Raiders fans may wonder what happened in 2017. I’m right there with them. I had the Raiders topping the table and launching a genuine title run. How could they not? They were almost unstoppable in 2016 and were a dropped ball away from a Grand Final appearance.
Fast forward to mid 2017 and the mooted top four finish was all but a pipe dream and suddenly even a top eight spot looked a real struggle.
Ricky Stuart gets paid the big bucks and will be expected to right the ship because a squad this talented should not be missing finals two years in a row.
Rapana, Leilua, Wighton, Hodgson, Austin, Sezer, Croker. All weapons! The raiders scored 558 points in 2017. That’s 58 points more than the second placed Roosters. They scored more points that all but two (Broncos and Storm) top eight sides yet still missed the finals by four competition points.
They had six blow up victories and even beat the Roosters, Sharks and Eels (twice).
Recruitment Grading: D
Realistically Canberra haven’t changed much despite a large turn over of players. Charlie Gubb is likely to play plenty of first grade but other than the injury to Hodgson which will bring either Brad Abbey, Siliva Havili or Craig Garvey into contention, all other player movements look like depth signings or losses. Liam Knight has plenty of potential and could be a bolter for a bench position early in the season. Otherwise it looks as though the Raiders are happy with what they’ve got. If the squad plays as it did in 2016 then this will be no problem at all. If performances follow suit from their 2017 efforts, it could be a big problem.
Star Player: Blake Austin
With Josh Hodgson out and Jordan Rapana limited by the amount of ball he sees, Blake Austin is not so much the ‘star player’ but more of a most important player. The 2016 Raiders express dominated on the back of Blake Austin’s performances. In 2017 he was well below par and the Raiders struggled as a result. Although, shockingly, his stats in terms of try assists were better in 2017, no one can honestly say Austin was anywhere near his best last year. In 2016 I was shocked that Austin’s name wasn’t in genuine Origin talks. Last year he was not in the top ten. The 26 year old, who will record his 100th NRL appearance in round one, has all the tools to become Canberra’s main man again. I’d even go so far as to say he can be a genuine superstar of the competition. The Raiders are so reliant on their halves that Austin and Sezer really have no choice but to find form early or it could be a long season.
Can Canberra bounce back after a horror 2017? @zerotackle
— Moylan Mania 🍍 (@suthodan) January 23, 2018
Strength: Unrivaled attacking ability
Last year’s rookie of the season Nick Cotric rounds out one of the game’s most impressive back lines, certainly point scoring wise. Wighton, Rapana, Leilua, Croker and Cotric are unrivaled when it comes to back line potency. All are proven try scorers and in Croker’s case, prolific point scorer. Throw in Sezer, Austin, and the likes of Whitehead up front and the Raiders will not struggle for points in 2018. As mentioned earlier they outscored all but the Broncos and Storm in 2017, and I’d argue that they were well under par. That’s scary. The problem has been that the Raiders will put 60 on a side, then turn in two less than attractive games in the following weeks. If they can find the key to unlocking those point scoring blitzes across multiple games, watch out.
Weakness: Way too inconsistent
On their day Canberra can put 40 on any side in the competition. Unfortunately for fans in lime green, those days come too few and far in between. In 2017 the Raiders beat the high flying Roosters then lost the next four games in a row. Their biggest wins were against the Tigers, Titans, Knights and Warriors, the bottom four sides. That is all well and good but unless you can consistently beat the mid to high rated sides, finals footy is a long shot at best. This side beat the Eels twice, so the talent is there. This is also a side that lost to the Dogs and Knights in succession. The inconsistency is there.
I almost talked myself into moving the Green Machine much higher when thinking about the attacking weapons on hand. That said, I just can’t see the Canberra pack stacking up consistently against the more fancied sides such as the Cowboys, Storm and Roosters.
Huge question marks hang over the head of both Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer, who despite all the talent in the world, just haven’t been able to find that extra gear. Their job won’t be made any easier by the long-term injury to Josh Hodgson. His running game is excellent and his ability to provide quick ball to the halves invaluable.
I always struggle to write this side off. There is SO MUCH there to like. Cotric is one of the game’s best youngsters and could push for Origin sooner than later. Rapana is probably the most entertaining winger in the game. Boyd is a monster. Tapine is set for a career best year, mark down this statement.
It’s not that Canberra are overly bad, I just don’t think there’s as good as other sides. They’re going to score plenty of points, but the defensive side of their game hasn’t been up to scratch. They bettered the defensive record of only six sides last year. Only one of those six, Manly, finished outside the bottom five in 2017.
This is one of those ‘hedge your bets’ statements, but I wouldn’t mind being wrong here. I enjoy watching the Raiders play. As long as their not running up a cricket score against my side, there are fewer sides more enjoyable to watch.
That said, I just can’t see them putting enough of those special displays on to qualify for finals. Ricky Stuart has a monster year ahead of him.