Ladder Position: 10th
Points For: 558
Points Against: 497
Top Try Scorer: Jordan Rapana (21 Tries)
Home Record: 6 Wins, 6 Losses
Away Record: 5 Wins, 7 Losses
Highlight of the Season
Round 22 – 30-12 Win against the Cronulla Sharks
Sitting well outside the top eight and heading to the Shire to play against the reigning Premiers, the Raiders were not given a chance against Cronulla. Their forward pack dominated the Sharks in the first half, allowing Josh Hodgson to put on a Cameron Smith-like masterclass. They led 24-8 at half time but the most impressive aspect of the win was the fact that they kept a quality Sharks side to a solitary second half try.
Lowlight of the Season
Round 10 – 34-20 Loss to the Newcastle Knights
In round eight they gave up a significant lead to lose in golden point to the Sea Eagles. In round nine they gave up a half time lead to lose to the out-of-form Bulldogs. They needed to bounce back against a Knights side that hadn’t won since the previous season, but their effort and execution simply wasn’t good enough against their enthusiastic opponents. The Raiders had too much class in their line-up for this to be an acceptable result and, sadly, this was quite symbolic of their Jekyll and Hyde season.
What Went Right
With the likes of Jack Wighton, Nick Cotric, Jarrod Croker, Joseph Leilua, Jordan Rapana and Blake Austin among their number, the Raiders boasted plenty of attacking flair. Even with many of these players being below their best for the season, the Raiders still ranked third for points scored in the season. Perhaps most impressive was their ability to break tackles, ranking first in the league with a whopping 945 tackle breaks, with Rapana, Cotric and Leilua all breaking over 100 each.
For the second year in a row, Rapana’s excellent anticipation and innate ability to beat the first defender has yielded at least 20 tries in a season and crowned him as the club’s top try scorer. Rapana’s consistency has seen him become the best right winger in the NRL and an integral part of New Zealand’s push to claim the World Cup.
What Went Wrong
Game Management/Closing Out Matches
With eight games lost by six points or less and three coming in golden point, a strong argument can be made that the Raiders were unlucky. If they won just half of those eight games, then they would be preparing for finals footy. But a closer look at their statistics actually reveals a real problem to complete sets and manage a game. The Raiders were consistently good in the first half of contests, leading or level at half time on 15 occasions, but only went on to win nine of those fixtures, which is a poor conversion rate for a team with Premiership ambitions.
Coach Ricky Stuart has said that he thought the side believed their own hype, assuming they could just play the same as last year and would be a title contender. What happened instead was that the Raiders were running on the spot while other teams moved past them. Or perhaps it was the pressure that comes with Premiership favouritism that caused their combinations to become disjointed? Was it a coincidence that the Raiders played some of their best footy of the year when their season was all but gone and they just played naturally?
Perhaps most concerning is the lack of consistency that the Raiders get from their spine. Austin and Wighton are wonderful talents but we are starting to realise that they need to add another dimension to their games to be elite players in their positions. As it stands, far too much responsibility is falling on the shoulders of Aidan Sezer to get the team around the park. However, to lay all of the blame on the spine would be ignorant of the fact that, as a team, the Raiders made the third most errors of any team (258) had less possession than every team other than the Knights. Even the best halves will struggle when given those sorts of numbers to work with and this was a key reason why they lost so many games from winning positions.
Stand Out Player
Josh Hodgson was nothing short of remarkable in 2016 and, while he didn’t quite reach those heights this year, he retains the title as Canberra’s most important player. Hodgson is the only dummy-half on the planet with the vision and skill-set to challenge Smith. Whether it’s a scoot to gain metres against lazy markers, his excellent service to forwards, or his short kicking game; if Hodgson plays anywhere near his best, the Raiders invariably win the match.
Cotric has been beyond impressive in what has been a poor season for the Raiders. With 16 tries, there is no doubting his ability as a finisher. What is most exciting is the way that he has used his 98kg frame to start sets for the Raiders or assist Wighton in the middle of the park. He has speed, footwork, strength and courage. Who knows how good Cotric might be after a couple of seasons in the NRL?
Recruitment for 2018
PLAYERS IN – Erin Clark (Warriors), Liam Knight (Roosters), Michael Oldfield (Panthers)
PLAYERS OUT – Adam Clydsdale (Released), Zac Santo (Warriors), Jordan Turner (Huddersfield Giants).
The Raiders have worked hard to keep the nucleus of their first grade side intact, re-signing Croker, Wighton, Rapana and Leilua to multi-year deals. They’ve added a couple of players to bolster their depth for the new season, but their top 17 is unlikely to change a great deal next year.
2015 was actually extremely similar to this season with a fairly similar roster; they finished a couple of wins outside the top eight and had enough close losses to suggest they could have made it. Then 2016 happened! Can they repeat the trend in 2018?
Keeping faith in the roster seems wise when you look at the talent across the board and we can expect a largely improved effort from a number of key players. Austin, Shannon Boyd, Hodgson, Josh Papali’i, Junior Paulo, Sezer, Sia Soliola and Elliott Whitehead are all out of contract at the end of next season. If these players start playing for their futures, the Raiders can press deep into September. Bouncing back into the top eight is the bare minimum.
What are your thoughts on the Canberra Raiders’ 2017 season? Let us know in the comments below.
Want to share your opinion? Why not Write For Us?