The Canberra Raiders have had a rough couple of years. After 2016 provided us a sign of what was possible, 2017 and 2018 instead showed us what was likely. 2nd (and spiritual winner of 2016)* became 10th and 10th again as a mixture of injuries, defensive ineptitude and bad luck (so regular it wasn’t just bad luck), stalled the otherwise inevitable rise of god’s gift to rugby league.
But never fear, 2019 is here. Things are finally looking up for the Green Machine, and so we are feeling very optimistic. Here’s 19 optimistic things we reckon could happen in 2019.
1. Jack Wighton will start the season at fullback
2. Jack Wighton will end the season at five-eighth
Jack Wighton is a really good fullback. In fact I’ve argued he’s already elite. And I think the Raiders are going to want to do everything they can to make sure he continues to develop his game there.
I’m not certain though that circumstances will allow it. The Raiders lack depth in the halves. A combination of the defensive frailty of Sam Williams, potential injuries, and the temptation that Wighton might be the next Darren Lockyer will see him make the move at some point of the season, if only temporarily.
3. I will tweet at least five times about how good Gary Belcher’s mo’ was.
I mean just look at it.
4. John Bateman will play on an edge, not in the middle.
There’s been a lot of discussion about where the English star John Bateman will fit into the Raiders pack. NRL.com had him starting on the bench, probably because they didn’t want to take a stand on whether he was a middle or an edge forward.
My suspicion is that his size (or lack thereof) will seen him spend most of this time on an edge for the Raiders. That’s not a bad thing. While separating Elliot Whitehead from BJ Leilua and Jordan Rapana might create anxiety, Bateman will be an able and hardworking replacement. Whitehead will move to the middle where he will create havoc around the ruck through his connection with Josh Hogdson.
5. Elliot Whitehead will average over 40 tackles a game
Whitehead loves to tackle and is one of the Raiders best defenders (despite his defensive efficiency stats). Moving to the middle on a more regular basis will give Josh Hodgson (30 plus tackles a game) a bit of help in bringing down the big boppers. The increased workload won’t be an issue for Whitehead.
6. The Raiders pack will be much improved.
The Raiders finally have the right type of pack. It’s mobile, it’s flexible and its durable. There’s a good mix of underrated experience (Sia, Whitehead, Lui) and emerging youth (Guler, Murchie, Sutton, Horsburgh) and star talent (Papa, Bateman, Tapine). Not to mention ‘Mr Fix-It’ Siliva Havili. It may lack the size of previous incarnations, but that will be a win on both sides of the ball.
7. The Raiders defence will be average.
This is a good thing. After having the 5th worst defence in the league in 2018, and a defence that capitulated in some incredible and depressing ways (see losses to the Broncos and Warriors). But with the more mobile Batemans, Sia, Whitehead, Tapine in the defensive line, the Raiders edges will be less porous. Add that the halves may include the rugged Wighton and underrated defence of Aidan Sezer and suddenly it doesn’t seem the weakness it’s been in recent years.
8. I will find a way to properly describe that two-prop decoy thing that Josh Hodgson runs, usually to put Papalii over.
9. Speaking of which, Hodgson will have his best season since 2016 and will win Dally M hooker of the year, and finish in the top 3 for Dally M.
The 13 try assists in 11 games, combined with the way that he took over the side when he returned from injury, showed that Hodgson has this NRL caper locked down. There’s no question anymore. This is his side and we’re all the better for it.
10. And Josh Papalii will play all 3 origins and score seven plus tries.
Papalii has been ‘training the house down’ which usually means nothing. But given how he’s turned up after offseasons in the past, it’s good to see the big man is ready to rock and roll for 2019. A lot of responsibility will be on his back, and the ball will be put in his hands for many of the hardest carries. But my guess is he embraces the leadership role, and his already burgeoning connection with Hodgson (Papa’s six 2019 tries mostly came off Hodgson’s shoulder) will see him not only with plenty of metres, but also plenty of meat pies (under no circumstances should he receive meat pies as a reward for tries – Rob).
11. The Raiders squad will be the same on January 1 as it is on day one of the season.
We’ve touched on this a bunch in the offseason, and there’s been no shortage of rumours of stars coming to the Raiders. First it was Corey Norman, then it was Mitchell Moses, then it was Matt Dufty, then it was Shaun Johnson. At the moment it’s Dufty again.
We call this the Raiders Raise. Dufty doesn’t want to come to Canberra. He just wants to get paid by the Dragons. He’s not searching for the $175k the Raiders have to spend in 2019, but rather the money they want to spend on Jordan Rapana in 2020.
12. We will realise just how much we rely on Jordan Rapana
Jordan Rapana is really important to the Raiders. In 2018 he averaged the most yards per game, second most average line breaks and tackle breaks. He’s one of the best wingers in the world on any metric. His attack is a ‘get-out-of-jail-free-card’ for the Green Machine, and his yardage work is a critical part of the Raiders field position game.
In short, he’s rad, and it sucks we won’t have him until mid way through the season.
14. It’ll be a struggle to keep him.
I am worried fams. We’ve been talking extension with Rapa for a while now, and nothing has been announced. If the rumours around Dufty do turn out to be true you can pretty much kiss Jordan good bye. That would a next level poor decision from the Raiders, and god I hope they don’t make it.
Shit that’s not very optimistic. OK hold on.
15. Ricky won’t get fined for complaining about the refs at all.
Now that’s what i’m talking about!
16. Nic Cotric will play origin
Because he’s finally not 19 anymore (what will the commentators say now?), the Blues will realise he was already good enough to play origin last year. In 2019, he’ll crack the squad.
17. BJ will be better in 2019 than he was in 2018.
There was a fair bit of consternation about Leilua winning Dally-M centre of the year in 2018. He was actually really good last season: not only was he brilliant with Rapana, but his work as a ‘third prop’ when things were difficult was notable. Sure his defence was poor, but that was more often about the hokey-pokey approach of Blake Austin than his decision making.
Like Papalii, BJ has been working hard this off-season. That’s a really good sign. I reckon he’s in for an even bigger year than last year.
18. The Raiders will make the finals
Not only the finals, but the second week. I think they’ll actually finish the season around the 6th-7th range. They are better than they were in 2017-18, although may be not as good as 2016.
19. And that means an extension for Ricky Stuart.
Ricky is up for a new contract after 2020, and I reckon a successful 2019 will see him get an extra two years. In fact, even if they’re not successful, I think this one will happen, whether you like it or not.
Bring on 2019!
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