2022 review: Canberra Raiders

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There tended to be two schools of thought heading into 2022 for the Green Machine.

Many pundits saw them as on the slide following a disastrous 2021, which saw them fail to make the finals for the first time since 2018. The more optimistic experts saw a young side on the rise, with the only question mark revolving around whether Titans recruit Jamal Fogarty was the halfback to unlock their biggest attacking threat in Jack Wighton. Coming into their 40th season, it was a fork in the road moment in Ricky Stuart's reign over his beloved Raiders.

Canberra flew out of the blocks winning two of their first three, this was despite the catastrophic loss of hooker Josh Hodgson, who was ruled out for the season with an ACL injury (in Round 1) and he was joined by one of the rising stars of 2021 in outside back Harley Smith-Shields. Veteran centre and skipper Jarrod Croker also couldn't get the body right, nor could new recruit Fogarty and the injury toll seemed to have piled the pressure on the Milk, who subsequently slumped to five straight losses before managing to outscore a hapless Canterbury outfit by 14-4 in Round 9. 

The Raiders then all of the sudden sprang to life at Magic Round, where they upset the red hot Sharks running out convincing 30-10 winners, which kept them on a three match run until they were halted by Parramatta to mark the halfway point of the season. Canberra continued to be inconsistent throughout the representative period and they seemed a bit too far out to make a run for the finals. However all of the sudden their major query during the off season was answered, when the well balanced halves duo of Wighton and Fogarty gelled, which opened the door for breakout seasons from backrower Hudson Young and arguably the world's best prop in Joseph Tapine. This perfect storm led to Canberra going on a superb run to win their final four matches of the season and leap over competition pretenders in the Broncos and Sea Eagles to snatch 8th spot on the ladder. 

Without the weight of expectation, the Milk then stunned the Storm at AAMI Park in the first Elimination Final running out winners by 28-20 to set up a huge clash with the Parramatta Eels. Unfortunately for the Raiders, they were blown off the park by the eventual Grand Finalists and while their season ended in disappointment, overall it left fans with a feeling of burning optimism that Canberra's premiership window isn't closed as some suspected pre-season.

Turning Point

The Raiders most impressive and rare stat that they hold from 2022 is that they defeated the Storm in Melbourne…twice! Their Round 18 encounter saw them come into the match as underdogs but following a Jack Wighton bust just before halftime, which resulted in a heavy collision between himself and Storm fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen, (who came off second best with his knee cap shattered and his season over) Canberra sensed that this could be their day. The Raiders then held that momentum and the win was given an exclamation mark, following one of the individual tries of the season by rookie outside back James Schiller to seal victory. The win gave Ricky Stuart's side the confidence they could beat anyone on their day and proved to be the impetus that saw them go on an incredible run to snatch 8th position on the ladder at season's end. 

What worked

Coach Stuart and his coaching staff made some tough calls at the selection table in 2022, which proved crucial to their ongoing success moving forward. The preference of the mercurial Xavier Savage at fullback over long term favourite, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad proved the be the right call. While Savage is prone the over enthusiastic error on occasion, in open space he is electric and he has huge potential in the custodian role moving forward. The astute buy of Jamal Fogarty as the team's halfback hardly sold newspapers, but he was exactly the organising halfback that Wighton will benefit from and their combination looks certain to improve. Did we mention the emergence of Hudson Young? Who went from an erratic and ill-disciplined bench warmer to a bolter selection for the Kangaroos World Cup extended squad, scoring a team high 14 tries, with 10 of those occurring from Round 15 onwards.  

What didn't work

Not having a healthy roster early in the season didn't help the Raiders chance of a premiership nor give them any chance of challenging for a Top 4 spot. To be honest though it is consistency that didn't work for Canberra in 2022. While they did manage to belt out eight out of nine victories to finish the regular season, their best and worst performances are still miles apart. You still get the Raiders who beat Melbourne in Melbourne but who also get beat by the Warriors at home despite seemingly being in control. Until they get that consistency across the board they won't be challenging the title contenders. 

