders. Memorably, one of his tries against the Dragons in 1994 saw him carrying the ball in one hand and holding his shorts up with the other. In that year, he scored two tries in the Raiders grand final win. One of his finest career moments came in 1997, when in the World Club Championship against Halifax, Nagas scored six tries in the match, a club record. That same year, he was selected in all three games of the Super League Test series. Interestingly, Nagas was eligible to represent NSW rather than his home state of QLD, making his debut for the Blues in the 1994 series. He then played on the wing during the 1997 Super League State of Origin series and did play in five games for Australia during 1997 – part of the Super League era – but those games are not officially recognised as sanctioned Tests. Nagas’ career eventually came to a halt in 2002 when he was forced to retire due to chronic knee injuries. Two years after he retired in 2004, Nagas was voted as the best Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander player to represent the Raiders side. More than a decade after he retired as a player, Nagas still works with the Raiders as an assistant coach. Still as fit as a fiddle, he made a return to rugby league as a player when he fronted up for the Raiders at the 2015 NRL Auckland Nines.

6. Laurie Daley – Born and raised in the country town of Junee, New South Wales, many could tell from early on that that the utility was going to be a star. This was confirmed when after playing for the Junee Diesels, he was spotted and scouted by the Raiders and signed with them. The next year, in 1987, he was already making his first-grade debut as a centre. Then, in 1988, before he had turned 19, he had the chance to represent NSW Country in the annual City v Country clash. The next year, he finished with 16 tries in the season just one behind his team-mate, Gary Belcher. That was also the year that the Raiders won their maiden premiership and the year Daley made his State of Origin debut but it was not the best start for him in that sense. Halfway through 1990, Daley made his Australian Test debut against France in the country town of Parkes, scoring a try on debut. 1990 was yet another successful year for the Raiders and Daley – they won the 1990 NSWRFL premiership and Daley won the Raiders’ Player of the Year. A surprise move occurred in 1990 when Daley was move to five-eighth before an injury in 1992 prevented him from fulfilling a deal with Super League side the Wakefield Wildcats and from playing in Australia’s World Cup Final win. 1994 saw Daley suffer several injuries but he did lead NSW to their third successive State of Origin series win and to another Raiders premiership. 1995 saw some controversy, when Ricky Stuart was named the new captain over Daley, who at the time, was the captain of both the NSW Origin side and the Australian Test side. Daley was awarded the Player of the Year award at the Raiders for three successive years in 1995, 1996 & 1997. The Raiders continued to toil away and Daley’s captaincy opportunity at the Raiders came in 1999 when club halfback Ricky Stuart left to play for the Bulldogs. Daley had a further two seasons with the Raiders before injuries ultimately brought about the end of his career.

7. Ricky Stuart – Born in Queanbeyan, NSW, Stuart dabbled in rugby union before switching codes to rugby league in 1988. He made an immediate impact with his quality ball-skills and crafty play, winning the club’s Player of the Year Award. Playing halfback in a team that boasted some of the club’s best players, Stuart was the halfback of the club and was a key figure and important player in their premiership wins in 1989, 1990 & 1994. Playing in a total of 23 representative games (14 for NSW and 9 for Australia), Stuart enjoyed success with both sides and was man-of-the-match in the second game of the 1990 series. In 1990, Stuart also won the Clive Churchill Medal for best on ground in the 1990 grand final victory. He then debuted for the Australian Kangaroos in that same year, becoming Australia’s 38th dual code international. He was Raiders’ Player of the Year Award in 1992 and 1993 and the Dally M Medal for the best player in the Winfield Cup competition in 1993. After toiling with the Raiders and working hard to help the Raiders move forward, he eventually left the club in 1998 and signed with the Canterbury Bulldogs in 1999, spending two seasons with the Dogs. That signalled the end of his playing career and Stuart retired. He ventured into coaching and after stints at numerous NRL clubs, he is currently the coach of the Canberra Raiders side.

8. Ruben Wiki – An Auckland local and an Otahuhu Leopards junior, Wiki’s first major taste of rugby league before his club debut for the Raiders, playing for the NZ Maori side in the 1992 Pacific Cup. His Raiders career in the Winfield Cup began in the 1993 season and as a fellow centre alongside Mal Meninga, he helped the Raiders win the premiership in 1994. He then very nearly joined the Warriors side after a dispute between both sides but he ended up remaining with the Raiders. After further years with the Raiders alongside some of their greatest players, Wiki was a part of the New Zealand Kiwis 1999 Tri-Nations side. His Kiwis debut and subsequent games after came in 1994. His barnstorming runs, powerful hits and solid work-ethic made him a fan favourite of the Raiders forward pack for the better part of a decade. After quite some time with the Raiders, he ended up with the New Zealand Warriors for the remainder of his career before retiring. 2002 and 2003 saw Wiki win the Raiders’ Player of the Year for his stellar efforts.

