Canberra Raiders players say they feel as embarrassed as their fans. Photo: Melissa Adams Anthony Milford looks dejected after another loss. Photo: Melissa Adams
Disconsolate Canberra Raiders players labelled their latest inept showing against Souths as ”embarrassing” and assured fans they’re sharing their pain after a ninth loss in 11 games.
Frustrated Raiders supporters took to social media to vent their frustration after the same side that lost to Souths 34-18 was named to play New Zealand Warriors at Canberra Stadium on Sunday.
But after the 34-18 loss to the Rabbitohs, Raiders coach Ricky Stuart admitted he was running thin on quality troops to bring in, as injuries and second-tier salary cap restrictions began to bite.
Forwards Mark Nicholls, Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, Matt McIlwrick, Lagi Setu and Jake Foster, plus young half Mitch Cornish, are the only players in their top-25 squad eligible for selection, while outside backs Bill Tupou and Matt Allwood have been tried with limited success.
The Raiders have reached the limit of their $440,000 second-tier salary cap, and are unable to bring in any other youngsters to build for next season.
“It’s embarrassing at the moment. The boys are really hurting and I’m sure the fans are as well,” prop Dane Tilse said. “We’re not happy where we are at the moment, the boys are keen to win a few more games this year and get some effort and pride back in the jersey.
“Certainly it’s not good times, it’s pretty sombre here at the moment. We’re going to have to find something, and find it fast, We just want to fix it, and give the fans a bit of hope.”
While the squad has tried to stay clear of wooden spoon talk, Tilse admitted it’s difficult to avoid.
“I suppose we’ve read about that a bit in the paper lately and no one wants to end up with the spoon,” he said. “It is there in the back of your mind.”
The Raiders, equal last with Cronulla, are growing increasingly frustrated they can’t blood more youngsters to prepare for next year.
Fullback or half Jack Ahearn and young forwards Tevita Pangai, Luke Bateman and Patrick Mago have all been impressive at NSW Cup or Queensland Cup level, and could have been chances to debut.
The Warriors hammered the Raiders 54-12 at Auckland earlier this year, and are fighting for a top eight berth under former Raiders assistant Andrew McFadden.
Raiders vice captain Brett White said memories of the round nine hiding will spur his side on. He assured supporters the team won’t be short on motivation.
“There’s a lot of pain here today and a lot of hurt pride. Come Sunday that’s what it’s about, repairing that,” White said. “We had 12 errors [against Souths] and so many of us contributed to it. At this level you can’t do that and be competitive.
“It [wooden spoon] hasn’t been mentioned and we don’t want it to be, we want to avoid that at all costs. You have to feel for Ricky, we certainly let him down this week.”
New Zealand named star duo Shaun Johnson and Feliti Mateo in its side after both missed last week’s loss to Manly.
However, McFadden told the Warriors web site they remain under a cloud for his first game in Canberra at the Warriors helm since he left the Raiders two years ago.
“We’re hopeful of those guys playing this weekend, it’s still not a given but optimistic of their return,” McFadden said. “We understand the importance of this game and we’ll be going there to win.
“I’m looking forward to going home and seeing some family, but certainly there to get the job done for the Warriors.”
Round 21: Canberra Raiders v New Zealand Warriors at Canberra Stadium, 2pm
Tickets available from Ticketek
TV Time: Live on Fox Sports 1