It's time for St George Illawarra to finally bury the Canberra curse

A group of witch doctors trying to "reverse the curse" at Dragons training on Friday. Picture: ROBERT PEET

A group of witch doctors trying to "reverse the curse" at Dragons training on Friday. Picture: ROBERT PEET

What's in a hoodoo?

The players say they don't believe in it. The fans revel or wallow in it.

The NRL promotes it.

The Dragons' 11-0 record in Canberra since 2001 was also a chance for betting agency sportsbet.com.au - remember the hot air balloon Jesus during the World Cup - to pull off its latest prank, at WIN Stadium, on Friday.

This year's coverage on the dreaded trip to the national capital has centred around the prospect of Josh Dugan's reception in Canberra being as cold as the weather.

But in the years this scribe has covered Dragons-Raiders games, the themes have been largely the same.

The players all use similar lines about how they're just focusing on preparation, they refuse to accept a hoodoo exists and cannot explain how they've managed to lose to one team at the same place for so many years.

Whatever defines the hoodoo, there's a body of evidence suggesting St George Illawarra struggle to overcome the mental hurdle of playing Canberra.

Clearly, they're also troubled by the Raiders' style, which has been difficult to contain when the game is on the line and the Dragons have watched victory slip through their fingers time and again.

Canberra are equal last and have lost eight of their past nine games, but Dragons fans know better than to expect their time to break the shackles has come.

In 2009, St George Illawarra led 6-0 at half-time and lost 24-12.

The mood in the Dragons' dressing room afterwards was so icy it made the near-freezing temperatures outside feel positively toasty.

Apart from a shellshocked Ben Hornby the only player willing to talk afterwards was Wendell Sailor, who was unusually short for words to explain yet another Raider failure.

The following season, St George Illawarra won seven of their final eight games to win a long-awaited premiership.

Their only loss? Against the green machine in Canberra.

Staggeringly, they went down 32-16 after leading 4-0 at half-time.

However, 2011 is the most painful of all for Dragons fans.

Dugan, now the NSW State of Origin series-winning centre, pulled off the great escape as Raiders fullback, scoring two tries to snatch a 24-19 victory after the Dragons were ahead 18-6 at the break.

Sometimes it's easy to over-read form lines, but in Wayne Bennett's last year in charge, the trip to Canberra sparked a five-game losing streak from which the then champions never recovered.

So on Friday, as a shameless publicity stunt, the sportsbet lads take great enjoyment in a group of "witch doctors" assembled at Dragons training in Wollongong to rid the evil hoodoo.

If they win, they might have them back as official mascots.

For the Raiders' part, Brett White this week moved to quickly shut down the significance of the hoodoo, blaming the media for fuelling the fire.

"Six seconds [into the press conference] until the word hoodoo comes up," White said.

"If there was a hoodoo a couple of boys would probably go down the coast and put our feet up."

However, the former Raiders now wearing Dragons colours know all too well how Canberra fire up to preserve the phenomenal record.

The last time St George Illawarra walked off Canberra Stadium victorious, Nathan Brown was Dragons captain, Luke Bailey was in his debut season in the NRL and Laurie Daley was playing lock for the Raiders.

There are competitions around the world with longer lasting winning streaks, but none have the salary cap equalisation effect which makes this hoodoo so significant.

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