2015 NRL Preview: Canberra Raiders

Last season placing: 15th

A decent halfback for the ACT side in his day, Raiders coach Ricky Stuart first joined the side’s coaching staff after a nightmare year which saw him collect the wooden spoon at Parramatta. Upon his return to the Raiders in 2014, he failed to improve his previous atrocities providing the Raiders with only eight wins and an embarrassing sixteen losses. This included their long-standing hoodoo over the St. George Illawarra Dragons dying out in Round 23.

An ASADA-plagued Cronulla Sharks was all that stood between the Raiders earning the wooden spoon in 2014, but it seems Cronulla won’t be at such an ease during the 2015 season with signings like Ben Barba, Jack Bird and Gerard Beale entering their suffering backline.

Despite Ricky Stuart also gaining headlines throughout 2014 for player backflips on contracts and an infamous recruitment policy, he has managed to make a decent amount of profiled signings to the club over the off-season, both in the form of youngsters and big-names.

23-year old Blake Austin who begun his career on-and-off the bench for the Penrith Panthers during their horror 2012 season, is arguably the brightest young prospect to attend GIO Stadium over the off-season. Austin made ten appearances last season for the Wests Tigers, replacing Braith Anasta in the five-eighth position whose final season on the pitch was punctured by injuries. Overall in 2014 Austin scored seven tries in first-grade footy while part time dominating the NSW Cup with tries and field goals, much as he did with the Panthers in 2012 where he appeared for the NSW Cup side aswell as kicking nine conversions in the first-grade. Blake Austin will be replacing the Canberra-loyal Terry Campese who will now play in the English Super League.

Pacific Islanders Sisa Waqa and Frank Paul-Nu’uausala will also join the Raiders, where they were regular starters at the Melbourne Storm and Sydney Roosters, both clubs that performed exceptionally last year. Paul-Nu’uausala will most likely replace the retired Brett White in the prop position for the Raiders, while Sisa Waqa will be used to improve a struggling backline in the aftermath of Anthony Milford’s departure.

Two other honorable mentions in signings for the Raiders are Sam Williams from the Catalan Dragons, and Rhys Kennedy from the Melbourne Storm. Along with the contract renewals of backline key-components Jarrod Croker and Josh McCrone, who together scored 23 tries for the lime-green colours in 2014.

The Raiders have an easy first three rounds with Cronulla away along with the Warriors and Dragons at home. But the real testing of Ricky’s new-look side will begin in Rounds 4, 5 and 6 when they take on the Roosters, Sea Eagles and Storm. If the Raiders can come out of those fixtures with at least two points, there’s no doubting they’ll have a better season than 2014, and it will be up to Ricky’s coaching method to see whether the Raiders can make the top eight, a prospect the ACT coach has missed.

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