Locks and contenders 2021

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greeneyed
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Locks and contenders 2021

Post by greeneyed »

As is the tradition on The Greenhouse, we'll be running a series to assess the "Locks and contenders" for the Canberra Raiders strongest possible 2021 line up... position by position... and inviting you to have your say.

There are obviously positions where some players are already "locks". But we will run some supplementary polls where there is any room for debate. This series is not aimed at predicting the Round 1 starting team. It is the strongest possible team, the one you'd want firing in the finals! Today...


Fullback

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Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad is a definite "lock" at fullback.

In 2019, Nicoll-Klokstad was a revelation. He almost started the season as "Charzne who?". But he ended it as one of the top fullbacks in the NRL. He was voted the Canberra Raiders Fans' Choice Best Back, with a Grand Final appearance and a Kiwis jersey to his name. That was always going to be a tough act to follow. It certainly wasn't a case of "second year syndrome", but his form in 2020 was a touch off his break out year.



Nicoll-Klokstad made 21 appearances for the Green Machine in 2020. He missed only two games. He was rested by coach Ricky Stuart in the final round of the regular season, and the Round 12 clash with the Cowboys in Townsville. It's remarkable he missed just one game after suffering a horrible compound dislocation of his little finger in the Round 11 win over the Rabbitohs. For mine, he had a bit of a mid season dip in form, but he had a strong second half of the season.

Nicoll-Klokstad ended the 2020 season with seven tries, compared with 11 in 2019 - meaning his strike rate was slightly down. He ranked equal third at the Raiders in the try scoring stakes - behind Nick Cotric and Jack Wighton - and eighth amongst the regular NRL fullbacks.

In 2019, Nicoll-Klokstad finished second in the NRL, to James Tedesco, for total running metres and finished first for kick return metres. Last year, he dropped to seventh for running metres and eighth for kick return metres. He also dropped out of the top 10 players for average running metres and kick return metres per game. In 2019, "CNK" was seventh in the NRL for total tackle breaks and first at the Raiders, but dropped outside the top 20 players in the NRL in that department last year. He has worked on his ball playing. But with just four try assists for the 2020 season, he was well behind the benchmark fullbacks like Gutherson (19), Ponga (16), Dufty and Tedesco (15). It's something he'll want to continue to work on.

Nicoll-Klokstad's defence was good already, but it probably improved this year. He posted an 84 per cent tackle efficiency rate (81 per cent in 2019). That's up with the best fullbacks. In a very tough position in which to defend, he was "credited" with only 10 try causes and five line breaks conceded. His try saver on Josh Morris in the finals match against the Roosters last year was typical of his defensive mind set.

The Raiders have two main back up options at fullback - new recruit Caleb Aekins and rookie Adam Cook. Jordan Rapana and Bailey Simonsson could also cover the No. 1 jersey in an emergency - but they are both better used on the flanks. Jack Wighton can obviously play at the back too, but after being named the Dally M Five Eighth of the Year in 2020, that's barely worth mentioning.

Caleb Aekins, 23, will probably be first in line if Nicoll-Klokstad is unavailable. Aekins has been recruited to the Raiders from the Penrith Panthers on a one year deal - so he will be keen to make an impression in 2021. He was born in Otaika, New Zealand, close to the city of Whangārei in the country's far north. He played both rugby league and union as a junior, before moving to Australia in 2015.

Aekins made his NRL debut for the Panthers in Round 18 2018, against the Cronulla Sharks and has played 12 first grade games - eight of them in 2020. He didn't cross the white stripe last year - he's yet to score an NRL try - but posted one try assist and 10 tackle breaks. He made 134 running metres and 64 kick return metres per match, while he produced a tackle efficiency rate was 78 per cent and four try causes.

Adam Cook, 20, joined the Raiders last year from the Townsville Blackhawks - right after being named the Blackhawks' Under 20s Player of the Year. He was one of three players to make their NRL debut for Canberra in the Round 20 win over the Sharks. To be honest, he didn't make an immediate impact - but it is one of the toughest positions on the field for a young player. In that game he made 32 running metres, 23 kick return metres and posted a 45 per cent tackle efficiency rate and one try cause. I don't think we can't take much out of those numbers.

Cook played off the bench in Round 1 of the NSW Cup - in Mounties' clash with the Blacktown Sea Eagles at Brookvale. He was named at five eighth for Canberra's first Jersey Flegg match of the year - but the Round 2 game did not take place due to the pandemic. He then spent the year in the "bubble", so Raiders fans have not had much chance to see him play in lower grades. But he's clearly impressed the club, as he has just been added to the Raiders' top 30 squad. He’s definitely with the club until the end of 2021, with the Raiders having an option in the club’s favour for 2022. He's still eligible for Flegg this year.

The Raiders have signed former Manly Sea Eagles youngster Albert Hopoate, 19, to a one year deal. He's the son of Australian, Tongan and New South Wales representative - and the brother of NRL players, Will and Jamil. He's not been announced by the Raiders as being in their top 30 - at least not yet.

Hopoate reportedly signed a deal that is worth less than $100,000 with Canberra, after things soured at the Sea Eagles. He has previously suffered two ACL injuries in the space of 12 months and is clearly now looking for an opportunity. He made his NRL debut for Manly in the Round 16 clash with the Storm, and went on to play the final five games of the year. He played one match at centre, three on the wing and one off the bench. But he can also play fullback. In 2020, he produced one try contribution, but did not score a try himself. He posted seven tackle breaks and 64 running metres per match. He conceded one try and recorded a 67 per cent tackle efficiency rate. Time will tell if he is a contender in 2021, or whether he needs more time in lower grades.

While this position is a "lock", we'll continue with a more contentious position tomorrow - centres.
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Matt
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Re: Locks and contenders 2021

Post by Matt »

@Greeneyed,
Do you think you can leave Hoppa off that FB contenders list? I think given his Jrs footy rep status that would be remiss, esp when you add Turbo's long term deal a big reason for leaving Manly.

I really see Hoppa as a 'wildcard' in regards to the teamlist this season, as he can play any of those backs positions.
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Re: Locks and contenders 2021

Post by greeneyed »

Matt wrote: January 5, 2021, 11:39 am @Greeneyed,
Do you think you can leave Hoppa off that FB contenders list? I think given his Jrs footy rep status that would be remiss, esp when you add Turbo's long term deal a big reason for leaving Manly.

I really see Hoppa as a 'wildcard' in regards to the teamlist this season, as he can play any of those backs positions.
He possibly could be. He’s not in the top 30 at the moment, but I have added in his background and numbers etc.
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Re: Locks and contenders 2021

Post by Cranky Old Man »

I had completely forgotten about Hoppa when contemplating team possibilities this year. With him, HSS, Timoko, Valemi and Seb Kris as possible options I think that what with salary cap restrictions we are well served with backline talent as long as not too many newbies are called upon together. Sam W and Frawley give us adequate coverage in the halves.
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Re: Locks and contenders 2021

Post by Seiffert82 »

Yeah, I must admit I forgot about Hopoate too. He'll definitely put pressure on the boys for a wing spot.

It's almost unthinkable that Stuart would run with Rapana in the centres again. Stranger things have happened though.
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Re: Locks and contenders 2021

Post by Matt »

greeneyed wrote: January 5, 2021, 12:00 pm
Matt wrote: January 5, 2021, 11:39 am @Greeneyed,
Do you think you can leave Hoppa off that FB contenders list? I think given his Jrs footy rep status that would be remiss, esp when you add Turbo's long term deal a big reason for leaving Manly.

I really see Hoppa as a 'wildcard' in regards to the teamlist this season, as he can play any of those backs positions.
He possibly could be. He’s not in the top 30 at the moment, but I have added in his background and numbers etc.
I thought he was #29?
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greeneyed
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Re: Locks and contenders 2021

Post by greeneyed »

Matt wrote: January 5, 2021, 7:38 pm
greeneyed wrote: January 5, 2021, 12:00 pm
Matt wrote: January 5, 2021, 11:39 am @Greeneyed,
Do you think you can leave Hoppa off that FB contenders list? I think given his Jrs footy rep status that would be remiss, esp when you add Turbo's long term deal a big reason for leaving Manly.

