It is now time for part two of Ricky’s NRL previews, the Canberra Raiders!
For a number of seasons now, the Raiders have gone into it confident and chomping at the bit to impress.
By the end of it, they have been left scratching their head and ruing missed opportunities.
As 2019 rolls around, are the fortunes of the Raiders set to change with some astute signings? Or will it be much of the same?
A superbly talented side capable of beating anyone on their day, yet mired with inconsistency over the course of a 25-round season.
Let us jump in and delve deeper into the key areas for the Raiders.
The halves conundrum
The Raiders have had nightmares for years about a lack of quality halves play and cohesion. When one performs, the other does not.
When there are injuries, the backups just are not up to standard.
And therein lies the issue the Raiders have in the halves. Although it takes 17 players to achieve true greatness, it is the halves who see the ball the most.
At crucial times, the Raiders have struggled; unable to get repeat pressure and unable to put the opposition on the back foot.
This inability, due to a lack of consistency in the halves, has cost them. Many have come and gone and tried but unfortunately, not succeeded.
Blake Austin, Mitch Cornish, Sam Williams and Aidan Sezer just to name a few. Williams and Sezer are still with the club and should nothing change, both might end up playing in the halves come 2019.
But that is something that Raiders fans do not want. They want a star in the halves. Someone to create, someone to lead, someone with pedigree.
Is that man out there? Or will the halves conundrum continue in the nation’s capital?
The English Invasion
Canberra is quickly becoming the home away from home for English players, as the Raiders bring their tally up to 4 in 2019.
With both Josh Hodgson and Elliott Whitehead already proving themselves in the league, the Raiders will be hopeful that their two new English recruits can do the same.
John Bateman and Ryan Sutton both join to add some starch and punch to the Raiders team but can they enjoy similar success to their counterparts?
Hodgson made an impact almost from the get-go and was a player that many regarded as one of the elite hookers in the game.
Showing that on an almost weekly basis, his work-rate and crafty play have had Raiders fans pleased for several years.
Whitehead has been much the same. Covering at back-row, centre and even five-eighth when needed, he has shored up his side and provided the Raiders with some mettle.
The success of those two bodes well for Bateman and Sutton but as we have seen in the past, not all English recruits make a splash or even play at all.
For Bateman and Sutton, however, both are coming off rather successful stints with the Wigan Warrriors and they will want to emulate that form for the Raiders.
How do you solve a problem like no Rapana?
Perhaps the biggest talking point for the Raiders heading into 2019 is Jordan Rapana.
One of the elite wingers in the modern era, the news that Rapana will miss close to half the season is a huge blow for a Raiders side who relies so heavily on him.
Over the years, he has formed a lethal combination with Joey Leilua and on his day – which is basically most weeks – he can change a game on his own, single-handedly.
Not having that game-breaking ability out wide leaves a yawning gap in the Raiders attack and it is one that they can only hope to patch up.
Rapana’s ability to create, break tackles, make space for himself and produce either tries, breaks or assists, particularly for a winger, is often uncanny.
It is his consistency and his try-scoring feats that have many in awe of how he plays and how he manages to produce such stellar performances.
With his injury ruling him out until at least halfway through the year, the Raiders will have some tough decisions to make in terms of who replaces him during that time.
Is Michael Oldfield the man to step up? A reliable, hard-working winger, who had a decent 2018 for the Raiders.
Or is it someone else? Another youngster to burst onto the scene like Nick Cotric perhaps? Or even Brad Abbey to make a name for himself?
Player to Watch
Many talented kids have made a name for themselves at the Raiders and Mascot junior Emre Guler will want to do the same.
The strapping prop got a taste of first-grade towards the back end of the season and with spots in the forward pack up for grabs, he looms as a handy option.
Coach Ricky Stuart will have his hands full when it comes to selecting his forward pack but he cannot go wrong if Guler gets the nod.
A key player in the Raiders 2017 Holden Cup side, Guler also has accolades for NSW and the junior Kangaroos to his name.
As he made his way through the ranks at Mounties, his impressive form continued as he laid the foundation for the feeder club.
Those performances were enough to get him noticed and banging on the door for consistent first-grade. If the Raiders need another young gun to call on, Guler may well be their man.
2019 Gains and Losses
Gains: Andre Niko, Brendan O’Hagan, Hudson Young and Kyle Paterson (all 2019), JJ Felise (Newcastle Knights, 2020), Ryan Sutton (Wigan Warriors, 2020) and John Bateman (Wigan Warriors, 2021).
Losses: Blake Austin (Warrington Wolves), Shannon Boyd (Gold Coast Titans), Charlie Gubb (Widnes Vikings), Junior Paulo (Parramatta Eels), Mikaele Ravalawa (St George Illawarra Dragons), Makavesi Dakuwaqa and Craig Garvey (both released).
NRL News Predicted Line-up
1. Jack Wighton
2. Nick Cotric
3. Jarrod Croker (C)
4. Joey Leilua
5. Michael Oldfield
6. Aidan Sezer
7. Sam Williams
8. Iosia Soliola
9. Josh Hodgson
10. Ryan Sutton
11. Josh Papalii
12. Elliot Whitehead
13. John Bateman
14. Siliva Havili
15. Joseph Tapine
16. Emre Guler
17. Luke Bateman
Coach: Ricky Stuart