Canberra will be looking to capitalise on their surprise 2022 finals appearance.
Nick Cotric, Jarrod Croker, Jamal Fogarty, Matt Frawley, Emre Guler, Corey Harawira-Naera, Peter Hola, Albert Hopoate, Corey Horsburgh, Sebastian Kris, Danny Levi, Ata Mariota, Trey Mooney, Josh Papalii, Jordan Rapana, Pasami Saulo, Xavier Savage, James Schiller, Brad Schneider, Harley Smith-Shields, Tom Starling, Joseph Tapine, Matt Timoko, Adrian Trevilyan, Semi Valemei, Clay Webb, Elliott Whitehead, Jack Wighton, Zac Woolford, Hudson Young, Jayden Clarkson, Zane Dunford, Brad Morkos, Ethan Strange. Coach: Ricky Stuart. (as at February 11)
1. Xavier Savage, 2. Nick Cotric, 3. Matt Timoko, 4. Sebastian Kris, 5. Jordan Rapana, 6. Jack Wighton, 7. Jamal Fogarty, 8. Josh Papalii, 9. Zac Woolford, 10. Joseph Tapine, 11. Hudson Young, 12. Elliot Whitehead, 13. Corey Harawira-Naeara, 14. Tom Starling, 15. Corey Horsburgh, 16. Emre Guler, 17. Pasami Saulo.
BEST SIGNING – Danny LeviEmbed from Getty Images
With David Fifita unlikely to come to Canberra, Danny Levi is the Raiders’ biggest signing for 2023. The New Zealand-born NZ/Samoan international has played over 100 NRL games combined for Newcastle (2015–19), Manly Warringah (2020) and Brisbane (2021), and 30 for Huddersfield (2022). With Zac Woolford and Tom Starling in front of him at hooker, Levi will probably play most of his footy in the NSW Cup side, at least to start with. He’s a good depth buy for the Raiders; in case anything happens to Woolford or Starling.
KEY PLAYER – Jamal FogartyEmbed from Getty Images
Fogarty had an up-and-down 2022 season. After looking good in the trials, the former Titan missed the first half of the year through injury, finally making his debut in Round 12. Though it took a while for Fogarty to find his feet, he played 15 games, helped the Raiders in their backend finals charge, and formed a reliable combination with Jack Wighton (who improved on his poor 2022). More importantly, Fogarty’s 52 goals (at a conversion rate of nearly 80%) gave Canberra a clutch goalkicker in Jarrod Croker’s absence. And his average of 261 kicking metres took a lot of pressure off Wighton. Can he continue his fine form into 2023? Raiders fans will be hoping so.
PLAYER TO WATCH – James SchillerEmbed from Getty Images
Will we see more “Schiller Time” (as coined by the Green Machine Podcast boys) in 2023? While he only played six games in 2022 due to injury, Raiders fans will remember his important try double in the Round 18 win over Melbourne. Schiller will be a Raider until at least 2024, so he has plenty of time to establish himself in first grade. Can he eventually emulate his uncle Brett Mullins and become a Raiders superstar?
Canberra arguably overachieved in 2022. After a slow start, they hovered on the edge of the eight before qualifying with a four-game winning streak (helped by Brisbane’s implosion). Then they went to Melbourne and beat the Storm in the elimination final (after also beating them in Melbourne in Round 18). But reality hit in the semi-final, losing heavily to Parramatta.
With their easy 2023 draw, the Raiders should be aiming for top eight finish minimum – and pushing for the top four.
But Canberra have been frustratingly inconsistent for the last 20 years: they’ve only made consecutive finals series’ twice (2003-04 and 2019-20) in the NRL era.
And the ‘easy’ draw could be a disadvantage, as the Raiders have a habit of ‘playing down’ to opponents they should beat comfortably. Leading up to the 2022 finals, Canberra had closer than expected wins against the Dragons and Knights. The Dragons nearly ran down a comfortable Raiders lead, and Canberra trailed Newcastle 22-8 at half-time (and their season all but gone) before winning 28-22.
Canberra play St George Illawarra, the Dolphins, Cronulla-Sutherland, Newcastle, Brisbane, Canterbury-Bankstown, NZ Warriors, and Wests Tigers twice: aside from the Sharks and debutant Dolphins, all these teams missed the 2022 finals. And they only play fellow finalists North Queensland, Penrith, Parramatta, Melbourne, South Sydney, and the Sydney Roosters once (as well as Manly Warringah and the Gold Coast).
There are plenty of questions for The Milk in 2023:
-How big a hole will Adam Elliott leave?
-Will Jarrod Croker force his way back and reach 300 games?
-Will Zac Woolford take on more hooking responsibility ahead of Tom Starling?
-Can Joe Tapine match his excellent 2022?
-Can Xavier Savage become Canberra’s next premier fullback, with more ‘highlight reel’ plays and less errors?
-Will the Jack Wighton-Jamal Fogarty partnership continue to flourish?
-Can older players like Elliott Whitehead, Josh Papalii, and Jordan Rapana push themselves for another big year?
-Can the two Coreys (Horsburgh and Harawira-Naera) build on their brilliant 2022 seasons?
On the strength of their draw, Canberra should make the finals. They’ll want to be pushing for the top four, but fifth or sixth is most likely.Embed from Getty Images