The Newsroom previews each team for the 2015 National Rugby League season.
Ricky Stuart’s first season as head coach did not meet expectations: his side finished just above wooden spooners Cronulla. It was a tough year; the Raiders missed out on several key signings and lost inspirational captain Terry Campese and front rower Brett White. They definitely have the talent in their roster but can they gain some consistency this season? Or will it be a third year without finals footy for the three-time premiers?
Last season: 15th
In: Blake Austin (Wests Tigers), Josh Hodgson (Hull KR, English Super League), Iasa Losia Soliola (ST Helens, English Super League), Sisa Waqa (Melbourne Storm), Sam Williams (Catalan Dragons), Rhys Kennedy, Frank-Paul Nuuausala (Sydney Roosters)
Out: Matt Allwood (New Zealand Warriors), Tom Learoyd-Lahrs (Melbourne Storm), Sam Mataora (Newcastle Knights), Anthony Milford (Brisbane Broncos), Sami Sauiluma (Cronulla Sharks), Brett White (retired), Reece Robinson (Parramatta Eels), Jake Foster (Queensland Cup), Matt Frawley (Canterbury Bulldogs), Lagi Setu (Sydney Roosters), Mosese Pangai (Queensland Cup), Matt Mcilwrick (Sydney Roosters), Terry Campese (Hull KR, English Super League)
Strengths: A big pack. Canberra have one of the biggest forward pack in the competition. The likes of Shaun Fensom, David Shillington and Josh Papalii would not look out of place at any of the 16 NRL teams. Buoyed by the signing of Rooster Frank-Paul Nuuausala, the form of their forwards will be the key to success – or failure – this season. Their backs are creative and talented enough to make the most of the opportunities given to them, they just need to get into the key positions.
Weaknesses: Lack of direction. Blame for this can be sheeted home to the coach but at the end of the day it is up to players to make the plays. They looked lost last season. They cannot afford to switch off at vital stages of games if they are to be competitive this season. A lot of improvement is needed this season and they need to be stronger mentally or they’ll be fighting for the spoon, not the title.
Key player: At just 24 years Jarrod Croker has already made 140 first-grade appearances for the Raiders. He has now been given the captain’s armband. He is already considered a senior player in the side and will need to show maturity beyond his years if he is to get the best out of his team mates. Croker represented the NRL All Stars this year and could play his way into the NSW Origin team if he plays to his potential.
Coach: Stuart, 48, won a premiership (in his first year coaching) and a State of Origin series. But he has been unable to repeat such feats with any teams he has managed lately. The Raiders expected a lot from the experienced player-turned-coach but he failed to deliver. The much-maligned coach is just two years into a three-year deal but he may get a tap on the shoulder if he does not improve Canberra’s fortune.
Prediction: 15th. They just do not look like being a threat this year, but you never know when the Green Machine will turn on the form. – Chris Matthews-Darby
Top photo from Reepy_au’s Flickr photostream.