The old saying goes if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
Although Canberra failed to improve on the Grand Final loss of 2019, they are still in a position to be a premiership contender in 2021.
Ricky Stuart’s team has a good balance of youth and experience. With the exception of John Bateman and Nic Cotric, the Raiders have maintained the core group of players that have propelled them over the past two years.
The addition of half back George Williams in 2020 added a new dimension to their attack. The injury to Josh Hodgson mid year enabled Williams and Jack Wighton to step up and control the Raiders attack.
It also introduced a good young hooker in Tom Starling. When Hodgson went down with injury most thought Canberra’s chances of being a serious threat were over.
Instead it showed the character and depth of the playing squad. It lifted Wighton to a level he might have never thought possible. Wighton was outstanding in 2020 culminating into a Dally M player of the year award at season’s end.
With a settled attacking spine in 2021 with or without Hodgson Canberra look ready to be a true contender. Their forwards led by Josh Papalii are arguably one of the best in the NRL. If new signing former Titans stalwart Ryan James can stay healthy he will be a great asset to an already impressive pack.
John Bateman returning to play in the Super League will be a loss. His tough defence and unique attacking skills can’t be replaced or replicated. The mid-season signing of Corey Harawira Naera and new signing young English player Harry Rushton will somewhat fill the void.
Where I see a weakness is in their backline. Fullback is settled with Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and the signing of Penrith back up Caleb Atkins. Jarrod Croker backs up for his 13th season locking up one centre spot.
Curtis Scott was brought in from Melbourne Storm in 2020 but never lived up to expectations. Off-field issues and injury curtailed his season. Scott will more than likely be given the chance at centre but will need to work on his defensive deficiencies.
The loss of Nic Cotric to the Bulldogs will be felt. Primarily a winger Cotric filled in at Centre and Full Back at times and his strong carries from kick returns helped start the offence.
The future of Jordan Rapana has yet to be determined but he is expected to sign a new contract. It nevertheless leaves the outside backs thin on experience and depth. Bailey Simonsson has shown he is a capable player. Both Matthew Timoko and Semi Valemei were given chances in 2021 and looked promising. They are expected to fight out the remaining starting spots.
If the outside backs puzzle can be solved Canberra have a very talented squad to seriously challenge 2021 favourites the Penrith Panthers. However, I would recommend looking into the player market and signing an experienced outside back to strengthen their depth.
Overall, the Raiders don’t need to alter much. If they can avoid injuries to their play makers they have a great forward pack to match anyone in the NRL. Depth with their backline is their only concern.
Can Canberra return to the glory days and break a 27-year drought and be premiers in 2021?