Raiders aim to start fast in 2013

In 2010 Canberra got on a late roll, winning eight of their final nine matches to slip into the top eight, while in 2012 they achieved a similar feat by winning eight of their final 10 regular season matches.

Despite their late charges, the Raiders were knocked out in the semi-finals both years, with an injury-hit side eliminated away to South Sydney last season.

Lesson heeded, coach David Furner's 2013 pre-season training regime has aimed at sparking a strong start to the season this time in a bid to crack a top-four finals spot for the first time since 2000.

"Look at last year and how important making that top four was, especially because it was the first time under the new semi-final system," Furner said.

"It's such an advantage, but to make that top four you've got to be consistent all season."

Again they will have to start the season without captain and key playmaker Terry Campese who is expected to make his return from his second serious knee surgery by round three.

But then they are used to that as the injury-dogged Campese has played only eight games since the 2010 finals charge.

"I do feel for Terry because he's a player who just loves playing the game and unfortunately he's missed the last two seasons," Furner said.

"Hopefully all that changes but Terry needs to make sure he's right first before worrying about the team."

Part of Furner's readiness to bide his time with Campese is the strong development the halves pairing of Josh McCrone and Sam Williams managed in his absence.

"I thought our two halves did a really good job (last year) and that will be no different this year," Furner said. "It's a big thing for a player to have semi-final experience."

The other factor in not rushing Campese back early is player risk management.

Furner said after analysing the 2012 season he discovered the "spine" players - fullback, five-eighth, halfback and hooker - in each of the top four teams had played at least 20 games each through the season barring Manly's Kieran Foran.

The Raiders only had one - McCrone.

While most injuries are not forseeable, it's a stat Furner is determined to improve within his side.

Another key player Canberra is taking no chances with is star fullback Josh Dugan, rested from the final trial match against Canterbury.

"The start of the season he (Dugan) has got to be consistent. He's a player that has to be playing over 20 games," Furner said.

"He got close (to the representative teams) last year and that's where I thought his form was getting better."

Canberra will also be buoyed by the return of representative prop and vice-captain Brett White, also back from a serious knee injury.

"He's another one there who missed most of the season last year, which gave opportunities to others," Furner said. "(David) Shillington, (Dane) Tilse, (Tom) Learoyd-Lahrs, (Mark) Nicholls and several of the younger players really had to step up."

Step up they did - with the Raiders this year rewarding eight players with leadership duties.

But the big challenge will be transitioning their end of season 2012 form into the start of 2013.

And with Canberra spending their past nine seasons alternating between sneaking into the finals and falling well out of contention - 8th, 14th, 7th, 14th, 6th, 13th, 7th, 15th, 6th - they will be desperately chasing that strong start to help finally break the pattern.




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