Record: 17 wins, 6 losses, 1 draw
Ladder Position: 2nd
Player of the Year: Josh Hodgson & Josh Papalii
Faced with a relatively easy draw and the promise Ricky Stuart’s side showed in 2015, anything other than a top eight position would have been deemed a failure. The Raiders blitzed those expectations by reaching their first preliminary final since the 1997 Super League season while scoring plenty of tries along the way.
The Raiders had an inconsistent start to the year which included a draw against the lowly Knights and a golden point loss to the Dragons. However, the Raiders found another gear in the second half of the season, winning ten games in a row before losing to the Sharks in a qualifying final.
The Raiders were a breath of fresh air for NRL fans with their ability to score tries from anywhere on the field. Over the course of the regular season, the Raiders scored over 100 more points than the next best Cowboys.
The lethal right edge duo of Leilua and Rapana looked likely to score whenever they had the ball, while Jarrod Croker was the NRL’s leading point scorer on the left edge.
When Clay Priest broke his ankle during the finals series, Stuart had four possible players he could call upon in Paul Vaughan, Shaun Fensom, Jeff Lima and Jarrad Kennedy. Although Vaughan and Fensom may not be wearing lime green in 2017, the depth of Canberra’s roster served them well. Sam Williams provided a quality reserve playmaking option, while Brenko Lee showed his versatility across the backline.
The Raiders will need to recruit smartly to cover the losses of these players, but young players such as Nick Cotric, Kato Ottio and Lachlan Croker now have their time to step up to the plate – although the latter two are recovering from ACL injuries.
Ricky Stuart maintained that 2016 was learning year for his young troops. With Sia Soliola, the only member of the Raiders starting 17 over the age of 30, the team looks in good shape.
In 2015, The Green Machine were only able to win three home games, but this year they won 10 matches at GIO Stadium, losing only twice. Their progression continued to progress rapidly to the point where pundits admitted that the Raiders outplayed the Melbourne Storm in their preliminary final loss.
Although the defeat would have hurt, the Raiders’ premiership window has just opened.
2017 GAINS AND LOSSES
Gains: Jordan Turner – St Helens, Junior Paulo – Parramatta Eels (mid-season 2016), Joseph Tapine – Newcastle Knights
Losses: Mitchell Barnett – Newcastle Knights (mid-season 2016), Brenko Lee, Zac Woolford and Lachlan Lewis (mid-season 2016) -Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, Frank-Paul Nu’uasusala – Wigan Warriors (mid-season 2016), Tevita Pangai Jr – Brisbane Broncos (mid-season 2016), Sisa Waqa – rugby union (mid-season 2016), Sam Williams – Wakefield Wildcats