Inside Sport - - CONTENTS - – James Smith

“I think we had six or seven games where we lost by six points or less. If you can turn three or four of those re­sults around, you’re sit­ting pretty in the eight.”

A er what seemed an eter­nity since the Can­berra Raiders were last a se­ri­ous force in Aus­tralia’s elite rugby league com­pe­ti­tion, the men from the na­tion’s cap­i­tal de­stroyed most be­fore them through­out 2016 to fin­ish just one game short of their first grand fi­nal ap­pear­ance since 1994. Their sen­sa­tional form across ’16 had most pun­dits (in­clud­ing ours) ex­pect­ing the same from Ricky Stu­art’s men the fol­low­ing year.

But for what­ever rea­sons, the Green Ma­chine just couldn’t click into gear in 2017. One man who ex­pe­ri­enced the frus­trat­ing sea­son close up was Blake Austin. The pop­u­lar 27-year-old fiveeighth, who has played ex­actly a cen­tury of games in first grade since his de­but for the Pen­rith Pan­thers back in 2011, was gen­er­ous enough to share his thoughts on the Raiders’ 2017 ba‹les, and how his side can re­turn to the pointy end of the lad­der in 2018.

“If we could change one thing about last year, what would it be? You know, it’s such a tough ques­tion to an­swer," Austin pon­ders. "Peo­ple for­get that the first ten rounds of 2016 prob­a­bly looked pre‹y sim­i­lar to that of 2017. We then went on a pre‹y good run there of I think 12 or 13 vic­to­ries in a row ... "

“When a run like that is hap­pen­ing you get to a point where not much can go wrong. You’re rid­ing on a wave of con­fi­dence and things just hap­pen. I sup­pose the dif­fer­ence last year was that the wave just didn’t come in. We couldn’t cre­ate any mo­men­tum. As the weeks went by, and we re­alised that our run the year be­fore had al­ready started by then, I guess panic prob­a­bly set in a lile bit.

“A few of us prob­a­bly tried a bit too hard in the end to make things hap­pen, whereas the year be­fore they sort-of just hap­pened. And from there it just spi­ralled into suc­cess.

“It’s hard to pin an an­swer as to what went wrong.The best way I can ex­plain how it un­folded like that was we were wait­ing to string to­gether a run of form and it just didn’t come. As I said, we prob­a­bly tried too hard to cre­ate that in the end. We played a flam­boy­ant style in 2016, but last year we man­aged to play a flam­boy­ant style that un­for­tu­nately came with er­rors.

“Once again, it was about be­ing on a wave of con­fi­dence. We couldn’t do much wrong in that 2016 sea­son. But when you’re a bit down on con­fi­dence, it’s im­por­tant you strip things back to then try and gain some mo­men­tum.That’s prob­a­bly not what we did. In­stead of strip­ping it back, we prob­a­bly tried harder and it made things worse.

“The term ‘game man­age­ment’ gets thrown around a lot, but you’re talk­ing about mo­ments in which, if things were slightly dif­fer­ent, you’re win­ning games of footy. But on the flip side of that, that’s what the good teams are able to do. They’re able to win those games. I think we had six or seven games that we lost by six points or less. If you can turn three or four of those re­sults around, then you’re siing prey in the eight. It’s im­por­tant this year that we’re able to do that.

“I think things are go­ing to nat­u­rally change this year with­out the in­jured Josh Hodgson be­ing there for us. Josh is ob­vi­ously a prey in­te­gral part of our aack and he’s go­ing to be sorely missed, but on the flip side it’s go­ing to re­ally al­low my­self and our halŠack Ai­dan Sezer to re­ally stand up and take con­trol of the team.

“Un­til we do that ... there’s not too much point siing around talk­ing about it. We’ve been re­ally pleased we’ve been able to work on our aack­ing footy so much over the pre­sea­son. Ai­dan and my­self are re­ally good mates. We want to en­joy plenty more suc­cess to­gether on the field.

“As far as goals for 2018 go, I think first and fore­most for my­self, it’s been all about geing my­self in tip-top shape. I’ve had good pre­sea­sons in years gone by, but this sum­mer was about go­ing the ex­tra mile; turn­ing a good pre­sea­son into a re­ally great one. I think I’ve man­aged to do that. My body weight, body mass, speed and agility are where they should be. My fit­ness level and body shape are re­ally go­ing to help me this year.

“I’m re­ally head­ing into this year with the mind­set of hav­ing a clear mind about what my strengths are, and then re­ally stick­ing to them. A lot of my thoughts about where I need to be are based around 2015 – that was ob­vi­ously one of my beer sea­sons. Back then I think I just had a clear mind. I was there to run the footy, and my pass­ing and or­gan­i­sa­tional game came off the back of that ball­run­ning. Again, that prob­a­bly comes from your fit­ness and your body shape re­ally giv­ing you con­fi­dence.”

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