There’s four days until the National Rugby League season kicks into action. We look at the Canberra Raiders prospects for 2018.
2017 was a season of near misses which saw the Raiders under-perform in finishing tenth. With a fit playing roster and better luck, there’s no reason why the team from the nation’s capital can’t be playing finals footy.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Brad Abbey (Bulldogs), Erin Clark (Warriors), Craig Garvey (Bulldogs), Charlie Gubb (Warriors), Siliva Havili (Dragons), Ata Hingano (Warriors), Liam Knight (Roosters), Michael Oldfield (Panthers), Sam Williams (Wakefield Trinity)
Kurt Baptiste (Leigh Centurions), Adam Clysdale (retired), Lachlan Croker (Sea Eagles), Brent Naden (Knights), Clay Priest (Bulldogs), Zak Santo (Warriors), Scott Sorensen (Sharks), Dave Taylor (CQ Capras via Toronto Wolfpack), Jordan Turner (Huddersfield Giants)
Titans (Away), Knights (Home), Warriors (Home), Sea Eagles (Away), Bulldogs (Home)
WHAT TO EXPECT
Ricky Stuart’s men will not accept a finish outside the top eight in the new season. In 2016 they re-built their reputation at GIO Stadium as a fortress after winning eleven of thirteen matches on their home ground. Last year they only managed six from twelve, losing three of those games from six points. A 75% win record at home should be enough to see the Green Machine return to the finals series. The question is, how much will they miss Josh Hodgson for a good part of the season and would the rumoured recruitment of Robbie Farah fill the void?
Every club fear’s the punch that Canberra has out on the flanks. Nick Cotric burst onto the scene in 2017 with sixteen tries in 24 matches. But the fear factor is on the right hand side with Jordan Rapana on the wing and Joseph Leilua playing inside him at centre. Rapana was one of the Raiders best last season as he produced some career best form in scoring twenty-one tries. This was on show in Canberra’s 30-12 win over defending premiers Cronulla Sharks at Southern Cross Group Stadium late last season where he was by far his team’s best on ground. It may be his influence on the Raiders to produce moments of brilliance that makes the difference in 2018.
It’s been a relatively low-key recruitment over summer as the Raiders secured the services of Jarrod Croker, Leilua, Rapana, Elliott Whitehead and Jack Wighton. Charlie Gubb from the Warriors could become as much of a cult hero at the club for his no fear attitude, as he was across the Tasman. The one exit that will hurt them is Kurt Baptiste given the Hodgson injury. Dave Taylor’s fall from grace has continued after being sacked by Toronto Wolfpack for partying too hard, with his comeback now to come through the Intrust Super Cup competition with Central Queensland Capras.
The key is a good start to the season and that comes in the way of the rebuilding Titans at Robina in week 1. There’s no reason the Raiders can’t be three or four wins from the first five. How they cope with rounds 16 to 21 will determine their season as they play Brisbane (Away), Bulldogs (Away), Cowboys (Home), Sharks (Away), Storm (Away) and Panthers (Away). That is one part of the draw coach Stuart will be dreading.
Top Tryscorer – Nick Cotric
Top Pointscorer – Jarrod Croker
Club Player of the Year – Elliott Whitehead
WHERE WILL THE CANBERRA RAIDERS FINISH?
Expect the Raiders to return to finals footy and get the better end of the stick in the bottleneck between sixth and tenth place.