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2022 Canberra Raiders Team Preview

After a nightmare 2021, Canberra will be looking to return to the finals in 2022.

2022 RAIDERS SQUAD

Elijah Anderson, Nick Cotric, Jarrod Croker, Adam Elliott, Jamal Fogarty, Matt Frawley, Emre Guler, Corey Harawira-Naera, Josh Hodgson, Albert Hopoate, Peter Hola, Corey Horsburgh, Sebastian Kris, Ata Mariota, Trey Mooney, Brandon Morkos, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Josh Papalii, Jordan Rapana, Harry Rushton, Xavier Savage, Brad Schneider, Harley Smith-Shields, Tom Starling, Ryan Sutton, Joseph Tapine, Matthew Timoko, Semi Valemei, Clay Webb, Elliott Whitehead, Jack Wighton, Sam Williams, Hudson Young.

KEY SIGNING

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Jamal Fogarty (Gold Coast)

After controversially losing George Williams mid-season last year, the Raiders had to rely on a combination of Sam Williams and Matt Frawley. While Frawley showed potential, it became clear that Sam Williams wasn’t a first-grade halfback – at best he’s the senior guy in reserve grade and an occasional NRL fill-in. That’s why it was vital that Canberra signed Fogarty. Hopefully Fogarty’s arrival takes the pressure off Jack Wighton to be “the man”. Fogarty averaged over 300 kicking metres last year, so if he can do the bulk of the kicking, that will allow Wighton to focus on simplifying his game and running the football, which was when he was most dangerous in 2019/20.

KEY PLAYER

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Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad

The Raiders really missed CNK in 2021. Not only did his injury – just after Easter – lead to a revolving door of fullbacks (with Jordan Rapana eventually finding his feet there), but Canberra’s defence crumbled without him, routinely throwing away massive half-time leads to lose games that should’ve been in the can: the collapses against North Queensland (up 24-6 just before halftime) and Newcastle at Wagga (16-0 at the break) were the most embarrassing. If CNK stays fit, then Canberra should have a much better 2022.

PLAYER TO WATCH

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Xavier Savage

There are some players who are born to play at the top. Xavier Savage is one of those. Raiders fans have been hyping Savage up for ages (last year, The Green Machine Podcast had a weekly segment called ‘Savage Watch’) and he played in Canberra’s 2021 SG Ball premiership. Savage’s potential was clear once he reached first grade, and non-Raiders fans finally saw what the fuss was all about. Savage looked set to own the fullback spot until his season-ending injury. With CNK returning, will Savage stay at fullback? Or will he play centre/wing with CNK down back? Or will they rotate depending on the match situation? Wherever he fits, we’re sure to see more of Savage in 2022.

DRAW

Sharks (H), Cowboys (A), Titans (H), Sea Eagles (A), Storm (H), Cowboys (H), Panthers (A), Warriors (A), Bulldogs (H), Sharks (Magic Round), Rabbitohs (A), Eels (H), Roosters (H), Broncos (A), Knights (H), Dragons (A), Storm (A), Warriors (H), Titans (A), Panthers (H), Dragons (H), Knights (A), Sea Eagles (H), Tigers (A)

PREVIEW

Canberra’s motto for 2022 is “redemption”. After excellent 2019/2020 seasons, the Raiders fell away dramatically in 2021, with a six-game losing streak, numerous second half fadeouts (see above), a revolving door of fullbacks, a humiliating home loss to the Gold Coast Titans (which turned out to be their last home game for the season), and ridiculous soap opera drama off the field, including losing star halfback George Williams to “homesickness”. Despite all this, Canberra stayed in the finals hunt until their final round clash against the Sydney Roosters. Unfortunately, a heavy defeat summed up their nightmare season.

The Raiders will be keen to prove 2021 was an aberration as the Milk (should we call them “the Forks/the Lift” now with Toyota Forklifts the new major sponsor?) try to break the NRL’s second-longest premiership drought. While it probably won’t happen this season, they can start rebuilding in 2022.

Canberra used the off-season wisely, offloading a lot of players (Ryan James, Siliva Havili, Caleb Aekins, Bailey Simonsson, Curtis Scott, Dunamis Lui, Darby Medlyn), while the veteran – and fan favourite – Sia Soliola retired. The 2022 season will be Josh Hodgson’s last in lime green, while it’s highly likely to be Jarrod Croker’s as well.

Crucially, they finally picked up a halfback (former Titan Jamal Fogarty), signed the Cowboys’ Peter Hola, and former Canterbury pair Adam Elliott and Nick Cotric. The Cotric signing was a nice early Christmas present for Raiders fans, as many didn’t want him to leave in the first place.

This signalled a much-needed generational change at Bruce Stadium, as the 2021 Raiders looked old, tired, and struggled to cope with the ridiculous pace of V’landysball. Fortunately, the adjustment to the controversial Six Again rule (with teams awarded with a penalty for off-side and ruck infringement offences in their own half, rather than a Six Again), could help slow the game down a bit, which should help Canberra, as they based their 2019 grand final charge on their defence (averaging about 15 points conceded in the regular season).

One advantage of their horrible 2021 season is more realistic expectations. The Raiders have traditionally struggled with favouritism and – in their good years – have saved their finals runs for the back end of the season. Most experts will have Canberra floating around the bottom of the finals at best, and towards the bottom four at worst. The lack of attention may be a good thing.

The Milk got off to a promising start in their first trial, beating the Sydney Roosters 32-18 at Leichhart Oval on Friday, February 18. While the Roosters fielded a reserve grade-strength team, the Raiders’ fringe players still impressed. Xavier Savage, Adrian Trevilyan, Brad Schneider, Corey Hawawira-Naera, and Peter Hola and Jarrod Croker scored tries, while Croker kicked four goals. Canberra looked to be easing to victory with a 28-6 lead, but two Roosters tries closed the gap to 10 with 10 minutes left (giving Raiders fans – with fresh memories of the frequent 2021 fadeouts – some nervous moments), but Croker’s try sealed the win. Yes, it was only a trial, but the signs were promising, especially with the Raiders’ big guns likely to return for the second trial against Manly Warringah on Friday, February 25.

So, how does Canberra’s draw look? They have a reasonable start, only facing two top four teams (Manly Warringah and Melbourne) in the first six rounds. Then it gets a bit harder: they travel to Penrith in round seven, then Souths, Parramatta, and the Roosters from rounds 11 to 13. They have a decent run home after their round 17 bye, with big tests against Melbourne in Melbourne, and Penrith and Manly (both at home); otherwise they play teams in the lower half of last year’s eight and below. Could Canberra set themselves up for the traditional late finals charge?

Assuming that injuries are kind and there’s no more ugly fadeouts, Canberra will be aiming to finish somewhere between fifth and eighth. The fact they nearly made the finals in 2021 (despite all the off-field drama) suggests the Raiders aren’t that far off the pace.

BEST SEVENTEEN-MAN SQUAD
1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad
2. Jordan Rapana
3. Jarrod Croker
4. Xavier Savage
5. Nick Cotric
6. Jack Wighton
7. Jamal Fogarty
8. Josh Papalii
9. Josh Hodgson
10. Joseph Tapine
11. Hudson Young
12. Adam Elliott
13. Elliott Whitehead
14. Tom Starling
15. Ryan Sutton
16. Corey Horsburgh
17. Corey Harawira-Naera

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