I really see Hoppa as a 'wildcard' in regards to the teamlist this season, as he can play any of those backs positions.
He possibly could be. He’s not in the top 30 at the moment, but I have added in his background and numbers etc.
I thought he was #29?
This has changed at some point, but he’s now listed in the top 30 by the NRL: https://www.nrl.com/news/2020/11/05/202 ... s/#raiders

And we have 30 players on that list, he’s the 30th.

The Raiders don’t have him listed in their top squad (29 players): https://www.raiders.com.au/teams/

https://www.raiders.com.au/news/2020/12 ... d-tracker/

That list was published on 9 December, and has him listed as “on going training and Under 21”.

Who knows what’s right!

If it’s correct he’s on a deal worth less than $100,000, not sure how he’d be top 30, given that’s below the minimum salary. Maybe it could be a minimum deal, for a contract of less than 12 months.
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Re: Locks and contenders 2021

Post by Matt »

greeneyed wrote: January 5, 2021, 8:39 pm
Matt wrote: January 5, 2021, 7:38 pm
greeneyed wrote: January 5, 2021, 12:00 pm
Matt wrote: January 5, 2021, 11:39 am @Greeneyed,
Do you think you can leave Hoppa off that FB contenders list? I think given his Jrs footy rep status that would be remiss, esp when you add Turbo's long term deal a big reason for leaving Manly.

I really see Hoppa as a 'wildcard' in regards to the teamlist this season, as he can play any of those backs positions.
He possibly could be. He’s not in the top 30 at the moment, but I have added in his background and numbers etc.
I thought he was #29?
This has changed at some point, but he’s now listed in the top 30 by the NRL: https://www.nrl.com/news/2020/11/05/202 ... s/#raiders

And we have 30 players on that list, he’s the 30th.

The Raiders don’t have him listed in their top squad (29 players): https://www.raiders.com.au/teams/

https://www.raiders.com.au/news/2020/12 ... d-tracker/

That list was published on 9 December, and has him listed as “on going training and Under 21”.

Who knows what’s right!

If it’s correct he’s on a deal worth less than $100,000, not sure how he’d be top 30, given that’s below the minimum salary. Maybe it could be a minimum deal, for a contract of less than 12 months.
Thats about as organised as the Covid protocols when travelling to Vic
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Re: Locks and contenders 2021

Post by Roger Kenworthy »

Ah yes, the annual Croker to lock thread.
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Re: Locks and contenders 2021

Post by BadnMean »

Seiffert82 wrote: January 5, 2021, 4:55 pm Yeah, I must admit I forgot about Hopoate too. He'll definitely put pressure on the boys for a wing spot.

It's almost unthinkable that Stuart would run with Rapana in the centres again. Stranger things have happened though.
I think Rapana in the centres would be madness and Ricky won't do it either. Not with 2 good young gun centres with a whole off season to train defensively and gain understanding- different kettle of fish to being reluctant throwing them in cold off no footy to a finals campaign. Plus Scott potentially having a good crack at settling in and properly showing what he can do- may be left in the dust but there's the odd glimpse of a footy player there.

Not sure about Hoppa. I'll want to see how he moves after 2 knee recos at 21 years old and I still don't think anyone knows his best position in FG (often different t juniors) either.
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Re: Locks and contenders 2021

Post by greeneyed »

As is the tradition on The Greenhouse, we are running a series to assess the "Locks and contenders" for the Canberra Raiders strongest possible 2021 line up... position by position... and inviting you to have your say.

There are obviously positions where some players are already "locks". But we will run some supplementary polls where there is any room for debate. This series is not aimed at predicting the Round 1 starting team. It is the strongest possible team, the one you'd want firing in the finals! Today...


Centres

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Canberra captain Jarrod Croker and Curtis Scott would very likely be the first choice centres for the bulk of Raiders fans. But neither had their best season in 2020, and they'd well aware there are some up and coming challengers for their positions.

In 2020, Jarrod Croker became the fifth highest point scorer in NRL history. In the Round 16 clash with the Bulldogs, he overtook Jason Taylor to take his place in the top five. He now has the point scoring records of Andrew Johns and Johnathan Thurston in his sights. He has to score just 18 points to match Johns and 64 points to match Thurston. There is every prospect that in 2021, he could become one of the three top point scorers in the code's history in Australia. Croker broke through the 2,000 career points barrier in the Round 1 win over the Gold Coast Titans - becoming the youngest player to ever do so. Only seven players have ever surpassed that benchmark. He has now scored 2,158 points, 132 tries and 815 goals.



Croker only scored five tries last season - down from 13 in 2019, when he was the Raiders' top try scorer. It was his lowest season tally since 2010, when he also crossed the white stripe five times. He didn't score a try in the first seven rounds, meaning he equalled his longest ever try scoring drought of eight matches. His last eight game drought was way back in 2010. But his goal kicking improved in 2020. His success rate in 2020 was 82 per cent, his best success rate since 2017 - and not far off his career best of 85 per cent in 2013. He ranked fifth for total goals, and only Adam Reynolds and Cameron Smith had a better success rate amongst the regular kickers in the NRL.

Croker's average metres per game (68) were down on 2019 (74), as were his metres per carry (eight, compared with 10 in 2019). His line breaks per match fell by half, compared with 2019... while his tackle breaks fell to just under one per game (1.7 per game in 2019). Overall, it is clear his attacking strike was down last season.

Croker's defence is the area of his game that has been often criticised. There was one missed tackle in the Preliminary Final which led to a try. As it turns out, he suffered a serious shoulder injury, five minutes into that game... and played for the whole match. No wonder he missed that one. His missed tackle count increased, to just over two per game (1.4 per match in 2019) and his tackle efficiency fell a bit (80 per cent, compared with 83 per cent in 2019). He ranked equal second at the club for missed tackles, along with Jack Wighton. But he only produced six ineffective tackles. And that record didn't translate into a lot of points. Croker was credited with 21 try causes in 2019, the highest at the club and ranking top six for most in the NRL. In 2020, his try causes halved (to 10) and he was outside the top 50 players in the NRL - and the top 25 centres - in that department.

Croker has had shoulder surgery in the off season, and while he's aiming to be back for Round 1, he might miss the first five or six matches of 2021. While his form was a bit down last year, for mine, he's a definite "lock" in the Raiders' strongest line up for the coming season. The big issue facing Ricky Stuart will be who steps in for Croker if he's not fit to start the year.

Curtis Scott had a year he'd prefer to forget in 2020. Before the Raiders recruit could play a game in green, he was arrested in Moore Park, after a "big day out" in Sydney on Australia Day. Various charges hung over him for much of the season, before he was found to have been unlawfully arrested. Body cam footage of the arrest showed he'd been subjected to horrible treatment from NSW Police, tasered and blinded by capsicum spray. The magistrate concluded Scott would have been "safer if he'd wandered onto the roadway and been hit by a car", than left in the hands of the arresting police officers - and the centre was cleared.

Unfortunately, that wasn't the end of his problems. He missed a few games in middle of the season with an infected arm. And then he received a knock to the plate in his leg - the legacy of a previous fracture - in the Round 16 win over the Bulldogs. That turned out to be another fracture, ruling him out for the rest of the season.

His attacking statistics last year were well down the rankings of NRL centres. He averaged 91 running metres per game, compared with around 140 for the benchmark centres - the likes of Bradman Best and Euan Aitken. With just two tries, two line breaks and six try involvements, he was outside the top 40 centres in terms of attacking strike on a per game basis. He had some particular issues early in the season in building a defensive combination with Nick Cotric. He is "credited" with eight try causes, but on a per game basis, he's well down the list of NRL centres in that department. His tackle efficiency is not up with the best centres - his 82 per cent comparing with the benchmark of 90 per cent - but it isn't too bad either. He was equal fifth amongst the Raiders backs on that score.

Curtis Scott has played in two Grand Finals with the Melbourne Storm and was part of the 2017 premiership winning side. The Cronulla junior has always had a heap of potential, and 11 teams were after his signature when he joined the Storm. But since making his debut in 2016, he's had a bit of an up and down career. Given injury and off field dramas in 2020, it's not surprising that it was not one of his best years. Hopefully, he'll come back from the break fresh, and play at his best in 2021.