9. Steve Walters – Born in Ipswich, playing in Ipswich, the region was all Steve Walters knew before his major rugby league career. He was a Booval Swifts junior before playing for the Norths Devils club. He then made the move to the Raiders ahead of the 1986 NSWRFL season and began his first-grade career as a hooker. After building towards premierships with the star-power within the side in the late 80’s, their good form was rewarded after they won back-to-back premierships in 1989 and 1990. Steve, the brother of former Broncos players Kerrod and Kevin. A belated Test debut came in 1991 for Walters during the Trans-Tasman Test that saw him perform well enough to be coined as one of the players of the series, before he won man-of-the-match in Game 2 of the 1991 State of Origin series. They lost the grand final in 1991 but Walters was named the club’s Player of the Year and went on to again represent Australia in 1992 during the Ashes series. In 1994, the Raiders again won the grand final and at the time, after consistent performances at club and representative levels, he was regarded as the best dummy-half in the game. Another man-of-the-match performance came Walters’ way in the 1994 Ashes series and after several more years with the club – basically a decade with the Raiders side – he made the move North to the Tim Sheens coached North Queensland Cowboys. His final NRL stint came with the Newcastle Knights in 1999 but that was cut short due to prolonged injuries that forced his retirement.

10. Sam Backo – Nicknamed Slammin Sam’, this Raiders powerhouse and hard-hitter was born in Ingham, Queensland. He started out locally in Brisbane, before the Raiders came knocking and awarded him his first taste of NSWRFL action in 1983, playing him five times that year, all in the back-row. From 1984, he was a regular in the side on the back of some brutish runs and big hits and continued to impress in the Raiders side for the six years he was at the club. His first dose of representative football came late on, when in 1988, he was picked for both Queensland and the Australian Test side. Such was Backo’s impact in the 1988 series, that he won back-to-back man-of-the-match awards in Games 2 and 3, a feat only a handful of players have achieved. Then, later on in the same year, his opportunity with the Kangaroos came where he again impressed. He became the only forward to score a try in all three tests of the series and just the second overall alongside rugby league great, Ken Irvine. Backo’s 1988 season was capped off when he was named as Dally M Prop of the Year. That brought about his last year at the club, as a successful stint at Leeds and then a return to the NSWRFL with the Broncos, saw him retire in 1990 due to chronic knee injuries.

11. David Furner – It was written in the stars that David Furner would play rugby league for the Canberra Raiders but before that, he was actually a handy rugby union player. Furner’s dad was none other than former Raider coach Don Furner, and his brother is current Raiders CEO, Don Furner Jr. 1991 saw a switch to rugby league for Furner and it was early in 1992 when his first-grade debut came. A remarkable goal-kicker for a forward, Furner’s efforts were Herculean-like at times and he became a crucial player for the Raiders during the 90’s. His efforts were rewarded when he was a part of the Raiders 1994 NSWRFL premiership success, with the back-rower named man-of-the-match. As a result of that, he was named in the Kangaroos squad that year and played in his one and only non Super-League Test. A couple of years later, he made his debut for NSW in 1996 and went on to play a further 7 games for the Blues, with his last one coming in 2000, his final year with the Raiders. Leaving Canberra at the end of that 2000 season, Furner finished up as the highest point-scoring forward in the game, surpassing Bennie Purcell. After stints in the Super League with the Wigan Warriors and the Leeds Rhinos that saw him win further titles, Furner called time on his career at the end of the 2004 season. His association with the Raiders did not end after his playing days, however, as he later became coach of the side. Unfortunately, for varying reasons, the Raiders side struggled for consistency and it ultimately led to Furner being let go as head coach.

12. Jason Croker – One of the best forwards to have ever donned the Canberra Raiders jersey, Jason Croker is in illustrious company as one of only a handful of players to have played in excess of 300 games at the top level. It all started in Crookwell, NSW for Croker, before a stint with the Australian Schoolboys side in 1989 set up his club career with the Raiders in 1991. He won the Rookie of the Year award that year and played for NSW just two years later in 1993. An incredibly versatile player – able to cover lock, back-row, centre, five-eighth and wing – his efforts were always monumental and the biggest milestone of all came in 2006, when he surpassed 300 club games, the first Raider to do so. He also holds the record for most tries by a Raiders player with 120 and was honoured for his contributions to the club accordingly when given the keys to the city by then Chief Minister Jon Stanhope at his last game in Canberra. He was also a member of the Raiders 1994 Winfield Cup premiership winning side and made his Australian Test debut in 2000. His services and commitment to the Raiders club will never be forgotten and after a remarkable 16 seasons with them, he made the move to the Catalan Dragons for several years where he again excelled.

