The Raiders joined the NSWRL in 1982, and within a decade they were one of the most dominant teams in the competition. After 1994 they have experienced lean times, but there are plenty of players that have earned the admiration of their fans.
Picking players across eras is never an exact science. An author can do all the research in the world and still never be 100% sure about the selections put forward. Sure, there are certainties for every team of this nature, but let this not end the debate; let it start one.
The main criteria is that each player has been selected on the strength of their performances for the club in question (not representative football and not for other clubs). They may have only been at the club for a short time, but if they’ve made The Best 17 Ever, it’s because of the undeniable quality they produced during that time.
So let the debate begin!
1. Gary Belcher (1986-1993)
Belcher’s kick returns and support play epitomized the efforts he put in for Club, State and Country. His battles against NSW counterpart Garry Jack were headline attractions at State of Origin time as the better performer would often be given the Green and Gold jersey come season’s end.
2. Brett Mullins (1990-2000)
Mullins was one of the most prodigiously talented attacking players of the modern era. With blinding pace, a fend and the ability to side-step raindrops, Mullins was a key member of the side that won the competition in 1994. Primarily a fullback, Mullins is too good to leave out of this side and finds a spot on the wing, where he was more than capable. Had he not had so many injuries, he may well have beaten Belcher to the fullback spot.
3. Mal Meninga (Captain) (1986-1994)
The greatest centre of his era and possibly of all time. He’s an automatic selection, and as the captain of all 3 of their Premiership winning sides, he’s the captain here as well!
4. Peter Jackson (1987-1988)
A Queensland great who died of a drug overdose in 1997, Jackson only played 2 seasons at the Raiders. Jackson is remembered for his cleverness and elusiveness. Other candidates include Ruben Wiki (used in the forward pack) and Jarrod Croker, who may well have earned this spot by the end of his promising career.
5. John Ferguson (1986-1990)
Apologies to Ken Nagas, Noa Nadruku and Jordan Rapana, who are all very fine wingers; but it’s hard to go past the man that scored that wonderfully determined, match-saving try in the 1989 Grand Final to send it into Extra-Time (which Canberra eventually won). He then won his second Premiership with the side the following year (at 36, mind you).
6. Laurie Daley (1987-2000)
Playing his early days at Centre before moving to his favoured Five-Eighth, Daley would have made this side in either position. His size made him a dangerous ball runner, but he also possessed a lovely passing game and good vision. A winner of 3 Premierships, Daley is an all-time great.
7. Ricky Stuart (1988-1998)
Stuart shared an era with the likes of Sterling, Langer and Johns, so it was always going to be difficult for him to stand out. Yet, he managed, by pushing the boundaries of what a halfback was capable of! Stuart’s mastery of his kicking and passing set a new standard for halfbacks to meet. Stuart was the Clive Churchill medallist in Canberra’s successful 1990 campaign.
8. Sam Backo (1983-1988)
Big Sam Backo was a giant human from North Queensland, who endured the challenging early years for the Canberra club and helped turn them into a force. Tough and uncompromising, Backo would provide the go-forward that this All-Star squad requires.
9. Steve Walters (1986-1996)
Until a fellow named Cameron Smith came along, those in the know said that Walters was the greatest dummy half since uncontested scrums came into being. High praise, but justified by his performances. I once read that Walters was the kind of player that had the vision to always find the player in the best position, but was selfless enough that if no one was in a good position, he would tuck it under the arm himself. Tough, smart, skilful. One of the best.
10. Glenn Lazarus (1987-1991)
Also a member of the Broncos' Best 17, Lazarus’ inclusion here illustrates the amazing influence he had at each club he joined. Playing 5 seasons with the Raiders for 4 Grand Finals and 2 Premierships, ‘The Brick With Eyes’ was a tough prop in the middle and a man that led with actions. Perhaps he was simply a lucky charm? Perhaps he is just one of the greatest props ever? I think it might be the latter.
11. Ruben Wiki (1993-2004)
Wiki spent much of his early career in the centres, including winning the Premiership in 1994. But as he grew older, he eventually moved into the forward pack where, with his strength and athleticism, he provided significant impact. At the time of his retirement he was the most capped international player of any country, with 55 Tests.
12. David Furner (1992-2000)
The 1994 Clive Churchill Medallist was industrious and skilful, with a good footy brain to boot. Speaking of boots, he was handy with them as well! An accomplished goalkicker, when he retired he was the Raiders top point scorer and the highest scoring forward of all-time.
13. Bradley Clyde (1988-1998)
Once considered too small to be in the forward pack, from about 1989 to 1991 Clyde was one of the best players on the planet. Known for making all the 1% efforts, Clyde was twice adjudged the player of the Grand Final (in their memorable win in 1989 and their loss to Penrith in 1991). Injuries marred the later years of his career, but he is still remembered as one of the greatest Locks of all time.
14. Jason Croker (1991-2006)
Croker’s versatility may have cost him a starting spot in this squad, but that makes him the ideal utility, enhancing team balance with his ability to play in the back row, centres or in the halves. Croker has played the most games for the Green Machine and is holding on to the leading try scorer record as well.
15. David Grant (1982-1985)
David ‘Nana’ Grant was the inaugural captain of the Canberra Raiders; a tireless prop who would always give his all for the cause, Nana won’t let anyone down off the bench in this team.
16. Gary Coyne (1986-1992)
Gary Coyne was a back rower who won 2 Premierships with the Raiders, represented Queensland in State of Origin and also represented Australia. Coyne is remembered as an honest footballer, working hard for every tackle and every metre gained; he was an important cog in Canberra’s most successful era.
17. Brent Todd (1987-1991)
A big Kiwi dual international (but not in Rugby Union, in Water Polo!), the front row of Todd and Lazarus formed the cornerstone of the Raiders’ success during his stint there. Todd played 28 Tests for New Zealand.
And that’s the team, not too bad, huh? How would they go against other teams named in this series? Does the Green Machine have the class to beat the rest? And who did we miss? Let us know in the comments below and stay tuned for the Best 17 Ever for all the other clubs.