The two main challengers for Croker and Scott formed the centre pairing for the Canberra Raiders Jersey Flegg team that made a Grand Final in 2019: Harley Smith-Shields and Matt Timoko.

Matt Timoko made his NRL debut off the bench in the Round 16 win over the Canterbury Bulldogs last year. He got good minutes, replacing an injured Curtis Scott early in the second half. He went on to make one more appearance in 2020 - lining up at centre alongside Harley Smith-Shields in the Round 20 "Rookie Raiders" clash with Cronulla Sharks.



Timoko was born in Auckland, playing his junior football with the Ellerslie Eagles. He's a solid centre and a powerful runner, standing at 183 cms and weighing in at 99 kgs. He's only 20 years of age, but will turn 21 in January. At the end of 2019, he re-signed with the Raiders to the end of 2022 - but he did not start this season in the top 30. He was officially promoted in November, along with Adam Cook, to the top squad.

Given his low appearance numbers, we clearly shouldn't make too many conclusions from his 2020 statistics. He ranked equal sixth for average metres per game amongst the Raiders backs - and his metres per carry were up with the best. He also showed his promising ability to break a tackle - which will come in handy with the departure of Nick Cotric. His tackle efficiency rate was not too bad. Three try causes was so good... but I suspect they all came in the second half of the clash with the Sharks, with the tiring young Raiders run off their feet.

Harley Smith-Shields made his NRL debut off the bench in the Round 11 win over the South Sydney Rabbitohs last year - and his starting debut at centre in the Round 20 clash with the Sharks. He's Canberra born, and has come through the Gungahlin Bulls and Raiders juniors. He's also still just 20 years of age - and will turn 21 in less than a week. He stands at 183cms and weighs in at 95 kgs, so he's not too different in build to Timoko. He was promoted to the top 30 squad for the 2020 season and is contracted to the end of this year.



Again, we can't make too much of Smith-Shields' 2020 statistics, given his low appearance numbers. His average metres per game were down the list of Raiders backs, but his metres per carry were up with the best. His tackle efficiency rate was impacted by four missed tackles in the Sharks' clash... a game which was pretty "loose" at times.

In my view, Smith-Shields is the player who showed most potential in junior football, but Timoko seems to have pushed himself ahead in the pecking order at Raiders HQ. Timoko is being widely tipped to be the player to step in for Croker early in the season, if need be. Both players will probably spend a fair bit of time in Jersey Flegg - which will be an Under 21s competition this season - given the Raiders don't have an affiliated NSW Cup team for 2021. Both would probably benefit from playing against more seasoned players.

There are other players who can cover the centre position, like Jordan Rapana and Albert Hopoate. For mine, Rapana is much better suited to wing - so hopefully he will not need to step in to fill the breach at centre, as he did in 2020. Sebastian Kris is on a train and trial deal at present, after missing the 2020 season due to personal leave. He could also be a contender if he is able to win a new contract.

So what's your view? Tell us... and vote in the accompanying poll!

We will continue tomorrow with a look at the wingers.
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Re: Locks and contenders 2021

Post by Seiffert82 »

BadnMean wrote: January 6, 2021, 9:38 am
Seiffert82 wrote: January 5, 2021, 4:55 pm Yeah, I must admit I forgot about Hopoate too. He'll definitely put pressure on the boys for a wing spot.

It's almost unthinkable that Stuart would run with Rapana in the centres again. Stranger things have happened though.
I think Rapana in the centres would be madness and Ricky won't do it either. Not with 2 good young gun centres with a whole off season to train defensively and gain understanding- different kettle of fish to being reluctant throwing them in cold off no footy to a finals campaign. Plus Scott potentially having a good crack at settling in and properly showing what he can do- may be left in the dust but there's the odd glimpse of a footy player there.

Not sure about Hoppa. I'll want to see how he moves after 2 knee recos at 21 years old and I still don't think anyone knows his best position in FG (often different t juniors) either.
Yeah, along with everyone, I'm hoping Scott will be the big improver this season. We really need some impact in that 3/4 line with Cotric gone.
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Locks and contenders 2021

Post by greeneyed »

As is the tradition on The Greenhouse, we are running a series to assess the "Locks and contenders" for the Canberra Raiders strongest possible 2021 line up... position by position... and inviting you to have your say.

There are obviously positions where some players are already "locks". But we will run some supplementary polls where there is any room for debate. This series is not aimed at predicting the Round 1 starting team. It is the strongest possible team, the one you'd want firing in the finals! Today...


Wingers

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Veteran Jordan Rapana would be the first choice winger for the bulk of Raiders fans. But there are a number of young players who will be challenging for the other wing spot... and challenging Rapana himself.

Jordan Rapana took up a contract with a Japanese rugby union team at the end of 2019, probably with the aim of returning to Canberra mid-season this year. As it turned out, Rapana didn't play a game in Japanese union before the pandemic struck. And he returned to Australia, and the Raiders, just in time for the resumption of the 2020 NRL season in Round 3 at the end of May.



He ended up playing 19 games last year. He was an "everywhere man", playing 10 games on the wing, six at centre, two from the bench and one at fullback. He was mostly used on the left wing, rather than his usual right wing spot - after Nick Cotric switched to the right at the start of the season, to partner new recruit, Curtis Scott.

Rapana scored two tries in 2020, down from the seven he scored in 2019 - and well below his record breaking tally of 23 tries in 2016. When Rapana was named Dally M Winger of the Year in 2017, he was equal first in the NRL for line breaks (27) and second in the NRL for tackle breaks - at an average of over six per match. In an often different role in 2020, he made six line breaks (13 in 2019) and averaged two tackle breaks per game (2.5 in 2019). Overall, Rapana's attacking strike was down, but that was significantly affected by being shifted around into different positions.

It is always tough defending on the edges, and Rapana looked out of sorts in defence when playing in the less familiar centre position. His defensive statistics in 2020 were mostly not too different from 2019. His tackle efficiency improved a bit (75 per cent, compared with 73 per cent in 2019). He conceded a couple of more tries (11 in 2020, nine in 2019), but his missed tackle count almost doubled, to an average two per game.

The 31 year old Rapana signed a new one year deal for 2021 in December. He is not quite the player he was, but he brings an enormous amount of experience and enthusiasm to the squad. There was not a lot of choice but to play Rapana out of position, at centre, in the final stages of last season, due to injuries. Hopefully, coach Ricky Stuart can keep Rapana in his favoured spot in 2021, on the right wing. That's where we can expect him to play his best footy.

Canberra Raiders junior, Bailey Simonsson returned to the club at the end of 2018, on a train and trial contract. By the time the 2019 season commenced, he'd become a part of the top 30 squad, on a two year deal. Before the 2019 Meninga Medal night was over, he'd shared the Rookie of the Year award with Corey Horsburgh. And just before he played in his first Grand Final, he was rewarded with a long term contract, keeping him in the nation's capital until the end of 2023.



Simonsson played 21 first grade games in green in 2019, a lot more than anyone would have expected. But due to injury, things didn't go quite so well in 2020. He started last season in the No. 2 jersey, partnering captain Jarrod Croker on the left edge. He lost his spot to Jordan Rapana in Round 3 and he was switched, late, to the bench in the Round 5 clash with the Tigers. He also missed selection in the top 17 in the Round 6 match against the Sea Eagles. He was back starting on the left wing in the Round 8 contest with the Dragons at Canberra Stadium, before he and Nick Cotric swapped sides in the Round 9 match against the Storm.

Sadly, that clash with Melbourne was Simonsson's last match of 2020. In the second half, Simonsson suffered a left shoulder injury. It required surgery, putting him out for the season. He ended up starting in five games, with two on the bench. He scored two tries and averaged 97 running metres per match. He is expected to be fully fit for Round 1 of 2021 and in my view is first in line for the left wing spot.

Fijian winger Semi Valemei joined the Canberra Raiders in 2018, initially playing for the Raiders' NSW Cup affiliate, Mounties, in Under 20s. He was a part of the Green Machine's 2019 Jersey Flegg team which qualified for the Grand Final - and went on to represent Fiji in the World Cup Nines tournament after that season. He was reportedly targeted by the Melbourne Storm, but he was re-signed by the Raiders on a two year deal, and promoted into the top 30 squad.



