As the National Rugby League season draws closer, we look at how Canberra will go in 2021.
Canberra made another preliminary final in 2020; they’ll be expecting to match that in 2021.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
As at 3rd February 2021
Caleb Aekins, Adam Cook, Jarrod Croker, Matt Frawley, Emre Guler, Corey Harawira-Naera, Siliva Havili, Josh Hodgson, Albert Hopoate, Corey Horsburgh, Ryan James, Dunamis Lui, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Josh Papalii, Jordan Rapana, Harry Rushton, Curtis Scott, Bailey Simonsson, Harley Smith-Shields, Sia Soliola, Tom Starling, Ryan Sutton, Joseph Tapine, Matthew Timoko, Semi Valemei, Elliott Whitehead, Jack Wighton, George Williams, Sam Williams, Hudson Young
Caleb Aekins (Penrith Panthers, 2021), Ryan James (Gold Coast Titans, 2022), Trey Mooney (2021), Harry Rushton (2023), Xavier Savage (2021), Clay Webb (2021).
John Bateman (Wigan Warriors), Luke Bateman (released), JJ Collins (released), Nick Cotric (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Andre Niko (released), Michael Oldfield (Parramatta Eels).
Wests Tigers (H), Cronulla-Sutherland (A), NZ Warriors (H), Gold Coast (A), Penrith (A).
WHAT TO EXPECT
After a solid 2020 (where they overcame a lot of travel and some key injuries to make a third preliminary final in five seasons), Canberra will expect to go deep into September again.
While Nick Cotric (Canterbury-Bankstown) and John Bateman (Wigan) are gone, Canberra will welcome back Josh Hodgson, Corey Horsburgh, and Bailey Simonsson. They’ll be hungry for some footy after playing just nine (Hodgson), six (Horsburgh), and seven (Simonsson) games in 2020. Canberra’s biggest signings are Caleb Aekins (Penrith) and Ryan James (Gold Coast), while 19-year-old Harry Rushton is another former Wigan player on the move to Bruce Stadium.
The Raiders also welcome back Canberra Milk as their major sponsor, with the glorious mid-90s heritage jersey making all the money in the world.
Unfortunately, the Raiders will miss captain Jarrod Croker for the first few rounds due to shoulder surgery. They only play two top eight teams (Cronulla-Sutherland and Penrith) in the first five rounds, so they’ll be looking to bank early wins before Croker returns.
Curtis Scott is due for a big year. His 2020 season was overshadowed by his court case, and while some fans were critical of his poor form, it’s a wonder he was able to play at all with that stress in the background. Now the court case is behind him, his mind should be fully focused on footy.
Also expect big things from George Williams: he’ll be looking to build on an impressive 2020, especially with his halves partner (and reigning Dally M Medallist) Jack Wighton in sublime form, and Williams’ countryman Hodgson hopefully available for a full season.
Canberra have 11 home games, three trips to Queensland, one to Perth, one to Melbourne, one to Wagga Wagga (a transplanted home game), and one to Auckland.
Things get serious between rounds five to eight, with games against 2020 grand finalist Penrith (away), Parramatta (home), and 2020 preliminary finalists South Sydney (home). They have a blockbuster fortnight in rounds 11 and 12, against reigning premiers Melbourne (home) and the Sydney Roosters (an away game in Perth). They meet the Storm and Roosters again in the final month of the regular season. Assuming they’re in the finals mix, these return clashes will be a perfect tune-up for September.
The Raiders got a huge boost in late January, as they’ll now field a team in the 2021 NSW Cup (the first time since 2007): with the Mounties now aligned with Canterbury, this move is vital for Canberra’s second tier players, who showed so much promise in the round 20 “Baby Raiders” win against the Sharks last year.
One thing that can’t be doubted is the Milk’s tenacity. Everybody wrote them off after they lost Hodgson and Simonsson in round nine, but Canberra rallied to upset the Roosters, then won 10 of their next 12 – despite their nasty habit of slow starts against bottom eight teams, only to fire up in the second half – to make the preliminary final against Melbourne. Yes, the Lang Park loss to the Storm was embarrassing, but the Raiders had spent all their tickets just to get that far.
Top Tryscorer – Jack Wighton
Top Pointscorer – Jarrod Croker
Club Player of the Year – Josh Papalii
WHERE WILL CANBERRA FINISH?
Assuming a strong start and a kinder run with injuries, Canberra will aim for a top four finish, and then try and break their 27-year premiership drought.