Canberra Raiders legend Laurie Daley maintains the nation’s capital is a rugby league-mad town, with this year’s strong following from local fans bringing back happy memories for the former champion five-eighth.
Ever since their last premiership win in 1994, which Daley - now New South Wales Blues coach – was a part of as a player, the Raiders have struggled on the scoreboard and on the rugby league ladder year in, year out.
Over the past two decades Canberra’s GIO Stadium co-tenants, the ACT Brumbies, have taken advantage of the Raiders’ poor showings, collecting local support thanks to two Super Rugby title wins and four runners-up flags across 20 years. Other attempts into the Canberra supporter base have come from the AFL’s North Melbourne Kangaroos and the GWS Giants, both clubs having moved home games to the city’s Manuka Oval in the past.
Speaking to Inside Sport for our upcoming November issue, Daley is deeply proud of the Green Machine’s followers, who have been turning out in very healthy numbers, particularly towards the back end of the Raiders’ 2016 campaign.
The GIO turnstiles have been ticking over in sensational style in recent weeks. In late August the Raiders attracted 15,707 and 18,825 against the Melbourne Storm and Parramatta Eels respectively. Their biggest gate for a long, long while was achieved when 25,592 packed the former Bruce Stadium for their week-one finals loss to Cronulla last weekend.
Numbers haven’t come to hand for tomorrow night’s blockbuster eliminator against the highflying Penrith Panthers, but with at least 14 bus loads of mountain people to rock up at GIO, and with Canberra’s Viking Clap being further perfected at each home game, it will be on for young and old at Canberra Stadium … just like the good ol’ days.
“I know that in my time at the club, it was rugby league-mad down there,” said Daley, who played for Canberra between 1987 and 2000, clocking up 244 career first grade games.
“And I think that’s the case even now. Rugby league has a massive following in the ACT. You only have to look at what the Raiders were able to do this year. Their last couple of games were close to their biggest crowds they’ve ever had.
“When teams are winning, people will support them. They love their footy down there; they’re very passionate supporters. They’re a great bunch of supporters and it’s great to see them having a bit of fun, with the Raiders playing so well at the moment.”