He made his NRL debut in the Round 10 Grand Final rematch with the Sydney Roosters last year - a game which ended in a memorable backs to the wall victory. He ended the season by winning the Canberra Raiders Rookie of the Year award on Meninga Medal night. He played a total of 10 games - including every finals game. He came off the bench in his debut, but started on the wing in his other nine appearances. He scored four tries, his first a memorable try which gave the Raiders a lead in the Round 11 clash with the Rabbitohs.

He was good with the ball in hand. He averaged 97 running metres from 10 runs per game, while delivering five line breaks and 23 tackle breaks. He is still developing, and at times was targeted by opposition teams in defence and with the high ball. The edges are, of course, the hardest place on the field to defend. He posted eight line break and try causes and a 70 per cent tackle efficiency rate. He also produced 13 errors, which was second to Jack Wighton amongst the Raiders backs on a per game basis. He'll want to work on both departments in the off season - but he's still just 21, and has plenty of time to develop.

Valemei is a strong contender for a regular wing spot in 2021, but he's not the only youngster in that boat. We covered Matt Timoko and Harley Smith-Shields in the discussion of the contenders for centre - and they would both very capably handle the wing as well. The Raiders have also recruited former Sea Eagles fullback and winger Albert Hopoate for the 2021 season - but the Raiders have not yet included him in their top 30 squad, at least not yet.

Don't forget Xavier Savage, a young winger the Raiders have signed from Queensland. He is just out of high school and moved to Canberra but has been named as one of the Raiders' six development players. He's fast, having won the under 17s 100 metre sprint title in 10.95 seconds at the Queensland junior athletics championships a couple of years back. He's eligible for SG Ball (Under 19s), but has also been included in the Jersey Flegg squad prior to Christmas. Anyone who saw him turn out for Queensland in Canberra for the 2019 Secondary Schools championship will attest he's an exciting prospect.

So who would your starting wingers be in 2021? Tell us... and vote in the accompanying poll!

We will continue tomorrow with a look at the halves.
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Re: Locks and contenders 2021

Post by greeneyed »

As is the tradition on The Greenhouse, we are running a series to assess the "Locks and contenders" for the Canberra Raiders strongest possible 2021 line up... position by position... and inviting you to have your say.

There are obviously positions where some players are already "locks". But we will run some supplementary polls where there is any room for debate. This series is not aimed at predicting the Round 1 starting team. It is the strongest possible team, the one you'd want firing in the finals! Today...


Halves

Jack Wighton and George Williams have a "lock" on the Canberra Raiders halves in 2021. There is no shadow of a doubt. It couldn't be more clear.

Jack Wighton has made a stunning transformation in the past two years. From fullback to five eighth. To representative player. To Clive Churchill Medalist. To Meninga Medalist. To Dally M Medalist, the NRL Player of the Year in 2020. He shared the 2020 Meninga Medal with Josh Papalii, before outpointing hot favourite Nathan Cleary in the Dally M count. He's just the third Canberra player to become a Dally M Medalist, with Laurie Daley being the last Raider to do it, a quarter of a century ago. Throw in the 2020 Dally M Five eighth of the Year award, and that's an impressive list of achievements.





Wighton made 22 appearances in green in 2020. The only match he missed was the Round 20 clash with the Sharks, when coach Ricky Stuart rested a host of his stars. He ranked second at the club in the try scoring stakes (13), and equal first amongst regular NRL five eighths. No player at the Raiders produced more try involvements (29) and he was second only to George Williams for try assists (12). He also delivered 14 line break assists. He was just outside the top 10 NRL five eighths for try assists and line break assists - but his running game was a real strength. He ranked first amongst the regular NRL five eighths for total running metres and third for running metres per match. He was third at the Raiders for total tackle breaks (56) and third amongst regular NRL five eighths. He finished second for line breaks at the club (10).

Wighton again produced a strong kicking game. He averaged more kicking metres than any player at the club (264 metres from eight kicks per game). He ranked sixth in the NRL for total kicking metres and just outside the top 10 players for kicking metres per match. He got two 40/20 kicks and forced eight line drop outs. He does have a kick error in his game, however. He ranked first in the NRL for kicks dead (nine) and equal fifth for kick errors (11).

Jack Wighton is a tough, aggressive defender, with good technique. He averaged just over two missed tackles per game, but lifted his tackle efficiency to 86 per cent last year (84 per cent in 2019). He produced just four try causes, down from nine in 2019. He was way down the list of NRL five eighths for try causes and line break causes. He was in the top 10 five eighths for missed tackles, but his tackle efficiency rate was not too far below the bench mark players in that department.

Jack Wighton was suspended for the final 10 weeks of the 2018 competition after an off field indiscretion, a close shave with the law. Often, the redemption stories for Canberra Raiders come after they move to another club. Gladly, Jack Wighton has given us a great Raiders redemption story. There is no doubt he's now an elite player, awarded the NRL's highest honour. Here's hoping he can lead the Raiders to even greater heights in 2021.

English recruit George Williams produced a very strong first season in the NRL with the Green Machine in 2020. He is not a traditional organising halfback. Since 2015, he'd been playing primarily at five eighth with the Wigan Warriors. He had the reputation of being more of a runner with a good short kicking game. Many questioned coach Ricky Stuart's strategy of having two "running halves". As it turned out, the rule changes introduced when the season resumed in Round 3 - aimed at speeding the ruck and the pace of the game - suited that strategy. And, after dominant play maker, Josh Hodgson was sidelined mid season with an ACL injury, George Williams turned out be pretty darn good at steering the team around.

Williams finished last season with seven tries, behind only Nick Cotric and Jack Wighton at the club. Only Nathan Cleary scored more tries (8) amongst the NRL half backs. He ranked first at the Raiders for try assists, and amongst the top five regular half backs in the NRL. He was second at the club for line break assists and total try involvements, behind Jack Wighton.



A lot of Williams' try assists in 2020 were the result of his pin point short kicking game. He kicked more than any player at the club, and was second to Jack Wighton for kicking metres - with Wighton taking primary responsibility for the long kicking game. He produced 19 forced line drop outs, behind only Nathan Cleary (26) and Adam Reynolds (20) amongst the regular NRL half backs. His kick errors were low by the standards of his NRL peers.

Williams is certainly a half who can tackle. We found that out early, when he dumped Ryan Papenhuyzen on his back in the Round 3 win over the Storm. No regular half back in the NRL had a better tackle efficiency rate. With six try causes and 11 line break causes, he was way down the list of NRL half backs in those departments. His error count was lower than the likes of Mitch Moses, Mitchell Pearce, Adam Reynolds and Nathan Cleary.

I don't think Raiders coach Ricky Stuart, or Raiders fans, could have asked much more of Wighton and Williams in 2020. They did particularly well in taking on more responsibility for play making in the second half of the season. The challenge for coach Ricky Stuart in 2021 will be to get the spine working together when Josh Hodgson returns.

So how about the back ups? The Raiders are really well served.

Sam Williams is in his third stint with the Canberra Raiders. The Cooma Colts and Raiders junior made his NRL debut for the Green Machine in Round 1 of 2011 - and was named man of the match in the 40-12 win over the Sharks. He departed for the St George Illawarra Dragons, and then the Catalan Dragons, in 2014, before returning in 2015. He had another sojourn in England with Wakefield Trinity in 2017, with the prodigal son returning to Canberra in 2018.



Williams really shone when given the opportunity to lead the Raiders in Round 20 last year, after having played just one game all year in NSW Cup. In that "Rookie Raiders" win over the Sharks, he set up a try for winger Nick Cotric with a great kick to the corner. Williams also scored the try of the match, with Tom Starling making a great break and putting in a perfect kick ahead for his captain.

Williams is contracted to the end of 2021. Wakefield Trinity hoped he'd leave early, recently offering him a three year deal. But he turned that offer down, opting to stay with family and friends in Australia - in a pandemic affected world - and hoping to do something special with the Raiders in 2021. Defence is not Sam's relative strength. But he's the best back up half in the business.

