A CLUB IS BORN
On the 30th of March, 1981, the Canberra Raiders were admitted into the NSWRL competition along with one other team, the Illawarra Steelers.
Don Furner was installed as head coach and ex-Tiger David 'Nana' Grant (RIP) was named captain of the 1st grade side.
The Raiders jersey was designed by local resident Patricia Taylor who used the lime green, blue, gold & white to represent both the ACT colours and the colours of the first Rugby League team in the area, Hall.
Although the first season was tough going for the new team, local support was strong with crowds at Seiffert Oval averaging around 10,000.
The fans were rewarded for their support on the 18th of April when the Raiders took their first ever scalp, 1981 Grand Finalists the Newtown Jets. Down 11-7 late in the game, try-scoring whiz Chris O'Sullivan crossed to push the Raiders ahead 12-11 and the slim lead was held until the final siren.
3 more wins would come in '82, including one over St George in front of a record Seiffert crowd of 13,758. Off the field the Canberra Raiders Supporters Club was born and workhorse Jon Hardy took out the club's inaugaral Best & Fairest award.
1983 saw steady progression by the Raiders, racking up 9 wins for the season and finishing 10th on the competition ladder.
At the same time they were showing a glimpse of the coming years and the attacking style of play they would change the game with in the late 80's.
Although the side lacked the class of the Sydney heavyweights, they made up for it in fitness & flair which enabled them to score 495 points by season's end, 6th best in the league.
They grabbed their first ever away win with a 24-8 thumping of Cronulla at Endeavour Oval but their best performance was without doubt an 8-0 shutout of premiers Parramatta in front of 13,578 delirious fans at Seiffert Oval.
Club m ascot Victor the Viking came into existence, PM Bob Hawke became the Raiders #1 ticket-holder and import Ron Giteau scored 193 points for the season, edging out Peter McGrath's previous record of 41.
ON THE RISE
1984 saw the Raiders continue to climb in stature.
The arrival of Dean Lance and Ivan Henjak boosted the club's ranks and Sieffert Oval was fast becoming a place of doom for opposing teams.
Ivan Henjak and Chris O'Sullivan formed a strong halves partnership which brought top teams such as Canterbury, Parramatta and Manly undone during the year; the Parramatta match drawing a record Seiffert crowd of 17,407.
Sydney was starting to notice the club and in particular, head coach Don Furner, who was doing a fantastic job with a team that still lacked the depth of the 'big clubs'.
The team had grabbed enough wins to make a mid-week play-off for 5th spot against Souths, but were not good enough on the day and were beaten 23-4.
They grabbed their biggest ever win during the year, 44-12 vs Easts in round 8, Big Sam Backo burst onto the scene for the club, while the third grade side became the first Raiders team to make the finals, going down bravely to Wests 22-16 in the elimination semi-final.
The expectations on the Raiders shoulders at the beginning of the 1985 season were enormous, which is probably why so many were disappointed with the club's 10th placing at the end of the year.
Injuries to key players made it hard for the team, which dropped the last 8 matches of the season.
1985 had its memorable moments though, including a 26-12 pounding of Souths at a hostile Refern Oval, an unlucky 20-all tie with high-flyers Manly at Seiffert and a 20-10 victory at Newcastle over '85 grand finalists, St George.
The Reserves became the first Raiders team to make a Grand Final. Led by Alan McMahon, the Raiders led 16-4 but were pegged back by St George in the second half and were a little unlucky in the end, going down 22-16 in a thrilling finish.
NEW STARS ON THE SCENE
1986 saw the big names come down to the ACT in the shape of Mal Meninga & Gary Belcher (Brisbane Souths), Gary Coyne (Wynnum/Manly) and John 'Chicka' Ferguson (Newtown). 1989 GF hero Steve Jackson also arrived from Mackay.
The new signings did not bring immediate success however, with the club only tasting victory 8 times throughout the year.
Gary Belcher stamped himself as a future star, filling in for the injured Mick Aldous at fullback for most of the year and scoring 11 tries. He would be rewarded, along with Meninga, with both Queensland & Australia rep jerseys that year.
The Raider pack was becoming a feared one, Sam Backo busted the line regularly, while Dean Lance and Gary Coyne bashed opposing players with bruising defence.
Highlights include a 19-12 win over '86 premiers Parramatta at Seiffert and a semi-final appearance in the midweek Panasonic Cup competition.
FIRST TASTE OF THE BIG TIME
The Raiders 1st grade team lived up to its promise in 1987, reaching the finals for the first time and going all the way to the Grand Final.
They hit top gear at the business end of the season, crushing top opposition on the way to the finals. They bounced back from the first semi-final loss to Easts to hammer Souths 46-12, then exacted revenge on the Roosters in the preliminary final, winning 32-24.
