Greatest Teams Ever Pt 2: Canberra Raiders

Here we are again with the greatest teams ever, this time casting our eye over the best 17 players to have ever donned a Canberra Raiders jersey. There have been many over the years for the Raiders, some making a monumental impact during their grand final years especially. Just who will make the side? You are about to find out.

Without further adieu, here are our picks for the top 17 Raiders players in their history:

1. Gary Belcher – Making his debut for the Raiders in 1986, Belcher made an immediate impact straight away and performed well enough at fullback to play for Queensland in just his first season. His solid debut season resulted in Belcher winning the Raiders player of the year award, a feat he emulated the following year in 1987.
In 1988, he broke the club record for most points scored by a Raiders player at the time during the 1988 Winfield Cup – this was later broken by Clinton Schifcofske. After numerous Australian appearances and a brief stint at Castleford, the 1989 season was a special one for the Raiders with Belcher a big reason behind their success.
1989 culminated in the Raiders maiden premiership success, the first by a team outside of metropolitan Sydney. 1989 was a season that saw Belcher break the record for the most tries by a fullback in a season with 17, a total that also saw him top the try-scorers list that year. The team and Belcher continued their dominance as they won a second successive premiership in 1990, with Belcher then rewarded with opportunities for Australia.
A knee injury early in 1991 kept him out of action for a while but Belcher returned to play a key role in the Raiders late charge towards the finals and whilst they made their third successive grand final, they did not win this time around. His form was good enough to be selected for Australia’s tour of Papua New Guinea but the news was not all good.
Belcher’s knee was not in good shape and he missed the entire 1992 season because he needed a knee reconstruction. Returning in 1993, this would be the final season of Belcher’s career, as he retired from the game at the end of the season.

2. Ken Nagas – The Vanuatuan flyer was always a fan favourite at the Raiders but his Raiders career started out relatively slowly. He made his debut in 1992 but that was his sole appearance that year. 1993 then saw him play nine games, scoring four tries in the process. 1994 was the break-out year for Nagas as he became a mainstay of the Raiders side.
Hitting form at the right time, Nagas scored 11 tries in his 18 games, many of them length-of-the-field tries, carrying the ball in one hand. He played in the Raiders 1994 premiership success and bagged a double in the game.
Despite the beginning of the Super League era in 1995, Nagas’ form continued, as he scored 14 tries in 19 games. It came at a cost, though, as he was not picked in the Kangaroos side that year because he had played in the Super League competition. Nagas then toiled for the Raiders over several years up until 2002, when he was forced to retire midway through the year because of a knee injury.

3. Jarrod Croker – The only current Raiders player to make this list, you only have to look at what he has achieved to justify it. Still only 26 and developing each year as a player, Croker burst onto the scene in 2009 at just 19, scoring 12 tries – the most by any Raiders player that year – and winning the club’s rookie of the year award in the process.
It was clear that he would become a mainstay of the side and after another solid season in 2010 – gradually improving as an all-round player in the process – he continued to finish as the Raiders leading point-scorer as he took on kicking duties. In 2014, he surpassed Mal Meninga as the club’s 3rd highest point-scorer and was rewarded for his good form after he was named the Mal Meninga Medallist – the medal for the Raiders best player each season.
In the same year, he played for the Prime Minister’s XIII and ahead of the 2015 season was named Raiders captain and was named in the NRL All-Stars side pre-season clash. The representative honours and milestones continued for Croker in 2015, playing for the Country Origin side, playing his 150th NRL game and scoring his 1000th career point.
Croker played in the annual pre-season fixture again, featuring for the World All-Stars side as well as another appearance for the Country Origin side. In Rd 10, Croker became the Raiders leading point-scorer in their history and won the Provan Summons Medal, the Dally M Captain of the Year and finished as the season’s leading point-scorer. Croker is on track to break further Raiders records including most games played for the club and most tries scored for the club.