Matt Frawley was born in Canberra and played his junior football with the Belconnen United Sharks and West Belconnen Warriors - as well as the Green Machine's junior representative teams. He captained the Raiders' National Youth Competition side in 2014, before joining the Canterbury Bulldogs in the following year. He played 31 games with the Dogs, after making his NRL debut in 2017 in the Round 5 clash with the Broncos. Frawley headed to the Huddersfield Giants in 2019, before returning to his home town in 2020.

He was initially signed by the Raiders on a development contract, but was soon added to the top 30. Frawley finally made his first grade debut in green in the Round 20 win over the Sharks, scoring a try to boot. Frawley is signed to the end of 2021 and provides some good depth in the halves.

Next up we will take a look at the props.
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Matt
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Re: Locks and contenders 2021

Post by Matt »

@Greeneyed,
You know better than most, that after a couple of losses, Sammy will be JT
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dubby
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Re: Locks and contenders 2021

Post by dubby »

Cotric will be a big loss. He was really good at kick returns, and tackle 2 hit ups.

We really need someone to step up on the 3/4 line. It looks young, and promising.... but then there's a worn out Rapana and aging Croker who also has had injury concerns.

We need these guys at their best

Sent from my SM-G960F using Tapatalk

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greeneyed
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Re: Locks and contenders 2021

Post by greeneyed »

As is the tradition on The Greenhouse, we are running a series to assess the "Locks and contenders" for the Canberra Raiders strongest possible 2021 line up... position by position... and inviting you to have your say.

There are obviously positions where some players are already "locks". But we will run some supplementary polls where there is any room for debate. This series is not aimed at predicting the Round 1 starting team. It is the strongest possible team, the one you'd want firing in the finals! Today...


Props

In 2018, not so long ago really, Josh Papalii was dropped to "reserve grade". He subsequently moved into the middle, and has now won the Meninga Medal and Fans' Choice Player of the Year for three seasons in a row. In 2020, he shared the Meninga Medal with Jack Wighton and was one of four players who shared in the Fans' Choice Award. In 2020 he was finally recognised as the Dally M Prop of the Year - and was awarded the Dally M Tackle of the Year. He was, based on the votes of his NRL peers in the RLPA Awards, one of the top five players in the game. He finished the season with Origin selection for the Queensland Maroons.





Josh Papalii played 22 of 23 matches in 2020, missing only the Round 20 clash with the Sharks, when coach Ricky Stuart rested a host of his stars. Papalii largely maintained or surpassed his 2019 statistical benchmarks - on a per game basis. He made an average of 135 metres from 15 runs per match, second only to Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad for average metres gained at the club. Papalii, Joe Tapine (116) and Ryan Sutton (100) were the only Raiders' forwards to make 100 metres or more per game. Both Papalii and Tapine averaged an impressive nine metres per run. He did drop out of the top 10 NRL props for running metres gained, with rule changes in the ruck producing more metres in the middle.

Amongst the Raiders' forwards, he ranked equal first for tries scored (with Elliott Whitehead), equal third for try involvements and line breaks, and equal first for tackle breaks (with Joe Tapine). He was third, amongst regular NRL props, for most tries, and equal third for tackle breaks.

In defence, Papalii averaged 26 tackles per game last year, ranking fourth amongst the Raiders forwards. His tackle efficiency rate lifted slightly to 95 per cent, very close to the benchmark for NRL props. His missed tackle average fell to 0.7 per game (0.9 in 2018). He did not concede a single try cause or line break cause and posted just two errors in the whole season. That's incredibly consistent.

Papalii signed a contract extension in September, keeping him in green until at least the end of 2024, with a further option for the 2025 season. It will likely make Big Papa a Raider for life. After Papalii pulled off the Tackle of the Year against the Titans, Raiders coach Ricky Stuart said Papalii will go down as one of the greats of the club.

"Josh Papalii showed you today with that chase on the young half and his ankle tap on what should have been a try, he showed you what this jumper is all about and what character these boys have inside them," Stuart said.

"Papa will go down one of our greatest players ever when he retires. He is one of the boys' favourites, they love playing with him. I don't underestimate anything Josh has got, he's got a wonderful motor and he's very skillful for his size."

"I don't say that lightly, he will go down as the greats of this club. And it's a very deserving accolade or piece of commentary because we’ve had some greats here."

So Josh Papalii has an absolute "lock" on the No. 8 jersey, the first forward picked. The big question is... who starts alongside him?

Dunamis Lui made 20 appearances for the Raiders in 2020, 15 at starting prop and five off the bench. He was dropped from the top 17 after the Round 5 loss to the Tigers, but was brought back for the Round 9 clash with the Storm - with Sia Soliola, Emre Guler and Corey Horsburgh all on the sidelines with serious injuries. To be frank, before he was dropped he was not playing well - and had simply been overtaken in the pecking order by some of the younger props. He returned a different player. During the injury crisis, not only did Lui lift his on field contributions, the reserved prop became one of the leaders of the pack off the field. At the end of the season, he was ultimately rewarded with selection in the Queensland Maroons squad and an Origin debut.



Lui scored one try in 2019, after a drought that had lasted since 2014. He doubled his try scoring feats in 2020, crossing twice. His average running metres rose from 74 to 86 per game in 2020 (ranked fifth amongst the Raiders forwards), while his average metres per carry were roughly the same (eight, ranked tenth amongst the Raiders forwards). He ranked ninth amongst the Canberra forwards for tackle breaks (10).

Lui's tackle efficiency rate was the same in 2020 as in 2019 (90 per cent), though his missed tackle count per match fell slightly (1.4). He ranked 11th amongst the Raiders forwards for average tackles per game and third for total missed tackles. His try causes fell from six in 2019 to three in 2020. He was equal second amongst the Raiders forwards for try causes - alongside Corey Harawira-Naera - but well behind Elliott Whitehead (10). He also ranked equal first for line break causes (6), with Joe Tapine and Elliott Whitehead. That's still a low number. His error count ranked equal fourth, but also fell in 2020.

We don't have statistics for one on one steals, but Lui became quite expert at the play in 2020 - after being less than successful in executing the ploy in the previous season. He produced a couple of crucial strips in the Round 10 Grand Final re-match at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Lui is a journeyman, but has found a home at his fourth club, the Raiders. Last year he clocked up 150 NRL games, and has now made just under half of his first grade appearances in green. He is not amongst the top 10 props in the NRL on any of the statistical indicators, but he is experienced, solid, durable, consistent and always puts in his best efforts. He was presented with the 2020 Club Person of the Year award on Meninga Medal night - for his leadership on and off the field.

I thought Lui might find it difficult to fight off the challengers for his spot in the side in 2020 - given the number of quality young forwards coming through the system. For a time, it looked like that would be the case. But he certainly stood tall in the club's hour of need. For mine, he deserves first shot at the other starting prop spot - but he'll again be under pressure from the younger props in 2021.

Sia Soliola is often referred to as the spiritual leader of the Canberra Raiders, such is his influence at Raiders HQ. The light-hearted term of endearment they use for him at the club is "uncle". He is now 34 years of age... and he's been contracted by the Raiders for 2021, one final season in an impressive career.

2020 was a particularly tough year for Soliola, after he suffered a serious facial fracture in the Round 8 clash with the Dragons - the result of a head clash with Dragons prop Blake Lawrie. He needed 20 screws to repair the horrific damage, the seven fractures.

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While he feared he'd played his last NRL game, he was eventually able to make a comeback, in the "Rookie Raiders" Round 20 win over the Sharks. In that game, Soliola's career total of 325 first grade games exceeded the combined first grade games of 11 of his team mates. His experience and his influence on the younger players is no doubt a key reason why coach Ricky Stuart wants him to go around again next year.

Soliola ultimately appeared in 12 matches in 2020, starting five at prop, one at lock and the remainder off the bench. He played in all three finals games, one at starting prop, but he played relatively few minutes. His average running metres fell slightly (from 88 in 2019 to 82 in 2020). In 2020, he ranked ninth amongst the Raiders forwards for metres gained and eighth for metres per run. In defence, he finished 13th amongst the Canberra forwards for average tackles per match. His tackle efficiency rate rose to 92 per cent in 2019, but fell back to 89 per cent in 2020. His missed tackle count rose from 0.8 per game last year, to 1.6 per game in 2020.

