Canberra Raiders 2017 Preview

  • Signings & Losses
  • Player Rankings
  • Strongest 17
  • Close Results Record
  • The Professor’s Prediction
  • Your Prediction


Signings & Losses

Signings: Dunamis Lui (St George – P), Jordan Turner (ESL – C), David Taylor (ESL – SR)

The signing of Jordan Turner from St Helens just doesn’t make sense. Nothing more than a solid player in the ESL that plays in the 3 positions in which the Raiders are strongest – centers, second row, and five-eight… We all know how good Dave Taylor can be on his day but they are few and far between.

Losses: Paul Vaughan (St George Illawarra – P), Brenko Lee (Canterbury W), Frank-Paul Nuuausala (ESL – SR), Sam Williams (ESL – HB)

Paul Vaughan is the only loss from the regular 2016 side. The Professor rates him highly but doesn’t believe he is worth the rumored fee the Dragons have paid. Brenko found himself on the wing in 2016 thanks to the star center partnership but more than held his own and in the Professor’s eyes was a much better option than his cousin Edrick. FPN left mid-season while Williams was no more than a back-up.


Player Rankings

Jack Wighton has immense talent within his game but the number of errors he produces is hindering that progress. Averaging 1.6 errors per game Wighton lead the error count of any player in the NRL to play 10 games or more in 2016. In 2015 he was ranked at 14th and in 2016 he has improved to 7th. If he can remove the errors from his game in 2017 The Professor is certain he will move up the rankings.

Zac Santo played just the 1 game in 2016 in which he put in a solid display. Santo has obvious talent, earning himself a position in the 2016 NSW Cup team of the year, but will struggle to break into the 1st-grade side with the Raiders possessing the most potent attack in the NRL in 2016.

Jordan Rapana had a mammoth 2016 earning himself a New Zealand jersey, tied top try scorer and the 2nd rank among wingers. Rapana managed the 2nd most line breaks and 3rd most tackle busts of any winger to play 10 games or more in 2016. Along with Leilua, they are by far and away the most destructive pairing in the NRL and there is no reason why they will slow down in 2017.

The Professor doesn’t understand how Edrick Lee maintained his spot throughout 2016 and his stats say the same. Ranked 49th among wingers Edrick had a bitterly disappointing 2016 while cousin Brenko (ranked 10th) delivered each time he appeared in 1st grade – what was Ricky thinking! Brenko has gone to the Bulldogs in 2017 so Edrick should maintain his place to start the season but look out for a PNG flyer.

That PNG flyer is Kato Ottio. With 29 tries in 23 games for the NSW Cup side, the try-scoring winger earned himself a position in the NSW Cup team of the year. The 22-year-old winger is certain to find himself in the NRL side at some stage in 2017 and The Professor believes his  NSW Cup form warrants an NRL debut in round 1!

Joseph Leilua had a huge 2016 and was extremely unlucky not to play for either New South Wales or Australia but that will change in 2017 according to the Professor. Leilua was ranked 3rd among centers and 2nd for those to play 5 games or more. He averaged the most linebreak assists, 2nd most tackle breaks, 2nd most try assists and 2nd most offloads. Ricky Stuart has managed to get the best out of Leilua and should continue to do the same in 2017.

The NRL’s top point-scorer of the past 2 years and captain of the Raiders proved the doubters wrong in 2016. Jarrod Croker ranked 7th among centers and surprisingly had a tackle efficiency of 90.6%, well above the average 87.4% for centers. Croker also managed to average the most tries and 2nd most meters per run for a center in the NRL which is astounding considering his light frame. Croker surprised everyone is 2016 but The Professor doesn’t think he’ll be able to replicate this form into 2017.

After 229 games in the English Super League Jordan Turner joins the Canberra Raiders. The Englishman predominantly plays center but also has the ability to play in the second row or at five eight – all positions the Raiders have tremendous strength. So where does Ricky play Turner in 2017? The Professor believes his utility value is the reason he has been recruited to the Raiders but he won’t find himself in the 1st-grade side unless injuries arise.

Blake Austin had an inconsistent 2016 due to injury. Coming off a monster 2015, where he was statistically the 8th best five-eight in the NRL and in State of Origin calculations, Austin has languished back down to 21st ranking (of just 28 five-eights).  He still managed to break the line and trouble defenders but he was unable to create for others with a lowly 0.1 line break assists and 0.2 try assists. Look for Austin to improve his rank if he can prevent injury in 2017.

