With under a week to go until the NRL kicks off, we lay down an extended preview for each club. Below is a look at the Canberra Raiders.
Ins: Curtis Scott (Storm), George Williams (Wigan Warriors), Tom Starling, Harley Smith-Shields (upgraded from development contracts)
Outs: Jordan Rapana (Japanese rugby union), Ata Hingano (Mackay Cutters), Royce Hunt (Sharks), Brad Abbey, Reuben Porter (unsigned), Aidan Sezer (Huddersfield), Joey Leilua (Tigers)
The Raiders were one non-pass away from lifting the 2019 trophy. For all the talk of the controversial “six-again” call/non call, if Leilua had hit the unmarked Rapana it’s a completely different game.
They absolutely overachieved in the eyes of many, myself included being that I didn’t even have them playing finals footy. Wighton’s shift was a masterstroke, Nicoll-Klokstad’s signing was arguably the best of the year, and the English forward invasion worked a treat.
Josh Paplii had a career best season, which considering what he has achieved in his career says a lot. Josh Hodgson now rivals Smith and Cook as the game’s best number nine.
Predicted Best Player: Jack Wighton
The easy choice would be the Raiders incredible number nine in Hodgson, however I believe Wighton is going to continue to go from strength to strength in the new season.
He now has a second pre-season training at six. He arguably has an improved number seven playing beside him and whilst Bateman is injured for the opening weeks, his forward pack is immense.
That left hand side of Wighton, Croker and Cotric is one of the most dangerous edges. I think it will become the Green Machine’s “go to” edge after years of relying on Leipana.
Wighton’s kicking game really shone through at the end of last season and with another Winter break spent fine tuning his craft, I expect big things from the Origin utility who has made the Canberra 6 jersey his own.
Predicted Top Scorer: Nick Cotric
The aforementioned left side of the Raiders is set to benefit hugely from both Wighton’s development and the exit of Leilua and Rapana, and it is the Origin winger who will benefit most.
Playing outside Jarrod Croker is brilliant in its own right but this year his try scoring opportunities will rise substantially.
An injury ended his Origin run and stalled his NRL season but coming into the season at full fitness, Cotric is set to cross the line regularly. Nothing less than 15 tries for mine will do. He could legit reach 20. I’ll say 18.
Cotric is pretty much the perfect modern day winger. 2019 won’t be his only appearance in the Origin arena.
Curtis Scott has been recruited to fill the role vacated by BJ Leilua. I copped some heat stating this on a podcast recently but I consider Scott an overall upgrade on the two-time Dally M centre of the year.
My main argument that was Leilua was a liability at times. He’s the kind of player who can throw a bad pass, lose possession then give away a penalty, then a further ten for back chat. Then I remembered Scott’s history.
I still think the Raiders got the best here being that Scott is so young and still yet to peak. If he can focus on the game and not his moments of madness on Australia Day, the Green Machine have a weapon in their arsenal.
George Williams recruitment may make or break their season. For mine he is an upgrade on Sezer, although you never really know with the Super League converts.
Stuart has been on winners thus far in Hodgson, Sutton and Bateman, however halves are completely different animals altogether. I think it’s a smart move.
2020 Final Position: 4th
In my first draft I had the Raiders finishing top of the table. For mine they improved at centre and at halfback, while Wighton had another season as did CNK.
I’ve re-evaluated to fourth due to the fact that a lot had to go right for Canberra to finish where they did last year and it would be a big ask for the same to happen again.
That said, there is no reason at all why this side should not be there or there-abouts come late September.
Ricky Stuart has been the recruitment master over the past few seasons and has slowly built a side capable of ending their title-drought.
I’m not sure they’ll be able to go as far as last season but I would be shocked to see a big slip. This side is just too strong and there are too many factors in their favour.
Expect a very comfortable finals finish and a second round finals appearance.