Soliola is understandably a favourite of coach Ricky Stuart, so he'll be in the frame for the top 17. But like Lui, he'll face some young challengers. At the least, it is very sensible approach to keep Soliola in and around the playing group next season, as a mentor for the younger forwards.

Ryan James is the Raiders' biggest name recruit for 2021, signing a two year deal last July. The former Gold Coast Titans captain spent a decade with the team from the glitter strip, debuting in 2010 and going on to make 144 appearances in first grade. He started 28 games for the Titans in the second row, but he's predominantly a prop - starting in the front row in 75 matches. 2015 was the last year that he played mostly on the edge.

James was born in Tweed Heads, playing his junior football with Bilambil Jets. He represented Palm Beach Currumbin in 2008 when they won the ARL Schoolboys Cup - with James awarded the Peter Sterling Medal for the player of the year. He went on to represent Queensland and Australian Schoolboys. While he's been in the running for Blues Origin selection at times, his highest senior representative honours have been the Indigenous All Stars (five games between 2011-17) and NSW Country (two games in 2013 and 2015). He scored a total of 30 tries at the Titans, 12 of them in 2016 - that year matching the record number of tries for a prop in one season.

James played only six matches in 2019, after he suffered an ACL injury to his right knee in the Round 6 clash with the Newcastle Knights. He then missed the entire 2020 season, after a recurrence of the injury in preseason training. He reportedly took a significant pay cut to make a new start with the Raiders. It is a risk worth taking for the Green Machine. He looked to be in great shape on the eve of his arrival in the nation's capital, and if he can stay on the field, he should be a valuable asset for the squad.

Ryan Sutton joined the Canberra Raiders from the Wigan Warriors on a two year deal in 2019. He had a good debut season in the NRL and was particularly strong when given an opportunity in the starting team. But he ended up missing the top 17 during the finals. That experience had a lasting impression on him, and drove him throughout 2020. His efforts certainly paid off, and won the 2020 Coaches' Award on Meninga Medal night.



Sutton missed the opening two rounds... and a calf injury suffered at training kept him out of the team when the season resumed in Round 3. He returned in Round 5 and kept his place in the top 17 for the rest of the regular season. Sadly, he suffered an MCL injury in the Round 20 "Rookie Raiders" win over the Sharks. He was ruled out for the rest of the season, missing Canberra's finals campaign.

Sutton made 16 appearances in 2020, three at starting prop, one at lock and the remainder on the bench. His average running metres per match lifted significantly (from 79 in 2019, to 100 per game in 2020). Only Josh Papalii and Joe Tapine averaged more running metres per match amongst the Raiders forwards. Sutton is not the sort of player who makes a lot of tackle breaks, line breaks or offloads. But he works hard. He ranked equal sixth for average tackles per match in the Raiders' pack, with his workload in defence increasing slightly in 2020. His tackle efficiency rate (91 per cent) was around the same as 2019, though his average missed tackle count rose slightly. He ranked fifth for missed tackles per game amongst the Raiders forwards, but conceded only one try cause.

For mine, Sutton is at his best when he's starting. He's still fairly young for a middle forward - aged 25 - and he's now just coming into his prime as a prop. In my view, Sutton's a serious challenger for starting prop, with the 2020 season only enhancing his claims.

Emre Guler forced his way into the Canberra Raiders top 17 on the eve of the 2019 finals, and went on to play in his first Grand Final, aged just 21. He made just 11 appearances in 2019, but finished the season with selection in the Under 23s Kangaroos team, that played France in Wollongong. That said a lot about the potential of a very young prop forward - and many were expecting him to have a big impact in 2020. Unfortunately, injury intervened.



Guler played just eight NRL games in the season just passed, one at starting prop and the remainder off the bench. He suffered a fractured ankle in the Round 8 win over the Dragons, which ultimately ruled him out for the remainder of the season. It was hoped he'd be able to return to the field last year, but that proved to be too optimistic.

He lifted his average minutes in 2020 to 42 per match, compared with 22 in 2019. Most of Guler's statistics improved as a result. In 2020, he averaged just under 100 running metres per game, compared with 53 in 2019. He ranked fourth for average metres gained amongst the Raiders forwards, behind Josh Papalii, Joe Tapine and Ryan Sutton. His running metres per carry (8.8) fell, but only slightly - and he wasn't far behind the likes of Papalii and Tapine in that department. He scored his first NRL try in the Round 1 win over the Titans at Canberra Stadium.

Guler's defensive workload also increased. He averaged 24 tackles per match, compared with 13 in 2019. His tackle efficiency rate, however, fell (to 87 per cent, from 89 per cent in 2019). Only Corey Harawira-Naera had a lower tackle efficiency rate amongst the Raiders forwards.

It was a bright start for Guler last season - so it was a great shame that he spent more than half the season on the sideline. Given the Raiders' depth in the forwards, Guler will face a lot of competition for a place in the top 17. Coach Ricky Stuart will be forced to make some tough choices, particularly if he is to balance youth with experience in his pack. But based on his 2020 numbers, it is hard to see a fit Guler missing a spot on the bench.

Guler is off contract at the end of 2021, so he can currently negotiate with other clubs for 2020 and beyond. However, it is reported that he's set to sign a two year contract extension with the Green Machine - and it is certain that the club sees Guler as a big part of the future. He has huge potential, so I'm keen to see him have a big year, free of injury, in 2021.

There are a number of other players who could readily start at prop, though they are listed by the Raiders as locks or second rowers. Joe Tapine is the No. 1 lock at the club in my view, but could easily fit in at starting prop. Young forwards Corey Horsburgh (lock) and Hudson Young (second row) would also do a great job in the role. Hudson Young did exactly that in the 2020 finals campaign. We'll cover those players in in more detail later in this series. Then there's the likes of development players Ata Mariota and Trey Mooney who are up and coming middle forwards.

Who do you think should join Josh Papalii as starting prop in 2021? Tell us below, and vote in the accompanying poll.

Next up in the series, we will take a look at hooker.
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Re: Locks and contenders 2021

Post by Matt »

I am very pro the young brigade, however, Lui is popular with coaches and players, and I expect him to get 1st crack
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Re: Locks and contenders 2021

Post by greeneyed »

As is the tradition on The Greenhouse, we are running a series to assess the "Locks and contenders" for the Canberra Raiders strongest possible 2021 line up... position by position... and inviting you to have your say.

There are obviously positions where some players are already "locks". But we will run some supplementary polls where there is any room for debate. This series is not aimed at predicting the Round 1 starting team. It is the strongest possible team, the one you'd want firing in the finals! Today...


Hooker

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Josh Hodgson has an absolute lock on the No. 9 jersey for 2021. He's one of the best hookers in the game. Should Cameron Smith retire, he'd be in strong contention for the mantle of the best hooker in the game.

Hodgson spent half of the 2018 season on the sidelines, after suffering an ACL injury in the 2017 World Cup semi final between England and Tonga. And sadly, Hodgson again missed half of the 2020 season due to another ACL injury - this time, affecting his other knee.

In the Round 9 match against the Melbourne Storm last year, Hodgson fell awkwardly to the ground while attempting a tackle on Cameron Smith. The devastating news that Hodgson had suffered a second ACL injury swiftly followed. Most commentators instantly wrote off the Raiders' chances in 2020. The fact that the Green Machine was able to recover and go onto contest a Preliminary Final says a lot about the courage and determination of the team - and the efforts of substitute hooking duo of Siliva Havili and Tom Starling.

All of Hodgson's statistics for 2020 were heavily affected by the low number of matches he played, and it is difficult to make comparisons with 2019. His numbers for try assists and try involvements were understandably well down - but they were also down on a per match basis.

He ran less from dummy half in 2020 (just over one DHR per game, compared with two in 2019) and his average running metres per game halved (13 metres per game, compared with around 25 metres in 2019). Given the rule changes introduced in Round 3, designed to speed the ruck, that's a little surprising. Most hookers were more likely to take the option of a dummy half run last year.

He tended to kick less as well (around three per game, compared with four in 2019), and produced fewer kick metres per match (89, compared with 123 in 2019). That's understandable, given the arrival of another English recruit, George Williams and his strong, short kicking game.

Hodgson does a lot of work in defence - and he again topped the average tackle count at the Raiders last year. He also tends to produce a lot of missed or ineffective tackles. His tackle efficiency rate (87 per cent) was unchanged - and was below the benchmark hookers (in the 90s). However, that doesn't translate into try causes for the most part - so something has to be working in that department.