Lachlan Croker had a tough initiation into the NRL lasting just 38 minutes on debut. A shoulder injury required Croker to leave the field and remained on the bench for the 2nd half. Due to injury and his solitary appearance, Croker took out rank 28 out of 28 for five-eights in the 2016 NRL season.

For all Canberra’s success in attack in 2016, the halves were merely irrelevant to it all. Aidan Sezer ranked 23rd out of just 25 players to play halfback in 2016. Sezer joined the Raiders from the Titans in the offseason having had a career-best season and being ranked the 5th best five-eight. Sezer was below average in both line break assists with 0.2 (average was 0.3) and try assists with 0.3 (average was 0.6). With both Austin and Sezer struggling for both line break assists and try assists where did all their attacking prowess come from?

Parramatta’s breach of the salary cap saw the destructive Junior Paulo join the Raiders mid-season and what a terrific pick-up he proved to be. Paulo was a beast every time with the ball in hand and proved unstoppable for defenders. Paulo averaged the 3rd most tackle breaks of any prop to play 5 games or more and earned himself 17th rank. At just 23 years of age, Paulo has many better years ahead and it’s scary to think he still has soo much more upside in his game.

Shannon Boyd looked just as impressive in 2016 and managed to earn himself an Australian rep jersey in the end of season Four Nations. The stats show otherwise though with a rank of 45… Playing fewer minutes than the average prop Boyd still managed to average more meters per run and tackle breaks than the average prop. The Professor believes he is much better than his rank suggests and with increased minutes his ranking will skyrocket (if Ricky allows it).

Jeff Lima managed just the 6 games in 2016 such was the depth in the Canberra ranks. An early season injury saw Lima miss a few weeks and upon his return, his replacements proved hard to dismantle. Ranked 52 in 2016 he would’ve hoped for a few more games. Turning 35 in 2017 Lima is surely playing his last season but the Professor isn’t sure we’ll see much of him with the Raiders having great depth within the forward pack.

Joining his 3rd club in as many years, Dunamis Lui had better lift his game if he is to see any NRL action. Ranked 81st out of 95 props Lui was the 4th worst prop to play 10 games or more. Managing just 25.5 minutes Lui will need to increase his minutes and impact off the bench if he is to have any chance of securing a place in the Raiders 17.

In his 2nd season of NRL Josh Hodgson shot to stardom. Many people’s favourite for the Dally M Medal Hodgson lead the Raiders forward pack across the park while also setting up the attack. Ranked 3rd among hookers Hodgson made the most line breaks, most line break assists, 2nd most try assist and 2nd most meters. The only reason he didn’t a higher was his defence, with his tackle efficiency below average among hookers. The England hooker is the main man at the Raiders and if he’s to get injured the team will greatly suffer.

Kurt Baptiste would likely be first in line if Hodgson was to get injured but with a ranking of 46th, among 47 hookers, he won’t even get close to performing the role required. Limited minutes may affect his stats although the biggest issue in his game is his defence. Ranked with the 4th worst tackle efficiency with an average of 89.3% among hookers, the Professor assumes that average would drop further if his minutes were to be increased. Baptiste played 24 games in 2016, the Professor wouldn’t have him play one if he was the coach.

If the hooking depth couldn’t get any worse for the Raiders guess who’s ranked 47th – Adam Clydsdale. Clydsldale provides no spark out of dummy half while having a solid defence. Making only 4 appearances and only 18 minutes in 2016 it’s hard to get a complete gauge on him but looking back to 2014, when he last tasted NRL, we can see Clydsdale’s greatest asset is his defence. The Professor sees him as a better option than Baptiste but neither will set the field alight.

Second Rowers
In 2016 Josh Papalii cemented himself within the Australian and Queensland sides while earning himself the 11th rank among second rowers. Papalii’s has a great ability to offload and break the line seeing him rank 1st in try assists, 4th in breaks and 5th in tackle breaks. Turning 25 in 2017 Papalii’s best years should be ahead of him and it will be interesting to see if he can take his game to yet another level next season.

NRL debutant Elliott Whitehead proved one of the buys of 2016. The English international joined with little fanfare but has now established himself as an NRL regular playing all 27 games for the Raiders last season. Ranked 19th among second rowers Whitehead lead the way in line breaks (1st) and try assists (1st) whilst also scoring 6 tries himself. It’s scary to think he achieved all this in his 1st season of NRL and the Professor (who doesn’t believe in 2nd-year syndrome) expects Whitehead to better his game further in 2017.

