2017 was a year to forget for the Canberra Raiders but the only way is up for the green machine in 2018.
Despite boasting an array of talent, on-field performances were lacking from the team in the nation’s capital.
Their plight in 2018 does not get any easier either, particularly with English international Josh Hodgson out for much of the season with a knee injury.
Just what can we expect from the Raiders in 2018? Can they overcome the loss of Hodgson and perform? Can they produce consistent attacking stats to get themselves ahead in games? Or is it too much for the side, despite their impressive roster?
Ah, Blake Austin. A man who shone ever so brightly when he joined the Raiders. Only to then see his form fade and thus drawing the ire of Raiders fans for much of the last eighteen months.
Not to fear, as 2018 is another year. A chance for Austin to recapture that form and show why he can make such an impact on a weekly basis in the NRL. His halves combination with Aidan Sezer has drawn plenty of criticism in the last couple of seasons, particularly for their lack of attacking kicks to culminate in repeat sets.
Just as Austin shoulders a large role in leading the Raiders’ attacking raids, so too does his halves partner Sezer. The weight of expectation and pressure will be upon them but are they good enough to live up to it? Or will it, unfortunately, get the better of them and have the Raiders on the back foot early in 2018?
Name a more iconic duo in the NRL? Go on, we dare you?! Of course, we’re kidding. Plenty of iconic duos have made their presence known in Australian rugby league and Leipana is just the latest.
Joseph Leilua and Jordan Rapana have formed a seemingly telepathic-like bond based on the way they seem to always link up in attack, even via uncanny means.
If we back-track to 2016 just for a minute, it was in this season that the term was coined. Such was the fluid, dynamic play of the duo, that the name Leipana was coined. It suited, too. Together, they seemed unstoppable and inseparable and with no end in sight.
Like all good things, however, it came to an abrupt end. Not wholly, merely temporarily. For as good as Leipana were in 2016, by their own admission, they were not as good in 2017. Initially striking fear into their opponents, their effectiveness in 2017 waned as both Leilua and Rapana struggled for consistency.
With the start of the 2018 season, however, comes a chance to start afresh. A chance to rekindle the always blossoming bromance. Raiders fans will certainly hope that is the case, as the two loom as key players if the club is to have any chance of finals footy and consistency.
The Hodgson Blueprint
His ability and effectiveness to the team cannot be understated but the Raiders will be forced to start the season without Josh Hodgson.
The star English hooker who enjoyed a solid World Cup injured his knee, suffering an ACL injury, a huge blow for the Raiders.
A nifty, live-wire player from dummy half, Hodgson takes a lot of pressure off the halves in that he can essentially play like one. In the Cameron Smith mold of hooker when on-song, his loss leaves a huge hole in the Raiders hooker department.
With vision and creativity to boot, the Raiders will have to rely on a couple of more part-time hookers to fill the void.
Both Craig Garvey and Siliva Havili are decent players in their own right. However, neither has had much of a chance to prove their worth with any great consistency.
Havili showed glimpses of what he can do at the World Cup and Garvey at club level but is it enough? Can either step into the hooker role and take the pressure off the halves if need be? Or is that a bridge too far? One thing is for certain, they will need to or the Raiders could struggle to control the ruck regularly.
Gains and Losses
Gains: Brad Abbey & Craig Garvey (both Canterbury Bulldogs), Charlie Gubb (New Zealand Warriors), Michael Oldfield (Penrith Panthers), Siliva Havili (St George Illawarra Dragons), Sam Williams (Wakefield Trinity), Liam Knight (Sydney Roosters), Cooper Bambling, Kalani Going, Stefano Hala, Corey Horsburgh & Sebastian Kris.
Losses: Kurt Baptiste, Lachlan Croker, Brent Naden, Clay Priest, Zac Santo, Scott Sorenson, David Taylor & Jordan Turner.
Player to Watch
Blessed with plenty of good forward talent, the swashbuckling Jack Murchie will have his own opportunity to shine in 2018.
2017 season saw him named in the Holden Cup Team of the Year and play for both the Junior Kangaroos and NSW U20’s. His ability playing on the edge and to play consistently impressed many Raiders fans and Raiders staff.
Like any young player, he is far from the finished product. However, the Raiders are pleased with his development, particularly in attack. With bits and pieces still to work on, his work ethic and desire will be at the forefront of his mind as he looks for a first-grade berth.
A local player, Murchie loves the Raiders and the club as a whole. Opportunity for him would cap off a dream he has had for quite some time. With that chance not far off, he could be the next big star out of the Raiders after the success of Nick Cotric.
Predicted 2017 line-up
- Jack Wighton
- Nick Cotric
- Jarrod Croker (C)
- Joey Leilua
- Jordan Rapana
- Blake Austin
- Aidan Sezer
- Junior Paulo
- Siliva Havili
- Shannon Boyd
- Josh Papalli
- Elliott Whitehead
- Iosia Soliola
14. Craig Garvey
15. Joseph Tapine
16. Charlie Gubb
17. Luke Bateman
Coach: Ricky Stuart.