Having narrowly missed out on a grand final berth in 2016, can The Green Machine clinch their first premiership in 23 years this year?
Last season placing: 2nd – Knocked out in the preliminary final
Expected to improve in 2016 by many pundits, the Canberra Raiders surpassed even the most optimistic expectations by reaching the preliminary final. Having struggled to put consistent performances together in the first half of the season, the Raiders put opposition teams to the sword by winning 10 straight games to secure 2nd place.
After a narrow loss to eventual premiers Cronulla in the first week of finals, The Green Machine held off a fast finishing Penrith outfit to secure a preliminary final against the Melbourne Storm. However, the discipline of the Storm negated the Raiders free-flowing attack, inflicting a 14-12 loss upon Canberra.
With the success of 2016 likely to be on the minds of Origin coaches Kevin Walters and Laurie Daley, Canberra could find themselves in a new position of having players unavailable for club duties in the middle of the season. Having found their rhythm during the Origin period last season, 2017 will provide plenty of challenges for the players and support staff.
The young fullback struggled in the first half of 2016, especially under the high ball. With the most errors in the NRL last season (41), there is plenty of improvement left in the 24-year-old’s game. However, he assisted 13 tries – the second most of any Raider – and his defence in one on one situation often saved his teammate’s blushes. It’s no surprise that Raiders form picked up, when Wighton’s own form improved.
The Englishman was one of the best in the NRL last season and was contented for the league’s prestigious Dally M medal. Although he eventually missed out on that award, he was presented with the ABC’s Warren Ryan Medal for the best player in the NRL regular season. Boasting one of the best passing and kicking games of any hooker, Hodgson led the Raiders attack admirably, setting up 16 tries for his teammates.
A big man in the biggest forward pack in the competition, Junior Paulo will need to step up during the Origin period. Since joining Canberra from Parramatta midway through last season, the prop has formed a formidable combination with Shannon Boyd. With Boyd having been called up for Australia’s Four Nations squad at the end of last year, Paulo will need to lead the pack if Boyd is handed an Origin debut. In 2016, Paulo averaged close to 120 meters as well as producing 18 offloads in only 13 games for Canberra.
Story of 2017
The challenge that awaits Ricky Stuart and his staff is getting his side to rise another level, while also balancing player workloads and representative duties. The narrative has already started with the Raiders choosing to send a rookie team to the Auckland Nines and their stars playing minimal minutes in the clubs only trial match which resulted in a resounding 44-0 loss.
The depth in the Raiders squad is still good, but the losses of Sam Williams, Paul Vaughan and Brenko Lee are significant blows. With young playmaker Lachlan Croker having recently recovered from an ACL injury and outside back Kato Ottio still recovering from the same injury, the Raiders will be hoping no other first grade players join Jarrod Croker on the sidelines during the first couple of months of the season.
However, the signings of Dave Taylor and the versatile Jordan Turner should help the Raiders field a competitive squad during the Origin period.
League Table: 5th
Top Try Scorer: Jordan Rapana
Top Point Scorer: Jarrod Croker
Player of the Year: Jack Wighton