Another of Ricky’s Super League recruits that have gone above what was expected of him – Iosia Soliola. Joining the Raiders in 2015 he took the 16th rank among second rowers, this season he has fallen to 31st mainly due to the healthy competition in the back row. Soloiola is an above average second rower with run meters and tackle efficiency above the average for second rowers. The Professor can’t see much improvement to his game in 2017 mainly due to the young talent that is ahead of him that will be given more time on the field.

Joseph Tapine arrived early at the Raiders with the Knights giving him an early release and won’t the Novocastrians be livid they couldn’t keep this now New Zealand international. At 22 years of age, the Professor expects Tapine to become one the premier second rowers within the game and greatly improve on his 45th rank. Averaging fewer minutes than the average second rower Tapine managed to average 10.1 meters per hit up, well above the NRL average of 8.9 meters.

The tackling machine Shaun Fensom struggled to make the NRL side throughout 2016 managing just 14 games. The stats show he was a top 10 lock in both 2015 and 2014 to now be ranked 12th in 2016. Known for his defensive work rate Fensom averaged the 2nd for tackle efficiency among locks to play 10 games or more. The Raiders attacking style might not be best suited to Fensom but there is no denying he is of NRL quality and The Professor believes he should be in the starting line-up.

One position down from Fensom is the man that ousted him – Luke Bateman. The 13th ranked lock is the complete opposite to Fensom and is much more renowned for his hard running than his defensive work rate. Bateman is not your traditional NRL lock and plays a hard running game rather than a defensive workload meaning he averages fewer minutes than a regular lock. Such is the depth in the Raiders back row this style of play should continue in 2017 with The Professor seeing little improvement to Bateman’s game.

An NRL debutant at 27 years of age Clay Priest did extremely well just to manage 14 games of NRL in 2016. The 19th ranked lock managed to secure a bench spot at the back end of the season keeping players like Fensom and Lima in reserve grade. Averaging just 26.5 minutes Priest was used as a hard running lock and finished 2nd to none other than Taumalolo in average meters per run. Ricky’s game plan is clearly focused on attack and getting on the front foot and that’s exactly what Priest does for the Raiders,

Player Age 2016 Position 2016 Games Played 2016 Position Rank
Joseph Leilua 26 C 25 3
Jarrod Croker 27 C 27 7
Jordan Turner 28 C DNP DNP
Jack Wighton 24 FB 26 7
Zac Santo 24 FB 1 25
Nick Cotric 19 FB DNP DNP
Blake Austin 26 FE 19 21
Lachlan Croker 21 FE 1 28
Aidan Sezer 26 HB 24 23
Josh Hodgson 28 HK 26 3
Kurt Baptiste 26 HK 24 46
Adam Clydsdale 24 HK 4 47
Shaun Fensom 29 LK 14 12
Luke Bateman 22 LK 21 13
Clay Priest 28 LK 14 19
Junior Paulo 24 P 24 17
Shannon Boyd 25 P 26 45
Jeff Lima 35 P 6 52
Dunamis Lui 27 P 10 81
Josh Papalii 25 SR 25 11
Elliott Whitehead 28 SR 27 19
Iosia Soliola 31 SR 20 31
Joseph Tapine 23 SR 25 45
Dave Taylor 29 SR DNP DNP
Jordan Rapana 28 W 27 2
Edrick Lee 25 W 20 49
Kato Ottio 23 W DNP DNP


Strongest 17

1. Jack Wighton
2. Kato Ottio
3. Jarrod Croker
4. Joseph Leilua
5. Jordan Rapana
6. Blake Austin
7. Aidan Sezer
8. Shannon Boyd
9. Josh Hodgson
10. Junior Paulo
11. Josh Papalii
12. Elliott Whitehead
13. Shaun Fensom

14. Iosia Soliola
15. Luke Bateman
16. Kurt Baptiste
17. Joseph Tapine

Close Results Record

Wins: 3
Losses: 3

The Professor’s Prediction

Many predicted the Raiders as a borderline top 8 side in 2016 and Ricky and his side proved all the supposed ‘experts’ wrong. The Green Machine ended 2016 regular season with 10 straight wins and then got within 2 points of reaching the Grand Final!

The Raiders have much the same side in 2017 but have made some astute signings. Dave Taylor, on his day, is just about unstoppable and with Ricky, at the helm and an excellent culture, the coal train may have found the perfect club for himself although finding a spot in the 17 may prove difficult (jut ask Shaun Fensom).

The Professor see’s the Raiders securing a position in the top 4 in 2017 and will be challenging for the premiership. The only thing holding the team from the nation’s capital back is the high expectations from not only the public but the team themselves after last season’s exploits.

Verdict – 3rd

Your Prediction

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