2024 Preview: Canberra Raiders

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Lachlan McIntyre looks ahead at what 2024 holds for the Green Machine as our 2024 NRL club preview series continues.

Fighting for finals…or further?

Canberra's 2023 season came to a close in the first week of finals, losing to Newcastle in extra time. But the weeks leading up to the match were just as nail-biting for Raiders fans, with the club only just holding on to the final top eight spot despite two consecutive losses to round out the regular season. 

2024 will start how 2023 ended, with a round one rematch against the Knights likely to create early season fireworks as the Raiders seek revenge. However the Canberra team of 2024 will definitely have a different feel to them, especially with the absences of club stalwarts Jack Wighton and Jarod Croker. A lack of big name signings for the Raiders to replace those departing is set to test their next generation of talent as Ricky Stuart enters his 11th year as head coach at the capital. 

The Raiders will again be hoping to make a deep run into the finals, with a third straight top eight finish for the first time since 2002-04 on the cards for the club. Back-to-back eighth place finishes in the past two years has certainly added to the drama but Stuart will want to go a few spots better this season in order to give themselves the best finals draw possible. Canberra will have pre-season hit outs against the Eels and the Cowboys before travelling to Newcastle for a Thursday night round one fixture.

Why they'll win it

The Canberra Raiders have held a strong reputation in recent years for getting the most out of English-born players. In fact, the last time the Raiders made a serious crack at the title back in 2019, half of their starting forward pack were English players, with halfback George Williams joining his countrymen Josh Hodgson, John Bateman, Elliott Whitehead, and Ryan Sutton at the club the following season. These five have all represented England on the test match stage, but in 2024 only Whitehead remains at the nation's capital.

In 2024 some new English blood will enter camp however, with former Wigan Warrior Morgan Smithies signing on a three year deal. Smithies has already represented his country, and has racked up an impressive 114 first string appearances for the Warriors. At only 23 years of age, the lock forward has plenty of Northern Hemisphere experience under his belt, and if Ricky can get him playing his best footy downunder a new English star may just bring back 2019 for the Raiders, or perhaps even one step further. 

Why they won't

Significant losses in leadership. Raiders legend Jarrod Croker has hung up his boots after playing his 300th NRL game last year. Croker is a one club man, having made appearances for the Raiders in every season since debuting in 2009. Also absent from the Raiders squad this year is stalwart Jack Wighton. Wighton has played twelve seasons with the Raiders in the NRL, but he will begin a new chapter in his career with the Rabbitohs in 2024. The loss of the former Kangaroo opens up uncertainty in the halves, and is a massive blow to the experience in the team. 

Player movement

2024 GainsSimi Sasagi (Newcastle)
Morgan Smithies (Wigan)
Kaeo Weekes (Manly)
Zac Hosking (Penrith)
Contracted for 2024Albert Hopoate, Ata Mariota, Brad Morkos, Chevy Stewart, Corey Horsburgh, Corey Harawira-Naera, Danny Levi, Elliott Whitehead, Emre Guler, Ethan Strange, Hohepa Puru, Hudson Young, Jamal Fogarty, James Schiller, Jordan Rapana, Joseph Tapine, Josh Papali'i, Kaeo Weekes, Matt Timoko, Morgan Smithies, Nick Cotric, Pasami Saulo, Peter Hola, Sebastian Kris, Simi Sasagi, Zac Hosking
2024 LossesJack Wighton (South Sydney)
Harley Smith-Shields (Gold Coast)
Matt Frawley (Leeds)
Jarrod Croker (retirement)
Clay Webb (unsigned)
DevelopmentAdrian Trevilyan, Noah Martin, Troy Dargan, Michael Asomua, Vena Patuki-Case

Key players

Jamal Fogarty will have a new halves partner for 2024, and with his seemingly concrete position in the number seven jersey comes a lot of responsibility. A lack of legitimate back-up options for Fogarty means that his performance week on week will be absolutely crucial for the Raiders. He is entering his third season at the club, and at thirty years of age he has just been re-signed until the end of the 2026 season, a confidence-boosting show of faith from Canberra. 