4. Mal Meninga – Meninga’s Raiders career began alongside Belcher in 1987, two broken arms in successive years disrupted his start at the club before he broke his arm for a third time at the back end of 1988, ending his season. In his first two years with the club, Meninga played just 17 games.
Returning in 1989, Meninga was then made the Raiders captain in a season that saw them take out the NSWRL premiership as well as appearing for both Queensland and Australia. Meninga again played a big role in the Raiders 1990 premiership success, in a year where he was the leading try-scorer, the leading point-scorer and Rugby League Week’s Player of the Year.
1991 almost brought about the end of Meninga’s time at the club, with cap issues forcing them to release numerous fringe players and veterans. Meninga and others eventually took a pay cut to keep a large chunk of the team together before they made a surge to the finals a couple of years later in 1993. The optimism was cut short when halfback Ricky Stuart broke his ankle, ending the Raiders chances that year.
After breaking the record for most Tests for Australia and winning the World Cup in 1992, Mal’s career was slowly coming to an end. It was fitting that in his final game as a Raider and in the NSWRL, that Meninga would score the winning try off an intercept. Meninga then finished his career as a player with numerous appearances for Australia. Meninga also went on to coach the Raiders in 1997 but with mild success.

5. Noa Nadruku – One of the original flying Fijians, Nadruku was only at the Raiders for 5 seasons but became a fan favourite very quickly. Spotted by Raiders coach at the time, Tim Sheens, Nadruku was initially a Rugby Sevens player with Fiji. Whilst he had a slow start to the 1993 NSWRL season, Nadruku showed off his prowess to score tries with hard, powerful running. By the end of the year, he scored 22 tries in just 20 games.
1994 started off badly for Nadruku, who suffered a serious injury and missed the first half of the season but he found his feet and form again by the time the finals rolled around that year. The Fijian was one of the Raiders strongest performers in their 1994 premiership success, scoring a try, causing havoc and producing several damaging runs.
As for 1995, Nadruku had a lean year by his own standards and that of the fans but he did represent Fiji at the Rugby League World Cup. One year later, he found his form again, in a year that saw the Raiders side decimated by injuries to key players. Nadruku did, however, finish the year as the league’s leading try-scorer.
Nadruku’s time at the Raiders came to an abrupt end in 1997 when a dispute over an off-field incident led to his sacking from the club. Nadruku then moved to the North Queensland Cowboys for two seasons under coach Tim Sheens. By the end of his rugby league career, Nadruku had played 131 games and scored 90 tries.

6. Laurie Daley – Spotted whilst playing for the Junee Diesels at just 16, Daley was trained and developed by the Raiders as a centre before making his first-grade debut at just 18. It was clear Daley had talent and skill, and at just 19, he was selected in the Country Origin side for the annual City v Country clash in 1988 and just one year later, he played for NSW.
1989 brought about Daley’s first premiership success but the accolades did not stop there, as he went on to represent the Australian side for the first time in 1990. He tasted premiership success for a second successive year in 1990 and was named the Raiders Player of the Year before again playing on the Australian tour at the end of the season.
It was in 1990 that he shifted positions from centre to five-eighth, a decision that surprised many. 1992 was a tough year for Daley, who suffered a serious knee injury – making him unable to play for Wakefield, who he had signed for – resulting in missing Australia’s World Cup final win. Bouncing back in 1993 by guiding Australia to a narrow win over the Kiwis, injury again reared its ugly head in 1994 for the utility. He underwent surgery early in the season and was eventually able to return in time to help the Raiders win their third premiership that same year.
Many thought that Daley should have been made captain of the Raiders side in 1995 given he had previously captained both NSW and Australia but the decision was made to go with his halves partner, Ricky Stuart. As the Super League era wore on, Daley and the Raiders team still performed solidly without any success.
Daley was finally awarded the Raiders captaincy in 1999 after Stuart departed the club. In that sam year, Daley was named the Raiders Player of the Year. Unfortunately, his body was getting older and he was injured more often which resulted in his retirement from the game at the end of the 2000 season.

7. Ricky Stuart – One of the best halves of his generation, Stuart was often lauded by the fans for his ball-playing ability and his ability to control a game. Originally starting as a union player, Stuart made the move to rugby league in 1988 and signed with the Raiders, winning the club’s player of the year award in his debut season. With the successes of the Raiders well documented throughout the late 80’s and early 90’s, Stuart was a crucial player for the club during their three premiership victories and a key reason as to why they were successful over that period.
During his time with the club, numerous representative honours for NSW, Australia, NSW City and NSW Country added to his repertoire, as he built a foundation as a reliable, professional and talented play-maker. After 10 years and 203 games with the Raiders, Stuart made the move to Sydney in 1999 to join the Bulldogs where he retired after two further seasons.
His association with the Raiders did not end there, though, as the former clubman is now the head coach of the club and performing well in that role.

