As the National Rugby League season draws closer, we delve into the Canberra Raiders and what they should expect in 2019.
A disappointing 2018 campaign saw the Canberra Raiders finish 10th, five wins outside the top eight. The Raiders struggled to close out games which was ultimately their downfall, they lost nine games by four points or less, something that needs to be addressed if the Green Machine are any chance of playing finals football this season.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Shannon Boyd (to Titans from 2019 until 2022), Junior Paulo (to Eels from 2019 to 2022), Blake Austin (to Warrington from 2019 to 2021), Charlie Gubb (to Widnes, immediately), Craig Garvey (released), Mikaele Ravalawa (to Dragons until 2020), Liam Knight (to Rabbitohs until 2020)
Titans (A), Storm (H), Knights (H), Cowboys (A), Eels (H)
WHAT TO EXPECT
After a disappointing 2017 (where the expectations were so high), the Raiders had little expectation going into 2018, but after the capitulation on the Gold Coast in round one (where they gave a mammoth lead), it was basically lights out from there. Pressure is on coach Ricky Stuart – entering his sixth season as head coach, they’ve have only made the finals once. Their leaky defence and ability to shut out games cost them in 2018. Expect them to have these issues eradicated before the season.
The Raiders were the second-best attacking team in the league, they can score tries at will and they boast one of the best back five in the league. Young winger Nick Cotric finished second in the league in tackle busts and linebreaks while also adding 12 tries. Jordan Rapana spent a bit of time on the sidelines but when he was on the field, he was his usual self with the New Zealand international averaging a sizeable 136 metres run per game. Injuries and suspension unravelled their back five with Jack Wighton and Jarrod Croker missing a large chunk of the season and it was hard to keep their squad intact.
Josh Hodgson returned from an ACL injury midway through last season, his impact was instant and it posed the question: if he played all season would they have been a top eight team? No one knows, but it’s the chance for the Englishman to prove he is one of the best hookers in the world by delivering the Raiders a finals berth. With a fit Hodgson ready to take the reins, halfback Aidan Sezer will take a lesser job in organising the plays. He had a disappointing season by his standards, but will be ready to silence his critics.
There has been a plethora of departures, losing their two big men in Junior Paulo and Shannon Boyd and also five-eighth Blake Austin. It has left them with massive holes to fill, however the club managed to secure English international John Bateman; he arrives after a stellar season for Wigan in the Super League, which saw him contend for the Man of Steel. Bateman is not the only Wigan forward to join Canberra, with young prop Ryan Sutton also joining adding some serious size into the Raiders’ pack. They also managed to snare young gun Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad from the New Zealand Warriors, he has been impressive when given the chance in first grade and can play anywhere in the backline, with Wighton likely to pair up with Sezer in the halves, Nicoll-Klokstad will be pushing for the number one jersey come kick-off. Newcastle Knights backrower JJ Collins also joins the club, bolstering their depth in the forwards.
Their forward pack will be more mobile in 2019 after losing some serious size, but they still boast one of the best backrows in the competition. Josh Papalii, Joe Tapine, Elliot Whitehead and John Bateman are all internationals and throw in veteran Iosia Soliola and the promising Sutton, they are still a force to be reckoned with.
Top Tryscorer- Nick Cotric
Top Pointscorer- Jarrod Croker
Club Player of the Year- Josh Hodgson
WHERE WILL THE CANBERRA RAIDERS FINISH?
The Raiders have a tough draw in 2019, they will play the top two from last season twice and they will have to play 13 games against last year’s top eight sides. With the pressure mounting on Stuart, it’s a make-or-break season. With nice additions in the transfer market and a fit Hodgson, there is no reason why the Raiders cannot contend for a finals spot. Stuart told the media that they will take a more defensive approach this season and that they have been working very hard on closing games out. Anything less than a finals spot in 2019, and Stuart may be gone; with not much expectation from many this season, expect the Green Machine to finish inside the top eight.