Last season placing: 10th
Despite finishing tenth last season, the Raiders would have been disappointed not to participate in finals football. Attempting to bounce back from finishing second last in 2014, the men in green played exhilarating football, despite the departure of Anthony Milford.
The Raiders had the third-best attack in the NRL last season with Blake Austin scoring 14 tries. However, their defence left much to be desired and will have been an area where coach Ricky Stuart would have spent a lot of time addressing during the off-season.
For the Raider’s to have a successful season, they will need to work on their composure. In games decided by seven points or less, the Canberra-based side lost seven matches compared to winning two. If the Raiders can build from last season, 2016 will be a very successful year.
With Peter Mulholland the new recruitment and high performance manager for the Raiders, the club will continue to bolster their roster. With regular first graders like Sisa Waqa and Iosia Soliola off contract at the end of the season, as well as a handful of fringe players, the club could continue to be ever present in the player market.
1. Blake Austin
The man with the best (or worst, depending on your opinion) goatee in the competition proved to be one of the best signings in the competition last year. The reigning Dally M five-eighth of the year set GIO Stadium alight with his dazzling footwork and speed. He always appeared to be in the right place at the right time in attack. His tally of 14 tries last season was impressive. With Origin on the radar, Austin will be looking to up the ante, which would terrify a few defences.
2. Josh Hodgson
The English hooker announced himself to the Australian public with a bang, smashing through a closed door whilst on England duty. However since arriving at the Raiders, Hodgson has quietly gone about his trade. His control and ability to pick the right moment to attack from dummy-half compliments the chaotic style of Austin. However, both Hodgson and Austin did show last year what typified the Raiders in 2015, poor defence. With 55 and 53 missed tackles respectively, the two men need to improve if they want to be playing football in September.
3. Jarrod Croker
168 appearances. 1128 points. Club captain. All at the age of 25. Croker has already proven himself to be a reliable performer for the Raiders. His goal kicking record is excellent but he needs to take it up a notch. Although the newly appointed captain has always been capable of getting over that white line, his defence has come under scrutiny. His defensive output increased dramatically in 2015 as he amassed 415 tackles, in comparison to 285 tackles in 2014. If the Green Machine are to make the eight, they will definitely need their captain’s performances to continue on their current upward trajectory.
Likely Round 1 line-up: 1. Jack Wighton, 2. Sisa Waqa, 3. Jarrod Croker (c), 4. Joey Leilua, 5. Edrick Lee, 6. Blake Austin, 7. Aidan Sezer, 8. Paul Vaughan, 9. Josh Hodgson, 10. Frank-Paul Nuuausala, 11. Sia Soliola, 12. Elliot Whitehead 13. Shaun Fensom. Interchange: 14. Adam Clydsdale, 15. Josh Papalii 16. Joseph Tapine, 17. Shannon Boyd.
Story of 2016: The Raider’s will go into the final round knowing a win will deliver them finals football for the first time since 2012. The Green Machine won’t let their fans down as they triumph over the West Tigers at Leichardt Oval to cap off an amazing transformation under Ricky Stuart.
Ladder: To make the top 8
Predicted Top Tryscorer: Blake Austin
Predicted Top Pointscorer: Jarrod Croker
Predicted Player of the Year: Blake Austin