8. Sam Backo – Regarded as one of the hardest runners and hitters in rugby league at the time, Backo was given his first opportunity with the Raiders during the 1983 NSWRFL season. In that year, he made five appearances for the club, with his debut against the South Sydney Rabbitohs at Redfern Oval.
Just one year later, he became a regular in the Raiders line-up and was a key player in the Raiders forward pack, often leading from the front.
He appeared in the Raiders maiden grand final in 1987, albeit one that they lost but he did enjoy some success during his stint at the Raiders. Backo was selected to play for QLD in his final year as a Raider, winning consecutive man-of-the-match awards during the series, one that QLD won 3-0. 1988 was Backo’s last season as a Raider, and he eventually made the move to Brisbane where he played for the Broncos for two seasons before retiring.
He also had a stint with English club Leeds, was named in the Indigenous Team of the Century and in 2004, was named in the Raiders All Indigenous Team.

9. Steve Walters – The only Walters brother not to play for Brisbane, Steve spent most of his career in the nation’s capital. His Raiders debut came in the 1986 Winfield Cup before he became a mainstay at hooker in the Raiders side from 1987. The Raiders failed to win the grand final that year but Walters was still at hooker when the Raiders won their maiden premiership in 1989.
1990 saw Walters win another premiership – the Raiders went back-to-back – and he also made his debut for Queensland, followed by further appearances for Queensland that saw him win a man of the match. This was followed by his maiden Test appearance for Australia and another grand final appearance that the Raiders failed to win. He made further appearances for both Queensland and Australia throughout the next few years and was named Rugby League Week’s Player of the Year in 1993. Walters stayed with the Raiders until the 1996 season before he made the move to the North Queensland Cowboys and then a stint with the Newcastle Knights.

10. Gary Coyne – He might have played for the Raiders for just 6 years but Gary Coyne was a solid prop that worked hard, toiled hard and provided a cornerstone in the Raiders attack and go-forward. Hailing from Ipswich initially, Coyne was a member of the Raiders back-to-back premierships in 1989 and 1990 before travelling to England to play Widnes in the World Club Challenge, a game they did not go on to win. He also played for Queensland on 11 occasions and for Australia twice. During the club’s 25th anniversary, Coyne was named in the Raiders 25-man dream team.

11. Jason Croker (C) – Regarded by many as the greatest player to don a Raiders jersey, there are numerous records that Croker still holds to this day. A Batemans Bay local, Croker made his debut for the club in 1991 and won the Rookie of the Year award that year. Over his long career with the Raiders, Croker became a utility – a very good one at that – playing at centre, five-eighth, wing, lock and back-row, performing well throughout. Scoring 120 tries for the club, it remains a club record as does the number of games he has played, a total of 318. Croker’s sole appearances for Australia came during the 2000 World Cup and he also played for NSW on five occasions and NSW Country on three occasions. Going down as a Raiders legend, Croker finished his career with Super League side, Catalans.

12. David Furner – Starting his sporting career as a union player, Furner opted for a move to the NRL and to the Raiders in 1991 and made his debut in Rd 2 of the 1992 NSWRFL season. Rarely does a forward take out a prestigious grand final award but Furner was rewarded for his stellar performance in the Raiders 1994 NSWRFL premiership success, winning the Clive Churchill Medal.
In the same year, he was selected for Australia but only went on to play one official game in the Kangaroos jersey. A strong, versatile forward, Furner also played in 8 games for NSW and made one Country Origin appearance.
During his time at the Raiders, Furner was the designated goal-kicker and accrued a litany of points that made him the highest point scoring forward at the time. After he left the Raiders, Furner went on to play for English sides Wigan and Leeds.
Furner’s tenure with the Raiders did not cease there, however, as he later went on to coach them for five seasons. Dividing fans given a poor run of results, some felt as if he should have stayed whereas others felt the decision at the time to replace him was justified.

