There are two schools of thought with the Canberra Raiders ahead of 2022. The first is that the stench of last season’s disappointment is merely a passing scent. The second is that sustained excellence is difficult in the NRL and coach Ricky Stuart’s voice may be running a bit thin.
The Raiders’ key off-season additions, including halfback Jamal Fogerty, and re-signings, such as Xavier Savage and Tom Starling, should fill most in the camp with optimism.
2021 was undoubtedly a difficult year for the Raiders, with the club struggling to live up to expectations and fading away regularly in the second half of games. They ended up missing the finals despite those pre-season expectations.
2022 is a year where the green machine simply must turn it around.
Ins: Nick Cotric (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, 2024), Adam Elliott (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, 2022), Jamal Fogarty (Gold Coast Titans, 2024), Peter Hola (North Queensland Cowboys, 2024), Brandon Morkos (2024)
Outs: Caleb Aekins (released), Adam Cook (released), Siliva Havili (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Ryan James (Brisbane Broncos), Dunamis Lui (released), Darby Medlyn (released), Kai O'Donnell (released), Curtis Scott (released), Bailey Simonsson (Parramatta Eels), Iosia Soliola (retired), George Williams (released)
Star player: Josh Papalii
Papalii’s subtle drop in production in 2021 compared to his previous two seasons are a key indicator that when Josh is rolling, so are the rest of the team. A drop in minutes played per game and average running metres were hindered by injuries and suspension.
Papalii is one of the most devastating big men in the game, often leading the league or close to in offloads and tackle breaks for his position. Papalii is also also one of the most efficient tacklers in the game, and his performance will be critical in fixing the Raiders’ for and against.
Rising star: Harry Rushton
Rushton joined the Raiders in 2021 on a three-year deal after making his Super League debut for the Wigan Warriors in 2020.
During his ten games in reserve last year, he crossed for two tries and tackled with an impressive efficiency, showing off his fitness and motor for a big-bodied forward. Still young, Rushton is yet to find his main position in the NRL but with the ability to play lock, second-row or prop, and the departure of a plethora of forwards this season, the young gun will likely be a plug-and-play throughout the year.
Most under pressure: Adam Elliot
With most of the Raiders’ core players locked in for the future, Elliot is the only star whose future is a little undetermined.
Elliot’s six-year tenure with the Bulldogs, while posting star like numbers, was plagued with indiscretions. Only 27, Elliot enters 2022 on a one-year prove it deal with the Raiders and will be under the pump to keep his NRL career going into 2023.
Five matches to watch
Match 1: Round 3, vs Titans, at GIO Stadium (Sat, Mar 26, 7:35pm)
Match 2: Round 7, vs Panthers, at BlueBet Stadium (Sun, Apr 24, 4:05pm)
Match 3: Round 10, vs Sharks, at Suncorp Stadium (Sun, May 15, 1:50pm)
Match 4: Round 18, vs Storm, at AAMI Park (Sun, Jul 17, 4:05pm)
Match 5: Round 23, vs Knights, at McDonald Jones Stadium (Sun, Aug 21, 4:05pm)
Coach Ricky Stuart is entering the season on somewhat of a luke-warm seat - finishing in tenth position or lower for the fifth time in his eight years leading the club. While Stuart should be commended for keeping the club even remotely competitive towards the end of the season, the expectation is that, with a healthy roster and blossoming young stars, the Raiders will crack the top-eight at a minimum.
Key players, such as Jack Whighton, also struggled for form. Additions to the backs, a key half replacement and development upfront however has the Green Machine poised for a finish in the middle of the table - around the edge of the top eight - all going to plan.