2022 results

1Mar 11thFri 6:00pmHCronullaW24-19GIO 15,2245th
2Mar 19thSat 7:30pmANorth QldL6-26QLD C.B.13,86412th
3Mar 26thSat 7:30pmHGold CoastW24-22GIO 11,4578th
4Apr 2ndSat 5:30pmA NManlyL6-25Mudgee6,97213th
5Apr 9thSat 3:00pmH NMelbourneL16-30Wagga8,13313th
6Apr 14thThu 7:50pmHNorth QldL12-18GIO 11,85413th
7Apr 24thSun 4:00pmAPenrithL6-36BlueBet 20,61215th
8Apr 30thSat 3:00pmAWarriorsL20-21Redcliffe6,32614th
9May 6thFri 6:00pmHCanterburyW14-4GIO 12,89012th
10May 15thSun 2:00pmA NCronullaW30-10Suncorp30,45310th
11May 22ndSun 2:00pmA NSouthsW32-12Apex Oval11,1249th
12May 29thSun 4:00pmHParramattaL20-28GIO 16,24410th
13Jun 5thSun 4:00pmHSydneyW22-16GIO 6,49211th
14Jun 11thSat 7:30pmABrisbaneL18-24Suncorp28,14211th
15Jun 19thSun 2:00pmHNewcastleW20-18GIO 12,45711th
16Jul 3rdSun 4:05pmASt Geo IllaL10-12WIN 7,06911th
18Jul 17thSun 4:05pmAMelbourneW20-16AAMI 16,10610th
19Jul 23rdSat 3:00pmHWarriorsW26-14GIO 11,91510th
20Jul 30thSat 3:00pmAGold CoastW36-24CBUS12,4619th
21Aug 6thSat 5:30pmHPenrithL6-26GIO 16,9129th
22Aug 14thSun 2:00pmHSt Geo IllaW24-22GIO 11,2169th
23Aug 21stSun 4:05pmANewcastleW28-22McD. Jones16,7689th
24Aug 27thSat 3:00pmHManlyW48-6GIO 16,6478th
25Sep 4thSun 4:05pmAWests TigersW56-10Leichhardt10,0418th
EFSep 10thSat 5:40pmAMelbourneW28-20AAMI 20,8388th
SFSep 16thFri 7:50pmAParramattaL4-40CommBank29,1348th

Best Player

Joseph Tapine went from wallowing on the bench for the Raiders for long periods in 2021 to emerging as one of the most dynamic and damaging front rowers in the NRL just 12 months later. Tapine led the resurgent Raiders to the finals with his damaging runs and deft offloads in a timely contract year performance. The Raiders were quick to offer the Kiwi prop a generous five year deal which keeps Tapine in the nation's capital until 2027. Canberra is now his home long term and he is certainly on the trajectory as a future captain of the club. 

2022 player stats

COTRIC, Nick23217--281-
CROKER, Jarrod321-3-6--
ELLIOTT, Adam27242--8--
FOGARTY, Jamal2815352-116--
FRAWLEY, Matt2781--4--
GULER, Emre2416------
HARAWIRA-NAERA, Corey272151-22--
HODGSON, Josh321------
HOPOATE, Albert2173--12--
HORSBURGH, Corey24221--4--
KRIS, Sebastian232014--56--
MOONEY, Trey201------
NICOLL-KLOKSTAD, Charnze27122--8--
PAPALII, Josh30254--16--
RAPANA, Jordan332167-381-
RUSHTON, Harry213------
SAVAGE, Xavier20197--28--
SCHILLER, James2162--8--
SCHNEIDER, Brad2110123-50--
STARLING, Tom24262--8--
SUTTON, Ryan27171--4--
TAPINE, Joseph28252--81-
TIMOKO, Matthew22269--36--
TREVILYAN, Adrian211------
VALEMEI, Semi2383--12--
WHITEHEAD, Elliott33223--121-
WIGHTON, Jack29214--16--
WOOLFORD, Zac2617------
YOUNG, Hudson242414--561-
29 players25.9269686055650

Looking Ahead

Ricky Stuart was quoted as saying that he had a Top 4 squad and that it was only the early season decimation of their roster through injury that held them back in 2022. Stuart has so far doubled down on that assertion with no major big name signings for 2023. Stuart has however welcomed premiership winning coach Michael Maguire back to the club as part of his inner coaching circle, as the Green Machine look to back the emerging talents of Tapine, Young, Savage, Kris and Horsburgh. Provided the Raiders pick up a few depth signings over summer (particularly in the backrow) then there is no reason why they won't be playing finals in 2023. 

2023 Best 17

1. Xavier Savage
2. Nic Cotric
3. Matt Timoko
4. Sebastian Kris
5. Jordan Rapana
6. Jack Wighton
7. Jamal Fogarty
8. Josh Papali'i
9. Tom Starling
10. Joseph Tapine
11. Hudson Young
12. Elliott Whitehead
13. Corey Harawira-Naera

14. Danny Levi
15. Corey Horsburgh
16. Emre Guler
17. Ata Mariota