13. Bradley Clyde – A local ACT player with the Belconnen United Sharks, the Hawker College student played for the Australian Schoolboys side in three successive years before being graded by the Raiders in 1988. He made an immediate impression, winning the club’s Rookie of the Year award in 1988 and becoming a key player for the club year in and year out and during their three premiership successes.
Holding down a long-term spot soon after his debut season, Clyde was a member of the Raiders three premierships in 1989, 1990 and 1994, and he remains the only player to have won the Clive Churchill Medal twice in 1989 and 1991. He is one of just three players in history to have also won a Clive Churchill Medal in a losing side.
Whilst he still got a medal and an award in 1990 for the Raiders premiership success, Clyde missed the grand final itself after he injured his ACL. His form returned quickly, though, as in 1991, Clyde yet again went from strength to strength. Clyde also enjoyed numerous representative appearances during his time at the Raiders, playing in 12 games for NSW and 19 games for Australia.
As is the case in rugby league many times, all good things must come to an end and ahead of the 1999 season, Clyde moved to the Canterbury Bulldogs for two seasons before then finishing his career with English side, the Leeds Rhinos.

14. Luke Davico – Making his debut just two days before his 21st birthday, Luke Davico was a hard-worker with a lion’s heart. He dug deep, made inroads and helped lead from the front in the Raiders pack. Davico, who was of Italian descent, won the Rookie of the Year award in 1994 and went on to play a total of 176 games for the Raiders, winning a premiership in that time.
After eleven seasons with the club, Davico’s time at the club ended prematurely when he injured his pectoral muscle. He opted to then make the move to England to play for Wigan before reinjuring the same pectoral muscle in a pre-season game.
After a final stint in the NRL with the Newcastle Knights, Davico retired mid-season in 2007 when he was not making enough appearances.

15. Ruben Wiki – A genuine enforcer, Wiki forged a reputation as a hard but spirited performer who ensured that he always gave his all in attack and defence. Making his Raiders debut in 1993 in the Winfield Cup, Wiki went on to become a key performer for the Raiders during their 1994 premiership success, linking up well with Mal Meninga.
There was some controversy ahead for Wiki prior to the start of the 1995 season, with new side the Auckland Warriors after they tried to register him as a player but after a long dispute, Wiki opted to remain with the Raiders.
Wiki would stay with the Raiders until the end of the 2004 season and played 224 games for the green machine as well as numerous appearances for the New Zealand Kiwis side. In 2005, Wiki then moved to the New Zealand Warriors.

16. Chris O’Sullivan – O’Sullivan almost played elsewhere and would have, had it not been for a suspension during a Cronulla Sharks trial that saw him miss out on being graded by the club. Instead, the Raiders beckoned and although he started his debut year in 1982 in reserve grade, he ended up as the club’s leading try-scorer that year with 12 tries.
Playing in the Raiders inaugural grand final appearance in 1987, O’Sullivan scored a sneaky try where he feigned injury close to the line before he darted back up and scored their only try in the game. O’Sullivan had a brief stint at English side Oldham during his Raiders days before he returned ahead of the 1989 season.
It was his pinpoint kicking game that ultimately led to the fumble by Balmain resulting in a Raiders try and he kicked the field goal that helped to set up the Raiders victory in extra-time. Success again followed the five-eighth, as he again played a key role in the Raiders successive premiership successes. At the end of the season, he had another stint in England, this time with Warrington. He had a choice to play in the 1991 NSWRL season but instead chose to play for Swinton that year.
He returned in 1992 in what was a poor season overall for the Raiders and O’Sullivan himself only played 6 games that year and as a result, he retired at the end of that season.
He was named in the Raiders 25-man dream team and is in the Raiders top 10 for most games played for the club with 202.

17. Alan Tongue – Regarded as one of the best players to have never played Origin or for Australia, Alan Tongue was revered by Raiders fans for much for of his career. Joining the club in 1998, Tongue made his debut during the 2000 season and won the club’s Rookie of the Year award. To start his career, Tongue spent the majority of the time either off the bench or playing in the back-row.
It was in 2005 that Tongue cemented a spot in the run-on 13 and in 2006, he not only recorded the most tackles in one season with 1087 but he also won the Raiders Player of the Year award. He also received Dally M recognition in 2008 when he won the Dally M Lock of the Year Award and Captain of the Year. In the same year, he also played for the Prime Minister’s XIII.
In 2009, Tongue would play in his second and last representative game, playing for the Country side in the annual City v Country clash. A fan favourite of many, Tongue was revered by fans, team-mates and opponents and he made the decision to retire from rugby league in 2011.

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