Hodgson says that he expects he'll be fit for Round 1 of 2021. One of the challenges for Ricky Stuart will be to get the "spine" combining well, when Hodgson returns. The halves took more responsibility for running the team in Hodgson's absence in the second half of 2020, to good effect. At times, Hodgson can overplay his hand and can be too dominant in the play making. In 2021, good service to the running halves will be important, particularly given the new rules that speed the ruck and the game.

The other issue that Stuart will be pondering is how to use the back up/substitute hookers, Siliva Havili and Tom Starling next year. In the second half of last season, Ricky Stuart mostly started matches with Havili in the No. 9 jersey. Havili took the big hits in the opening stages, before Tom Starling took over at dummy half off the bench. It was a very effective partnership, with both players bringing very different strengths to the role.

Tom Starling stands at 170cms and weighs in at 82kgs, making him one of the smallest players in the NRL. But as the old adage goes, he plays well above his weight - and he uses his size to his advantage. He's nippy and quick out of dummy half, and often showed up the big forwards in the middle of the park. He takes decisions quickly, and gives crisp, clean service to the halves. In defence, he has great technique for getting in and under much bigger players, and dumping them on their backs.



Starling started his 2020 season in the Round 10 Grand Final re-match against the Roosters and went on to play in every remaining match of Canberra's season, including three finals matches. He started in five of his 14 appearances, with the remainder off the bench.

Despite the fact Starling appeared in only 60 per cent of the Raiders' matches last year - and averaged just over 50 minutes per match - he ranked third at the club for try assists and seventh for total try involvements. He was second to Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad for dummy half runs, and first for metres per run, amongst the regular first graders. In defence, he ranked equal third for tackles per match at the club, behind only Josh Hodgson and John Bateman. For a small player, his tackle efficiency was a very good 92 per cent, ranking sixth at the club. His average missed tackles per game was way down the list, at the club, and amongst NRL hookers. Starling is not a hooker who does a lot of kicking, but with George Williams and Jack Wighton in the team, he doesn't have to.

On the eve of the finals, Starling was rewarded with a new two year deal, keeping him at the club to the end of 2022. Josh Hodgson has been an 80 minute hooker for a while... but I think that having Starling on the bench would be a good option in 2021.

Unfortunately, Starling will have to deal with some court charges, including assaulting police and resisting arrest, after an off field incident in a restaurant on the Central Coast in early December last year. Ricky Stuart was quick to back the young hooker. Hopefully, it is quickly resolved and does not act as a distraction.

Siliva Havili played in every match in 2020, with nine at starting hooker, one at lock and 13 off the bench. His statistics are a little difficult to compare to those of other hookers, and with 2019, because of his mixed role - hooker and middle forward. He ranked seventh amongst the Raiders forwards for total try involvements, and well down the list on a per match basis. His average running metres per game rose a bit (61, compared with 52 in 2019), but his metres per carry fell slightly (to nine). He ranked eighth amongst the Raiders forwards for tackle breaks (12, down from 23 in 2019 and 32 in 2018).



In defence, his tackle efficiency rate remained strong last year (93 per cent) - equal third at the club, alongside Joe Tapine, and behind Josh Papalii and John Bateman. His average tackles per match rose to 18 (16 in 2019 and 22 in 2018). He conceded two try causes and three line break causes. His error count rose to 11, behind only Elliott Whitehead amongst the Raiders forwards.

Havili says hooker is his favourite postition and he probably makes more impact in that role. He's not the most creative hooker, and on a majority of the statistics, he'd now rank behind Tom Starling. But Havili deserves a lot of credit for taking those big hits early in matches. That allowed Starling to more effectively show his wares. And when Starling started, he mostly didn't play as well as when he came off the bench. So it was a genuine partnership that Havili and Starling had. In addition, Havili deserves a lot of credit for very willingly playing the role of a utility forward. He was basically prepared to do anything the coach asked - in the midst of the Raiders' injury crisis.

Looking to 2021, Havili might find it tough to force his way into the top 17 every week. Starling is probably now in front of Havili as a bench hooker, while there are plenty of young forwards vying for spots in the middle and in the back row - with the likes of Guler, Horsburgh and Sutton returning from injury. But the club is fortunate to have a player like Havili, who really did step up to the challenges thrown his way in 2020.

What are your views? Tell us below.

Next up in the series, we will take a look at the second row.
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Re: Locks and contenders 2021

Post by magoo »

We are blessed in the hooker position. All three are quality.
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Re: Locks and contenders 2021

Post by greeneyed »

As is the tradition on The Greenhouse, we are running a series to assess the "Locks and contenders" for the Canberra Raiders strongest possible 2021 line up... position by position... and inviting you to have your say.

There are obviously positions where some players are already "locks". But we will run some supplementary polls where there is any room for debate. This series is not aimed at predicting the Round 1 starting team. It is the strongest possible team, the one you'd want firing in the finals! Today...


Second rowers

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Elliott Whitehead has a "lock" on the No. 12 jersey. He's underrated by many commentators. His coach Ricky Stuart says that "he's the most underrated footballer in the competition." Let's think back to a couple of games in 2020 to see why.

In the Round 19 win over the Warriors, he was just terrific filling in in the halves, after an early injury to George Williams. He was slammed into the ground in one tackle in the second half, and it shook him. He ended up throwing up on field, but he got to his feet and continued on. The match said a lot about his courage and character, as well as his skill with the ball in hand. Not many forwards can fill in, in the halves.

Against the Dragons in Round 8, he made a number of critical tackles and very nearly set up a try in the first-half. He left the field for an HIA, after copping a poke in the eye from team mate Emre Guler. He came back on and helped steady the ship in the final minutes. It was after that game that his coach labelled him the most underrated player in the NRL.

"He went back on, he's a tough player. I have all the admiration in the world for Elliot," Stuart said.

"A lot of the stuff he does goes unnoticed but it doesn't go unnoticed by myself. That was my message to him at halftime. He doesn't like compliments but I told him I don't miss what he does."

No forward at the Raiders produced more total try involvements (14) than Whitehead in 2020, and he was equal first, with Papalii, for tries scored. He also ranked first for try involvements amongst his NRL second row peers. He was equal second for line breaks amongst the NRL second rowers, behind Villiame Kikau. He was, however, well down the list of second rowers for running metres, metres per run and tackle breaks.

Whitehead ranked first for total tackles at the Raiders, and sixth for average tackles per match. He essentially maintained his defensive workload in 2020 - and his tackle efficiency rate. His average missed tackles per game were roughly the same as 2019, but his try causes rose from six in 2019 to 10 last year. He ranked in the top 10 NRL second rowers for most tackles... but also first for missed tackles. His tackle efficiency rate was not in the top 20 second rowers - and only Corey Harawira-Naera, Emre Guler and Josh Hodgson had a lower rate at the club. It is tougher defending on the edge... and the bottom line is his tackle efficiency probably won't ever change much. The higher number of missed and ineffective tackles come with Whitehead's high defensive work load.

He's an incredibly consistent player and he was definitely in my top five Raiders of 2020. The manner in which he stepped up as an on field leader, in the absence of Josh Hodgson, really impressed me. He virtually became the vice-captain. Whitehead is signed by the Raiders to the end of 2022, but he's hoping he can continue playing beyond that date. He also plans on hanging up the boots as a Raider.

"I've still got two more years, I'll be hanging around for a bit longer. So I'll see how my body is in two years. But I'd like to finish my career here," Whitehead said as the finals loomed last year.

"Canberra have been great with me and hopefully I'm still performing well enough to extend when my contract comes to an end in two years. But it's a long way away yet."

"When I first came here I always said, nah, I’d stay here for two years then go home, but I’ve been here for five years now and I love it. Me and my missus are just going through residency now."

"So I’ll be looking probably to stay here once my career finishes and I’d like to get involved in coaching."

There is no doubt Raiders fans everywhere would love to see that. In the meantime, he's one of the first forwards picked, and certainly, in 2021, the first second rower picked.

The big question is, who will fill the second row spot vacated by John Bateman in 2021? The Raiders are "stacked" in the forwards, particularly in the middle forward positions. But not so much on the edge.