13. Bradley Clyde – Clyde does not need much introduction at all. The man widely regarded as the best lock forward of his generation and of the game to some, enjoyed an illustrious career at all levels of the game. Toughing it out at the Belconnen United Sharks and the Australian Schoolboys for three straight years in 1985, 1986 and 1987, Clyde’s opportunity at first-grade came in 1988 when he made his club debut. Winning the Rookie of the Year Award in 1988, Clyde soon became a crucial player to the Raiders side and established himself as an elite. Across his time with the Raiders, he was involved in two premierships in 1989 and 1994. To this day, Clyde is the only player to have won the prestigious Clive Churchill Medal for best on ground in a grand final twice and just the third player in history to have won it on a losing grand final side. The chance to play in another grand final in 1990 was cut short when during the season, he injured his ACL, missing the remainder of the year and the big clash. Returning in 1991, he soon returned to form and made immediate impact as the Raiders went on to win the 1991 grand final comfortably. After some more years of personal success and great individual form, Clyde eventually left the Raiders club and signed with the Bulldogs for two years before making a move to Leeds in the UK where he eventually retired. During his representative career at the Raiders, Clyde was a part of NSW and Australian sides and won the Harry Sunderland Medal in 1992.

14. Gary Coyne – His overall tenure with the Raiders may have been a short one but it did provide Coyne with two NSWRFL premierships and numerous appearances for both Queensland and Australia. Originally hailing from Ipswich, Coyne’s presence in the back-row along with the likes of Brad Clyde & co. were among the key factors as to why the Raiders were so successful in the late 80’s and early 90’s. His first taste of grand final action came in 1987 just one year after his debut, though Canberra lost that grand final. In 1989, he played for QLD as a forward off the bench but perhaps Coyne’s greatest individual achievement came in 1991 during the semi-final against Manly. He scored a remarkable four tries playing from the back-row in what was a man-of-the-match performance. That form saw him rewarded with a Kangaroos berth for the tour of Papua New Guinea, playing in 2 Tests overall and 11 matches for Queensland. His Raiders career ended after just seven seasons, when he opted to retire at the end of the 1992 NSWRFL season.

15. Alan Tongue – If there was ever one Raiders player that of the modern era that was a fan favourite in every sense, it was Alan Tongue. The ginger ninja that always donned that famous headgear, forged a career on dedication, hard work, commitment and a sensational work ethic. It all began in the year 2000 at the turn of the century, that saw Tongue also win the club’s Rookie of the Year Award. In his early years with the club, he was often playing either in the back-row or off the interchange bench during any given week. In 2005, he began to establish his spot and made the back-row or lock spot his own from then on. Nothing that Tongue did not deserve, for his work ethic was impeccable and his leadership on show each week. Surprisingly, he played perhaps less representative football than he may have deserved. Throughout his career, he was only picked for the Prime Ministers’ XIII side in 2008 and a Country Origin appearance in 2009. 2008 brought about personal milestones for Tongue, when he was named the Dally M Lock of the Year and the Dally M Captain of the Year. After a total of 12 seasons in first-grade with the Raiders and an illustrious career, he eventually pulled the pin on his career when he retired in November of 2011.

16. Simon Woolford – Hailing from the NSW Country town of Young, Woolford enjoyed a lengthy, illustrious career with the Raiders side. His debut came back in 1994 where he made just one appearance. His first regular season of first-grade came in 1996 when he played in 18 games and it continued from there. Establishing himself as an effective dummy half either starting or off the bench, he was not awed by the bigger players running at him in defence. Rather, he relished it. A hard worker on the field and a born leader, Woolford was appointed captain of the club once Laurie Daley retired and remained so until 2005. He helped guide the Raiders to consecutive finals appearances in 2002 and 2003 and upon his departure from the Raiders club, he is the third most capped player in the club’s history. After 13 seasons with the Raiders, he departed the club and went on to play a couple of seasons with the St George Illawarra Dragons.

17. Noa Nadruku – Fijian flyers are all over rugby league now but one who set the tone and laid the foundation for them was this man. The hulking Noa Nadruku. A remarkably powerful yet quick winger, his try-scoring exploits made him a fan favourite as did his sheer power to run over defenders. Rugby league did not come to Nadruku straight away, with the Fijian starting out his sporting career in the game of rugby union. He did jump ship eventually, though, and it was in 1993 during a Rugby Sevens tournament that he was spotted by then Raiders coach Tim Sheens. As such, he was invited to train with the team and although he started out slowly in the 1993 NSWRFL season, he burst out of the blocks come Rd 5, showing exactly what he was capable of. By the end of that season, he had scored 22 tries in just 20 games and becoming just the 2nd player to score more than one try pre game in a season behind David Corowa of Balmain. 1994 saw Nadruku injured for part of it but he returned despite criticism of his suspect nature under the high ball. None of that mattered, though, when he was a part of the Raiders successful 1994 NSWRFL premiership. 1995 was a slow year for Nadruku but he did represent Fiji at the Rugby League World Cup that year and was a key part of the Raiders side in 1996 when they were hit hard by injuries. He was again the competition’s leading try-scorer that year with 21 tries. Unfortunately, his Raiders career ended rather abruptly when he was involved in an incident that resulted in his sacking. He moved North to the Cowboys and played two seasons under former coach Tim Sheens before retiring at the end of the 1999 season.

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