Andrew Pelechaty previews Canberra’s season opener against the Gold Coast Titans. It’s the Raiders’ first home game since the exciting preliminary final win.
We all know the story of Canberra’s near-fairytale 2019 season: finish fourth, upset Melbourne in Melbourne to make the preliminary final, and then see GIO Canberra Stadium nearly explode with joy after the preliminary final win over Souths. Raiders fans (and the Viking Clap) then travel to Sydney, only to have their heart broken with the controversial grand final loss to the Sydney Roosters.
Canberra had one trial this year, beating Canterbury-Bankstown 12-10 after trailing 10-0 in the first half. They did suffer one huge blow: losing John Bateman for the opening two months.
For Raiders players and fans, the path to redemption begins on Friday night.
Gold Coast Titans
The Titans had a nightmare 2019: winning only four games, losing coach Garth Brennan, and becoming the laughing stock of the league, losing their last 11 games. There seems to be decent progress under new coach Justin Holbrook: making the finals of the Nines, and beating Brisbane 28-22 in their trial at Redcliffe (after trailing 16-0). Whether they can carry that promise over when it matters will be shown on Friday night.
1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, 2. Bailey Simonsson, 3. Jarrod Croker (c), 4. Curtis Scott, 5. Nick Cotric, 6. Jack Wighton, 7. George Williams, 8. Josh Papalii 9.Josh Hodgson, 10. Dunamis Lui, 11. Corey Horsburgh, 12. Elliott Whitehead, 13. Joseph Tapine, 14. Siliva Havili, 15. Emre Guler, 16. Sio Soliola, 17. Michael Oldfield.
1. Phillip Sami, 2. Anthony Don, 3. Kallum Watkins , 4. Tyrone Peachey, 5. Dale Copley, 6. Tyrone Roberts, 7. Ash Taylor, 8. Jarrod Wallace, 9. Mitch Rein, 10. Sam Lisone, 11. Kevin Proctor (c), 12. Bryce Cartwright, 13. Jai Arrow, 14. Nathan Peats, 15. Jai Whitbread, 16. Brian Kelly, 17. Jaimin Jollife, 18. Sam Stone, 19. Jonus Pearson, 20. Moeaki Fotuiaka, 21. AJ Brimson.
The head-to-head between these clubs is surprisingly close, with Gold Coast leading 12-11 (with the Raiders ahead 6-4 at Bruce). Canberra won the last game at home, a 32-18 result in round nine. They only met once last year, again in the opening round, with Canberra winning 21-0, the first of three shutouts (or “green-outs”, if you prefer) in 2019 for the Raiders. Fired up by an emotional homecoming (and a no doubt epic Viking Clap), Canberra should make it three straight wins against the Titans.
BATTLE TO WATCH
George Williams v Ash Taylor
Williams – another member of Canberra’s British bunch – arrives with plenty of expectation. Can his 180-plus game experience with Wigan, and 11 Tests for England and Great Britain, convert to the weekly grind of the NRL? How quickly will he combine with Clive Churchill Medallist Jack Wighton?
Ash Taylor has been of the leading lights of a struggling Titans team, playing 79 games since 2016, scoring 13 tries and kicking 94 goals. If the Titans are to compete with Canberra, Taylor need to step up. He only played 10 games last year, taking a break due to personal issues, so he should be keen to impress. He made a strong start in their trial win over Brisbane, kicking four goals from five attempts. If he can keep turning four points into six, the Titans should win their share of games.
Date: Friday March 13.
Venue: GIO Stadium Canberra.