Wow, here we are Day 3 already – doesn’t time just fly? As the title alludes to, it’s the Canberra Raiders who face the music in this preview, so here it goes.

With the 2013 season fast approaching, Raiders fans will be wondering if they’ll see the consistent, in-form Raiders side, or the inconsistent, out-of-sorts side.
They start the season away to Penrith, and will be keen to start the season in a positive manner.

Over the last few seasons, the Raiders have often been criticised for being rather inconsistent when it comes to their results – winning one game, only to lose comprehensively the next, before winning comprehensively only to then lose a game the next week.
At times over those last few years, many fans were putting the pressure on coach David Furner to be sacked, given the inconsistencies shown by the club.

Despite that tough time, however, for the most part, 2012 was a somewhat successful season, with the Raiders making the semis, only to be knocked out by the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
What made that late season run to the finals even more impressive, is that despite the constant criticism that they could not do so without Terry Campese – it was their young halves in Josh McCrone and Sam Williams who stood up, getting them to that position.

Sporting pretty much the same side as last year, bar the additions of Jake Foster and Joel Edwards to add additional depth to their forwards, expectations for the Raiders will be high, considering the way they finished the 2012 regular season.

With one of the game’s most talented fullbacks when in form playing for them in Josh Dugan, who has admitted that his confidence was low in 2012, priming himself for a solid 2013 season, coupled with the likes of representative forwards in David Shillington, Brett White and Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, the Raiders certainly have the pieces to mount a serious charge towards a 2013 NRL premiership.
With Brett White returning from a knee injury last year, he’ll be looking to knuckle down in 2013, as he is expected to once again lead the Raiders pack along with veteran QLD and Australian forward, David Shillington.

It isn’t only the first 17 that is picked to look out for at the Raiders, with emerging youngsters such as Edrick Lee, Anthony Milford, Shannon Boyd and Mitchell Cornish all prospects for the future and all a potential chance of playing if the Raiders are unfortunately, at some stage, struck down with injuries.

Speaking of injuries, as we all know, the last couple of seasons for club stalwart Terry Campese have been heart-breaking for the man himself, but with a new season, brings renewed hope for Raiders fans that 2013 can be the year that Campese remains injury free and plays a big part in a possible surge to the finals.
Despite his return, however, which is unlikely to happen straight away given he’s still a few weeks away from making a return, there will always be questions about his fitness and whether his body will be able to cope with the rigorous demands of a rugby league game.

When he plays, the Raiders gain a huge amount of experience in their side in general, but Campese’s presence also takes the pressure off of the young halves who play, knowing they have someone of his caliber alongside them.

That won’t be the only concern for the Raiders, however, with the possibility that they will have to make do without in-form centre, Jarrod Croker, who was injured in one of the Raiders trial matches.
Whilst copping his share of criticism over the years, Croker has managed to retain his spot and has produced some top-notch footy in the process, finishing as the NRL’s leading point-scorer last season, showcasing just how frequently he can score points.
With Croker to potentially miss the start of the season, it’s likely that Edrick Lee or Dimitri Pelo will take his place, both of whom are talented – but what loss overall, would that bring to the Raiders? With no Croker, would Lee or Pelo be able to step up to the plate and perform consistently?

The final area to consider for the Raiders, is just who gets that halfback role, now that Campese is expected to return to five-eighth after a few rounds.
With the pressure on both Josh McCrone and Sam Williams, they’ll be playing their hearts out to cement that spot, but based on past seasons and combinations, one would presume that McCrone will get the nod, having played alongside Campese in the past.
Despite that, who do you think is better for the Raiders at halfback? Sam Williams or Josh McCrone?

Both tremendous young talents, the reality of the situation is that when Campese returns, there is only room for one of them, forcing the other to potentially return to the Mounties side, forced to bide their time for another opportunity.

Another crucial factor for the Raiders, will be for their forwards (particularly their props) to perform consistently and lift in crucial games.
Of their main props last year, only David Shillington consistently made over 100m a game, with Dane Tilse and Tom Learoyd-Lahrs lingering around a somewhat respectable 92-96m mark.
In order to gain the early ascendancy during games in 2013, the monster Raiders pack will want to set the tone early and wreak havoc for opposition defences- allowing their back-line players to strut their stuff, making it easier for them to create attacking opportunities.

Perhaps the biggest problem for the Raiders in my view, is their lack of hooker depth and how much it might cost them if they’re not careful.
With Glen Buttriss injured and unlikely to start the season, the departure of Travis Waddell (who remains unsigned despite playing for the Knights in their trial), it only leaves Shaun Berrigan and Matt McIlwrick as the Raiders hookers to have played first-grade.

Berrigan, whilst a veteran of the game with several clubs, may lack the sharpness, acceleration and quick dummy half work that is required of a hooker, whilst McIlwrick is still largely inexperienced and untested at NRL level, with some believing he needs more time to mature as a player before he becomes a mainstay of the Raiders side.
Even when Buttriss is fit, he too has had his critics in the past even when the Raiders were winning games, with some fans disappointed about his overall work ethic and lack of creativity from the hooker position.

It won’t be easy to overcome this glaring problem, but if Berrigan or McIlwrick can play and form some consistency in the role allowing Raiders fans to breathe easier, it might just prove to be a crucial aspect in their 2013 season.

All in all, the Raiders have a talented roster, one filled with experienced players and representative players – a side that on their day can perform incredible feats.
The one big question, however – can 2013 be the season that the Raiders finally shed their inconsistency tag, or will we see much of the same from the last few seasons?

1. Josh Dugan
2. Reece Robinson
3. Blake Ferguson
4. Jarrod Croker (if he plays)
5. Sandor Earl
6. Terry Campese
7. Josh McCrone
8. David Shillington
9. Shaun Berrigan
10. Dane Tilse
11. Joel Thompson
12. Josh Papalii
13. Shaun Fensom

14. Matt McIlwrick
15. Joel Edwards
16. Tom Learoyd-Lahrs
17. Jake Foster.

By ricky

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