GRAND FINAL DAY LOCKED IN | Three big fixtures next Sunday at Sydney's ANZ Stadium! Burleigh and Ill...
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Canberra fans must think they are stuck in some continuous loop with the constant failures both on and off the field in the last few years, tempered by the occasional finals appearance. 2013 was the nadir for these issues as Josh Dugan and Blake Ferguson were both sacked for alcohol & behavioural issues, then David Furner was sacked - replaced eventually by Ricky Stuart... plus they finished in a lowly 13th position with such a talented roster.
After the drama induced action of last year, the pre-season thus far for Canberra has been quiet and without incident (at the time of writing, anyway). This serenity has combined with a quiet time in the player market, due to the focus on maintaining the core of the young players they had developed through their Holden Cup team, which made it to the preliminary final last season.
The continuous assembly line of talent that emanates from the ACT has helped to reduce the impact of losses like Joel Thompson, Sam Williams and Joe Picker, with youngsters like Mitchell Cornish, Patrick Mago and Shannon Boyd ready to fill the breach.
For the Raiders though – it is a good mix of youth and experience in the squad which has threatened to deliver on their promise to deliver in the last few seasons. Once again the key will be keeping the players healthy and out of trouble with noted disciplinarian Ricky Stuart as head coach, brighter days could be ahead for the green machine.
Stuart, much like his side, will be under the microscope in 2014 after breaking his contract with the Parramatta Eels to join Canberra – and he will be expected to succeed with the roster at his disposal, with a repeat of the failure of the 2013 season likely to be costly for a Raiders organisation who are used to success.
Before the season proper begins though – Canberra take part with the fifteen other NRL teams in the Auckland 9s. Canberra has preferred to take a youthful squad captained by Jarrod Croker to the land of the long white cloud, giving us a glimpse into what could be coming in the next few seasons.
Where they can win it?
The Raiders follow the template which has permeated through rugby league, the last century or so, forwards win matches and for them they possess some giant forwards who will lay the platform in the early exchanges of games. This will leave space for Anthony Milford, Jarrod Croker and Terry Campese to work their magic.
Canberra need to create a fortress out of their home ground once again – teams went there last season and weren't phased by the team or the weather. If they can get a roll on again at home, teams will once again dread the trip down the highway to the nation's capital.
Where they will struggle?
Consistency! That is something the Raiders have struggled with in the last few years even whilst making the finals. If Stuart can bring consistency to the nation's capital with one of the most talented rosters in the NRL. He will be close to emulating the glory times he enjoyed while playing for Canberra.
If he stays within Canberra and doesn't seek a release to Brisbane – Anthony Milford will prove to be a match winner for them. His footwork makes him elusive especially with the new rule interpretations to speed the game up – Milford will add to an already impressive highlight reel against tiring defences this season.
Rookie to Watch
Mitchell Cornish – the halfback for the Holden Cup side, he has directed that side around for the last few years and has been promoted to the NRL squad. Since Josh McCrone is tipped to move into hooker, Cornish could start the year at halfback alongside Terry Campese.
The Big Plays
Can Canberra find some consistency? Will Terry Campese remain healthy throughout the year? Can Ricky Stuart motivate the Raiders to a finals position? Raiders fans will hope the players will have a quieter albeit more successful season in 2014 both on and off the field.
Likely lineup Round 1
1. Anthony Milford 2. Reece Robinson 3. Jarrod Croker 4. Jack Wighton 5. Edrick Lee 6. Terry Campese © 7. Mitchell Cornish 8. David Shillington 9. Josh McCrone 10. Brett White 11. Jake Foster 12. Joel Edwards 13. Shaun Fensom
Interchange: 14. Tom Learoyd Lars 15. Mark Nicholls 16. Jarrad Kennedy 17. Glen Buttriss