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Canberra Raiders – NRL Season Preview

The 2018 Canberra Raiders season can be summed up in one word. Disappointing. A team full of potential superstars and a swarm of enthusiastic fans after an extremely promising finish to the 2016 season, somehow ended with yet another year of heartbreak. A few too many close losses gave the Raiders no chance of making finals towards the end of the season. The absence of Josh Hodgson was also crucial to the Raiders early season lacklustre performance. Although, after his return, the Raiders saw immediate improvement which shows promising signs for the Raiders opening game of the 2019 season.

The Raiders inability to close out tight matches was a huge worry last season, but whether Josh Hodgson’s presence early in the season helps, remains to be seen. In 2018, eight of the Raiders 14 losses were by a margin of four points or less. This is something that the team will need to address for the 2019 season.

In the last three seasons, the Raiders have not scored less than 550 points. Two of those seasons ended early with failure to qualify for the finals. Clearly, the team has no problem with scoring, finishing second in the ‘points for’ category in the 2018 season. Defence seems to be a key issue for the Green Machine, and with key losses in the forwards in the form of Shannon Boyd and Junior Paulo, there doesn’t seem to be any quick fix for this.

The loss of the aforementioned stars – as well as a few others, has left some big holes to fill. This would be difficult for a premiership winning team to cope with, let alone for the minnows from the ACT who failed to make the Top eight. The exits of Shannon Boyd, Junior Paulo and Blake Austin will certainly be the most difficult for the squad to deal with.

However, the addition of English forward pair Ryan Sutton and John Bateman certainly has potential to excite, especially given the prowess of the Raiders other English imports; Josh Hodgson and Elliot Whitehead.

Austin’s departure has caused a shift in the halves, with Jack Wighton moving into the five-eighth position for the opening round – and potentially for the season. This gives way for the debut of new signing Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad in the fullback position for game one against the Gold Coast Titans, which could stir excitement for the Canberra hopeful, given the teams history with promoting young backs to the first team (one only needs to look at Nick Cotric for an example of recent success in this area).

The incoming English duo from Wigan will certainly be worth keeping an eye on this season, as well as the afore-mentioned Nicoll-Klokstad.

Nick Cotric and Josh Hodgson will also be a pair to watch, especially if their last season’s form is anything to go by. For the short term at least, fan-favourite Joseph Leilua will be interesting to watch to see how he copes in the absence of his partner in crime – Jordan Rapana (injured in the off-season).

The Raiders have already announced their round one side to play the Titans at 6:10pm on Sunday 17th March.

It has now been two underwhelming 10th place finishes in a row for the Green Machine, so it is fair to say that the goodwill that the Raiders built from the hugely successful 2016 season, has almost faded out entirely. While the Raiders continue to excite in their attacking ways, the team must find consistent form to inspire the continued loyalty of fans.

It is worth noting however, that while there have been two consecutive 10th place finishes during both the 2017 and 2018 seasons, there appeared to be a glimmer of hope of qualifying for the finals until the dying rounds – hence why the team must find consistent form early in the season – and why the early presence of Josh Hodgson should help with the team.

Although, this fact shouldn’t delude fans into expecting another miracle Top two finish, as the Raiders are yet to prove they can be a consistent team. Their defence requires a lot of work if they are going to find themselves well placed at the end of the season.

Fans should demand nothing less than a Top eight finish, with the Raiders likely to finish between 10thand 6th place on the ladder, with Canberra hopeful to play in September.

And as the Channel 9 commentary team loves to remind us; anything can happen in finals season…


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