Simply the best! That was the theme song for Rugby League when Canberra last tasted premiership glory. People born in 1994 would now be at uni and/or in the workforce.
The Raiders last won a premiership when they boasted one of the best teams of the modern era. Names such as Meninga, Daley, Clyde, Stuart, Mullins, Furner, Wiki, Walters and Croker made the term “The Green Machine” synonymous with the Canberra Raiders.
In that time, the Raiders have plumbed the depths of despair and had the occasional solid season where they were considered “contenders”.
What will 2013 bring? This is the odd year and traditionally in the odd year the Raiders fail to make the finals.
Looking at the Raiders on paper, they have a potentially top four squad but rarely has this potential been realised. Can David Furner bring the best out in the Raiders this year or will he be one of the coaches on the hot seat if early results are hard to come by.
The Raiders still field one of the youngest teams in the NRL but have been able to blood outstanding juniors in recent years and if they can take the next step, then the Raiders will be the dark horses for this years premiership.
The headliners for the junior development program include Josh Papalii, Sam Williams, Josh Dugan, Jarrod Croker, Joel Thompson, Jack Wighton and Shaun Fensom. That is more than half the starting side, who are under 25 and all are capable of playing representative football.
A lot will hinge on the fitness of Terry Campese and he is not expected back until round five at the earliest, but the Raiders learned to win without him last year and with Josh McCrone and Sam Williams in the halves, the Raiders are still well positioned to make a deep finals run if they can maintain a level of consistency and start winning at home once again.
The Raiders boast a huge forward pack with David Shillington and Brett White leading the way up front, complimented by Dane Tilse and injury prone Tom Learoyd-Lahrs. Another junior in Mark Nicholls is someone I expect to make an impact in 2013, possibly supplanting Leaoryd-Lahrs as an additional prop to come off the bench.
The Raiders are facing an uphill battle to retain the services of some of their outstanding juniors, with Josh Papalii in a tug of war with Canberra and Parramatta over his services and Sam Williams is rumoured to be courted by the Bulldogs. Joel Thompson and Jarrod Croker are reportedly in the sights of the Eels so Raiders management have to find a way to keep their best on the books.
Realistically, the Raiders can’t keep them all and I see Sam Williams as the main priority followed by Jarrod Croker and if means the Raiders have to lose Papalii to secure the long term futures of Williams, Croker and Thomspon, then so be it. You can’t keep them all.
The Raiders face a favourable start to the season with their first three games against the Panthers, Titans and Dragons, teams the Raiders will be expected to beat if they are to be considered a serious premiership threat.
I think the Raiders will cause some major damage this year but they are still a little green around the gills for my liking in key positions and they need luck with injuries. Players such as Campese and Dugan need to be on the field for the majority of the season if the Raiders are to make a run and if the Raiders can win 75% of their home games, a top four finish is not out of the question.
Predicted finish – 6th
Top 17: Josh Dugan, Sandor Earl, Jarrod Croker, Blake Ferguson, Jack Wighton, Josh McCrone, Sam Williams, Shaun Fensom, Josh Papalii, Joel Thomspon, David Shillington, Shaun Berrigan, Dane TIlse. Res: Brett White, Joel Edwards, Mark Nicholls, Tom Learoyd-Lahrs.