AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - AUGUST 02: Josh Hodgson of the Raiders runs the ball during the round 20 NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the Canberra Raiders at Mt Smart Stadium on August 02, 2019 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

The Canberra Raiders were undoubtedly one of the big disappointments over the 2021 season, and will be desperate to turn things around once the first ball is kicked in anger for 2022.

Ricky Stuart’s side were widely tipped as something of a top-four certainty during the lead up to last season, but fell well short of that mark.

Their second halves in particular were atrocious for much of the season, with their fitness seemingly failing them more often than it didn’t, while their consistency - or lack thereof - was apparent for much of the year.

For a side who made the grand final in 2019, their dramatic fall from grace took just 24 months, to the point the green machine have had to make changes to their squad for 2022, and will now need to convince the punters they are good enough once again.

It can’t be understated how critical the departure of George Williams was to their downfall, however, it alone shouldn’t have completely brought the train off the tracks in the nation’s capital.

Jamal Fogarty arrives in Canberra from the Gold Coast Titans for the campaign ahead, while youngsters are fighting for spots against ageing campaigners including Jarrod Croker, who isn’t even sure he’ll make it back onto the field thanks to his dodgy knees.

Then there is the whole situation at hooker, with Josh Hodgson exiting the club at season’s end, and Tom Starling having issues off-field.

Here are the burning questions the Canberra Raiders must find the answers for in 2022.

How does Jack Wighton rebound to his best?
One of the more dramatic falls from grace over the last 24 months has been the form of Jack Wighton.

The 2019 Dally M Medalist and Clive Churchill Medalist, Wighton was instrumental in the Raiders making the grand final that year before eventually falling to the Sydney Roosters.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 19: Jack Wighton of the Canberra Raiders poses after winning the Dally M Medal following the Dally M Awards at Fox Sports Studios on October 19, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Alongside George Williams in 2020 he was solid, but fell apart completely in 2021, a shadow of his formerself.

That must be arrested in 2022 if the Raiders are to go anywhere, and Jamal Fogarty's arrival could be just the spark he needs.

With Fogarty to run the kicking game, Wighton will be able to play his natural running game, and if he can find his best, then the sky is the limit for Canberra.

Can Josh Hodgson and Tom Starling co-exist?
Josh Hodgson and Tom Starling found a way to play in the same team during 2021, but that question becomes seriously complicated heading into the new year.

Starling is currently juggling off-field issues which forced the Raiders to deny Hodgson an early release from the club.

Starling isn't stood down though, and Hodgson will leave the club at the end of the 2022 season, having inked a new contract for 2023 with the Parramatta Eels where he will replace Reed Mahoney.

That all means the Raiders have an awkward juggling act for 2022. Starling will want to start, but so will Hodgson, who had been playing lock when Starling came off the bench in 2021.

This is one to watch throughout the season.

Can Xavier Savage make the number one his own?
So highly rated is Xavier Savage that he will push New Zealand international star Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad to the centres for the 2022 season.

Or that is the talk, anyway.

Savage, who impressed in limited game time at the back end of 2021 will have the first chance at fullback this season, and it's a role he needs to make his own quickly.

NRL Rd 18 - Raiders v Sharks
GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - JULY 17: Xavier Savage of the Raiders is tackled during the round 18 NRL match between the Canberra Raiders and the Cronulla Sharks at Cbus Super Stadium, on July 17, 2021, in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Regi Varghese/Getty Images)

He looks like the sort of player who can be a game-breaker, and a game-changer for the Raiders. The sort of player who could be a breath of fresh air to this competition.

It's his role to claim and own, but the question still remains given his inexperience and youth whether he can do it week in and week out.

Will Josh Papalii find enough support?
Josh Papalii is one of the best forwards in the game, of that there can be not a shadow of doubt.

He is one of the first players picked for Queensland come State of Origin time, and will be one of the first picked for the Kangaroos when they head to the Rugby League World Cup at the end of the year.

But his form tailed a fraction in 2021, and that can easily be put down to a lack of support alongside him.

While Emre Guler, Ryan Sutton and co are solid, none of those players are the player Papalii needs to support him upfront.

Looking across the top teams, you have James Fisher-Harris backed up by Moses Leota at Penrith, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves back up by Siosiua Taukeiaho at the Roosters and Christian Welch on equal footing with Jesse Bromwich at the Storm.

Someone needs to rise to the occasion. That might be recruit Adam Elliott, and it might be Guler himself, or it could be a general lifting of standards across the board, but Papalii can't do it all on his own up front.

Can the Raiders fix their inconsistency?
This is a question which might as well be started off with “Dear Ricky Stuart, can you fix the club’s issues with fitness?”

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 03: Raiders Coach, Ricky Stuart speaks during the NRL Grand Final Press Conference at the Westin Hotel on October 03, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

Zero Tackle analysis last week found that the Raiders were a top-eight team during the first half of games last season, only to fade drastically during the second half.

In fact, the Raiders led seven and drew one of their first ten games at halftime last year, before things tapered off over the second half of the season. They would only lead at halftime a further four times for the remainder of the season.

Canberra's fitness, both in game, and from week-to-week, was clearly a major cause for concern, and while that can come down to some bench players being forced into more minutes and not enough star power to stack up, this is a club who must find a way to be more consistent, particularly in defence, if they are going to make anything of 2022.

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