Mal Meninga had an unfortunate run-in with a goalpost early in the year, badly breaking his arm, but returned to the paddock in the latter stages of the season sporting that famous arm-guard, and inspired his teammates greatly.
He scored the sealer in the preliminary final vs Easts, trampling Rooster David Trewella in an unforgettable surge to the tryline. The Raiders would go down gallantly 18-8 to the experienced Manly side in the big one in heatwave conditions at the SCG, but the platform for future glory had been set.
1987 saw Laurie Daley make his first grade debut.
CHANGE AT THE HELM
1988 saw former coach Don Furner step down and Tim Sheens take his place at the helm of the now powerful Raiders team.
Once again they made the finals, but could not repeat the previous season's heroics, pipped by eventual premiers Canterbury 19-18 in the first semi-final and then downed by Balmain 14-6 in a controversial minor semi-final at the new Sydney Football Stadium.
The team finished with a league-leading 596 points at an impressive average of 27 points per game.
1988 saw a young Laurie Daley stamp his class on the first grade side, 'Chicka' Ferguson was now a crowd favourite, scoring 19 tries for the season.
Ricky Stuart & Glen Lazarus both made their first grade debut for the club and Gary Belcher, filling in as goalkicker for Meninga who broke his arm again, scored a club record 218 points for the year.
1989 saw the Canberra Raiders post a remarkable end of season 9-game winning streak, climaxing in one of the greatest Rugby League Grand Final victories of all-time. Finishing in fourth spot, the Raiders created history by becoming the first team to win a premiership from outside the ladder's top 3 and the first team to take the Winfield Cup away from Sydney.
The Green Machine proceeded to hammer Cronulla, Penrith & minor premiers Souths on an unstoppable finals march to the big game. Their opponents would be Balmain who were in top form and hungry for victory after their bitter grand final defeat the previous season, but the Raiders had a hunger of their own, fuelled by the passionate support of the fans and the fact that they had been "written off" by most pundits.
The Raiders looked the better team for the main part of the Grand Final but trailed late in the match, until John Ferguson scored an unforgettable match-saving try after receiving an overhead pass from the heavily-bandaged Laurie Daley.
With the scores locked at 14-all and the Tigers shell-shocked at letting certain premiership glory slip out of their grasp, extra time was always going to be in the Raiders favour.
Tigers hooker Ben Elias could only watch in horror as his attempt at field goal cannoned off the crossbar, before Chris O'Sullivan edged the green machine ahead with a field goal of his own. In the dying stages of the match, replacement Steve Jackson took a Mal Meninga pass and left half the Balmain side strewn on the ground in an incredible 30-metre charge to the tryline.
GREEN MACHINE JUGGERNAUT
After the emotions experienced with 1989's Grand Final victory, 1990 started with a tinge of sadness with Ivan Henjak and Grand Final hero Steve Jackson both joining the Magpies.
It would not affect the performance of the team however, opening the year with a Channel 10 Challenge Final win over the Penrith Panthers. The 1990 season would turn out to be the most successful in the club's history, finishing minor premiers in all 3 grades and appearing in all 3 Grand Finals.
The Raiders took on the up-and-coming Broncos outfit at Lang Park for Grand Final rights, handing them a 32-4 thrashing and proceeding to meet the Panthers in the big one.
The Presidents Cup team started Grand Final day off with a win over the Dragons, the reserves were unfortunately pipped by the Broncos, but the First Grade side proved too strong for Penrith, avenging their 30-12 semi-final defeat and taking back-to-back titles with an 18-14 victory.
1990 was a banner year for Mal Meninga, who scored 17 tries & kicked 72 goals for 212 points overall, including a whopping 38 points in the 66-4 thrashing of the Roosters at Bruce Stadium in April.
GUNNING FOR THE TREBLE
The Raiders were now dominating the competition and the Nation's Capital. TV ads, public appearances, everything was now a shade of green throughout the ACT and Queanbean. The Raiders were competition heavyweights and forcing other teams to change they way they played the game.
The club lost 3 legends prior to season's kickoff; Dean Lance and John Ferguson retired, while Chris O'Sullivan went to England to play for Warrington.
Financial strife would rock the Raiders in 1991 when the club was found to have exceeded the salary cap and fined heavily.
Mal Meninga, Bradley Clyde, Laurie Daley, Ricky Stuart and Steve Walters were all offered substantial contracts at other clubs, but took big pay cuts and remained loyal to the Raiders and the Canberra community, who had raised a heap of money for the club during the 'Save a Raider' fundraising drive.
Despite the turmoil that surrounded the club for months, the Raiders performed admirably in the finals and went on to make the Grand Final for the 3rd year in a row but the strain of a long, hard season showed as they were outmuscled by a hungry Penrith outfit 19-12.