Canberra Raiders - 2012 Preview

Anyone remember Yazz? They had a one hit wonder in the 80's with a tune called "The only way is up". I hope it's being played in earnest throughout the Raiders pre-season training because nothing could be more accurate after the disaster that was the 2011 season.

After much fanfare and hype, 2011 was a year to forget for the Raiders but it did go to script. In the odd years, the Raiders miss the playoffs and that is one expectation they actually lived up to last year. The lone bright spot was the last minute win against the Dragons on Monday Night Football. I can take solace in the fact that no matter how far down the ladder we may be, a win against the Dragons is assured. I have to admit the win against the Storm in Melbourne was pretty special too!

I'm not sure what to expect this year to be honest. The Raiders have only added veteran Shaun Berrigan from the Warriors and have lost Tongue, Miller, Vidot, Galea and Orford (can't really count this one). The Raiders welcome back Terry Campese from knee and groin injuries respectively and the burden of expectation will fall squarely on his shoulders and to a lesser extent, Josh Dugan.

Campese will need time to get match fit, not to mention his confidence back. Campese is at his best running at the line and in the final weeks of the 2010 season, there was no better player in the NRL. He was carving teams up on a weekly basis and it's this ability that the Raiders need to ride in 2012. With only eight minutes under his belt in 2011, it's hard to give any type of assessment for last year.

Dugan will be pushing hard to make 2012 one to remember as it is a contract year for him and he has his sights firmly set on returning to Origin football but he has to overcome injuries and play on a consistent basis to make it back to the promised land. He is a fan favourite and can make things happen in both attack and defence.

Rumours of Dugans departure to a Sydney based club are still swirling around and until Dugan puts pen to paper, the speculation will continue. The new tv deal will make Dugan a much wealthier player regardless of which club he is at, but it would be nice to see a home grown player show some loyalty and stick with the club that developed him.

There is no doubt the Raiders have the tools to be a force in the NRL, but to be competitive over 26 weeks will take two things, luck with injuries and a new game plan. David Furner's simplistic and outdated game plan has held the Raiders back but with Justin Morgan now on the coaching staff, I am hoping for a new direction with how the Raiders apply themselves on the field. They have been consistently poor defensively and tentative in attack.

There is uncertainty at halfback with Sam Williams and Josh McCrone fighting it out to partner Campese in the halves. This will be an interesting battle and whilst I would like to see Williams start the season at halfback, as I feel he is a natural half, the concensus is McCrone will be given first shot based on his form last year, which was excellent for the most part, but he did fall away badly once the Raiders were out of the finals race. McCrone is more of a five eighth and has speed to burn and could be used effectively as a utility player, but he does have some mistakes in his game that limit his ability to be a genuine game breaker in the NRL.

Some of the forwards were awful last year, with Bronson Harrison the most notable of the big name players who simply did not aim up in 2011. His spot will be under threat this year with Josh Papalii and Joe Picker keen to assert themselves as the Raiders first choice back rowers.Bronson will still be first choice over Picker and will partner Papalii in the back row to start the season.

Shaun Fensom is a player I expect to see continue on his way to becoming a rep player. He has all the tools, a first rate work ethic and a never say die attitude. Let's hope his play will inspire the rest of the Raiders forward pack to loftier heights in 2012.

The other position to play itself out is hooker. Glen Buttriss should be first choice but the Raiders can easily slot Shaun Berrigan in to over for Buttriss as I don't expect Travis Waddell to be a major factor in 2012, spending most of his time with NSW feeder cup side, Mounties. Buttriss needs to be a 60 minute player and provide good service out of dummy half.

The Raiders hopes will hinge on what happens up front. An imposing front row combination on paper with Shillington, White, Tilse and Learoyd-Lahrs means the Raiders should be able to roll across the advantage line with ease and continuity. If the Raiders big mean can make the tough metres up front, Campese will have time to work with the likes of Dugan, Ferguson and Croker and create the opportunities out wide. If the Raiders get on a roll, forget it! They are impossible to run down once they are firing but if things start to go wrong, the Raiders can also fold like a cheap suit and give away big leads that end up as heartbreaking losses.

Potentially, the Raiders are a top eight, even top four team, but unfortunately, I just don't see it this year. A dramatic change in the game plan and improvements in attitude and defence will have to prevail if the Raiders are to have a successful 2012.

Why they'll win it
Campese, Dugan and the front row. All need to be firing every week and need to stave off complacency. Justin Morgan may be an ace up their sleeve off the field. A new defensive structure and fresh input is exactly what the Raiders need to get back to the promised land.

Why they won't
Inconsistency and David Furner. These two go hand in hand and unless Furner can get the side focused every week and playing with confidence in a game plan that is actually well thought out, 2012 will just be another year to add to the tally of years without a premiership, which currently stands at 17 as at the end of 2011.

Player to watch
Josh Papalii. Had a great rookie season and will be close to an 80 minute player in 2012. A lot like former Raider Ruben Wiki and can offload in traffic. Will give the Raiders plenty of second phase play for Campese and Williams to set up the outside backs.

Rookie to watch
Matt McIlwrick. An up and coming hooker that could force his way into the starting side if there are injuries or lack of form from Buttriss, Waddell and Berrigan. Big wraps and one I expect to deliver when given the chance.

Shaun Berrigan (Warriors)

Alan Tongue (retired), Daniel Vidot (Dragons), Josh Miller (Dragons), Danny Galea (Panthers), Matt Orford (retired)

Best lineup
Josh Dugan, Reece Robinson, Jarrod Croker, Joel Thompson, Blake Ferguson, Terry Campese (C), Josh McCrone, Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, Glen Buttriss, David Shillington (C), Bronson Harrison, Josh Papalii, Shaun Fensom
Interchange: Brett White, Dane Tilse, Shaun Berrigan, Trevor Thurling