All the players in the running for the fullback spot are also key to the success of the Raiders in 2024. Xavier Savage faced a number of injury hurdles in 2023, making just the one NRL appearance on the wing, however he played at fullback in the NSW Cup throughout the year. However by the end of the season Savage was ousted to wing by another young talent, Chevy Stewart. 18 year old Stewart is tipped to make his first grade debut this season and will likely be favoured over Savage early in the year. Other options for fullback include new signing Kaeo Weekes, who has made twelve NRL appearances for Manly, four of which as the starting fullback; Seb Kris, who despite being listed as a centre spent most of 2023 as the Raiders' fullback; and of course Jordan Rapana, who finished the 2023 season in the number one jersey for the Raiders.

Breakthrough to watch

19 year old Ethan Strange will be aiming for a breakout 2024 season. Strange made both his NSW Cup and NRL debuts last year, with the half cementing himself as the five-eighth in the Raiders reserve grade side. He played one game at centre in the top grade, but he will want to add to that tally significantly in 2024. The absence of Jack Wighton leaves the number six jersey largely up for grabs, with Strange in a fight with the newly signed Kaeo Weekes to fill the position to partner Jamal Fogarty in the halves. Even though Weekes is likely to get the first crack, expect Ethan Strange to be knocking down the door, and potentially get an opportunity later on in the season.

Best 17

1. Sebastian Kris
2. Xavier Savage
3. Ethan Strange
4. Matthew Timoko
5. Jordan Rapana

6. Kaeo Weekes
7. Jamal Fogarty

8. Josh Papalii
9. Zac Woolford
10. Joseph Tapine
11. Hudson Young
12. Elliott Whitehead
13. Corey Horsburgh
Interchange: 14. Danny Levi, 15. Trey Mooney, 16. Zac Hosking, 17. Morgan Smithies

2024 fixture list

All times AET (Canberra local time)

Pre 1Sat 5:55pmFeb 17thAParramattaNetstrata
Pre 2Sun 3:00pmFeb 25thHNorth QldSeiffert
R1Thu 8:00pmMar 7thANewcastleMcD. Jones
R2Sat 3:00pmMar 16thHWests TigersGIO
R3Fri 6:00pmMar 22ndAWarriorsApollo
R4Sun 6:15pmMar 31stACronullaPointsbet
R5Sun 6:15pmApr 7thHParramattaGIO
R6Sun 6:15pmApr 14thHGold CoastGIO
R7Sat 7:35pmApr 20thABrisbaneSuncorp
R8Sun 4:05pmApr 28thHCronullaGIO
R9Fri 6:00pmMay 3rdAManly4 Pines
R10May 9-12BYE
R11Fri 6:00pmMay 17thHCanterburySuncorp
R12Sat 3:00pmMay 25thHSydneyGIO
R13Sat 7:35pmJun 1stADolphinsKayo
R14Jun 7-10BYE
R15Fri 6:00pmJun 14thHNorth QldGIO
R16Sun 4:05pmJun 23rdAWests TigersC'town
R17Sat 7:35pmJun 29thAMelbourneAAMI
R18Sun 4:05pmJul 7thHNewcastleGIO
R19Jul 11-14BYE
R20Fri 8:00pmJul 19thHWarriorsGIO
R21Sun 6:15pmJul 28thHSouthsGIO
R22Sun 4:05pmAug 4thACanterburyBelmore
R23Sat 3:00pmAug 10thHManlyGIO
R24Sat 5:30pmAug 17thANorth QldQLD C.B.
R25Sat 3:00pmAug 24thHPenrithGIO
R26Sun 4:05pmSep 1stASydneyAllianz
R27Sat 3:00pmSep 7thASt Geo IllaNetstrata