Corey Harawira-Naera joined the Canberra Raiders mid-season last year, after a controversy filled start to 2020 with the Canterbury Bulldogs. He and Jayden Okunbor had their contracts terminated by the Bulldogs, and they were deregistered by the NRL, due to off field incidents during a pre season trip to Port Macquarie. In July, the NRL Appeals Tribunal determined that the contract terminations were too harsh and should be reversed - with Harawira-Naera handed a 10 game suspension and $15,000 fine instead. Harawira-Naera, however, refused to return to the Bulldogs - and signed a two and a half year deal with the Raiders.



His arrival in Canberra was welcome news for the Raiders, not only because of the impending departure of John Bateman, but because the club was facing one of its worst injury crises in history. The 25 year old was more than a handy pick up. He'd previously played 46 games for the Panthers in 2017-18 and 21 games for the Bulldogs in 2019. He can play in the middle, but he's at his best on the edge. He can be a real attacking weapon - as Raiders fans will well recall when he scored one of two late tries in Canberra's infamous last gasp loss to Penrith at Bathurst in 2017.

He made his debut in green in the Round 12 win over the Cowboys in Townsville, and went on to make 11 appearances for Canberra last season He provided a good injection of enthusiasm at a tough time. The only game he missed after his arrival was the Round 16 win over the Bulldogs - because the terms of his release from Canterbury prevented him from playing against the Belmore based outfit. He started in the second row once and at lock once, with the remainder of his matches off the bench.

Harawira-Naera only averaged about 30 minutes per match, and it took some time for him to get back to match fitness on his return to the NRL. His attack is his relative strength, but given his low minutes, he was well down the list of Raiders forwards for total try involvements and average running metres per game in 2020. However, he was still ahead of Elliott Whitehead for average running metres. On a per game basis, he ranked fourth for line breaks and offloads and sixth for tackle breaks amongst the Canberra forwards. He was one of three Raiders forwards to manage a forced line drop out.

Harawira-Naera had the lowest average tackle count per match and the lowest tackle efficiency rate amongst the Raiders' forwards last year. He also produced three try causes, second only to Elliott Whitehead (10) amongst the Raiders forwards.

Hudson Young had a controversial debut season in 2019. He made 12 first grade appearances, but was suspended twice for eye gouging, putting him on the sidelines for a total of 13 weeks. He served five of those weeks at the start of the 2020 season... and promptly proceeded to put all that behind him.

He appeared in every subsequent Raiders match of the year, six starting in the second row, two at prop, two at lock and eight off the bench. He impressed in whatever position he was asked to play. It was in the second row early in the season, with John Bateman unavailable. It was mostly in the middle after that, including at starting prop in the finals games against the Roosters and the Storm.



Young improved his statistics across the board in 2020. He averaged just under 45 minutes on the field in 2019, but lifted that to just under 60 minutes last year. Amongst the Raiders forwards, only Josh Papalii and Elliott Whitehead scored more tries than Young (four). Only Whitehead made more line breaks. Young ranked third for tackle breaks. He's not the sort of player who throws a lot of offloads or produces a lot of try assists or line break assists. But he works hard, and has more attacking threat than the average forward. He ranked seventh amongst the Raiders forwards for average running metres, but that is still ahead of the the likes of Corey Harawira-Naera and Elliott Whitehead.

In defence, he averaged 27 tackles per game last year (21 in 2019), ranking in the middle of the pack amongst the Raiders forwards. His tackle efficiency rate was around the same as last year (90 per cent). He posted the most ineffective tackles amongst the Raiders forwards, and ranked fourth for missed tackles. However, those numbers are clearly better on a per game basis, and his try cause and line break cause counts were low. It is difficult comparing his statistics with his NRL peers, given the variety of positions he played in 2020.

Corey Harawira-Naera was recruited with an eye to the vacancy left in the second row by John Bateman's departure. But he'll be in a battle for the spot with Hudson Young. It is difficult to compare the 2020 statistics of the two players, because of Harawira-Naera's low minutes and fewer appearances. But I'd still conclude that Young's defensive numbers were better this year, while Young's attacking numbers compare pretty well too. Most people are expecting that Harawira-Naera will be given the first shot at filling Bateman's spot. He'll have the benefit in 2021 of a "full" pre-season - something he didn't have this year. But he'll need to be working hard on his defence. If you were Ricky Stuart, who would you choose?

Harry Rushton is the latest in what is now a long list of English players to join the Green Machine. Rushton is just 19, but has immediately joined the Raiders' top 30 squad. He made his Super League debut - in the second row - for the Wigan Warriors against St Helens last year. That was his only appearance in the top league. There was some question as to whether Rushton would be able to join Canberra this year, as planned, given COVID restrictions on international travel. But he was able to get a flight and, after quarantining in Sydney, arrived in Canberra just prior to Christmas. Rushton was born in Blackpool and played amateur rugby league with the Shevington Sharks, a Wigan. He stands at 190 cms and weighs in at 98 kgs. That's pretty imposing for a 19 year old. The Raiders clearly rate him very highly, but I think we can expect the club to give him time to settle in, in Jersey Flegg, this year.

There are also a couple of other young second rowers coming through the ranks, who are on development contracts for 2021: Kai O'Donnell and Clay Webb.

Kai O'Donnell made his NRL debut in the Round 9 clash with the Melbourne Storm - with the Raiders in the midst of an injury crisis. John Bateman, Corey Horsburgh, Sia Soliola and Emre Guler were all out with long term injuries, while Luke Bateman, JJ Collins and Jack Murchie had all been released from their contracts early.



O'Donnell hails from Prosperpine in Queensland and came through the Cowboys' and Titans' junior systems before joining the Raiders in 2019. He was spotted by recruitment guru Peter Mulholland when playing for the Burleigh Bears. O'Donnell went on to play in the 2019 Jersey Flegg Grand Final against the Rabbitohs, having starred all season in the second row. He won the Under 20s Coaches Award on Meninga Medal night.

He made a total of four NRL appearances last year, starting at lock in the three games between Rounds 9-11. That run of games included the Round 10 Grand Final re-match against the Roosters and the Round 11 win over the Rabbitohs. He wasn't called upon again until the Round 20 clash with the Sharks, when coach Ricky Stuart rested a host of his star players.

You might not have heard much about Clay Webb. The Gundagai-Adelong Tigers junior has been coming through the junior ranks with the Raiders for some time. He was selected in a Raiders Under 15s development squad back in 2016 - and then joined the Raiders Harold Matthews team in 2017. He was signed to the Raiders on a four year deal in 2017, after attracting interest from the Broncos, Titans and Eels. He signed that deal in the same week that he represented the NSW Combined High Schools team that won the Under 15s national championships - and was named in an Australian Under 15s merit squad.

He was the Raiders Harold Matthews Player's Player and represented NSW in Under 16s Origin in 2018. He was one of two junior Raiders, along with Trey Mooney, called into a "Future Blues" camp at the end of 2019 by NSW coach Brad Fittler. A knee injury (meniscus) early in the 2020 SG Ball Cup put paid to his season last year. Aged 18, he's eligible for SG Ball in 2021, but he has been named in the Jersey Flegg (Under 21s) pre Christmas training squad. He's so highly thought of by the Raiders, that he was elevated to the development player list for 2021 in December. No doubt, a player to watch.

So who do you think will join Elliott Whitehead as a starting second rower in 2021? Tell us below and vote in the accompanying poll.

In the final instalment of our series, we'll look at lock.
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greeneyed
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Re: Locks and contenders 2021

Post by greeneyed »

As is the tradition on The Greenhouse, we are running a series to assess the "Locks and contenders" for the Canberra Raiders strongest possible 2021 line up... position by position... and inviting you to have your say.

There are obviously positions where some players are already "locks". But we will run some supplementary polls where there is any room for debate. This series is not aimed at predicting the Round 1 starting team. It is the strongest possible team, the one you'd want firing in the finals! Today...


Lock

Joe Tapine has a "lock" on lock, the No. 13 jersey. He probably produced his best ever season in green in 2020. He started in the second row in five of the opening six rounds, but then moved into the middle. He started at lock in the final seven games, and made the position his own. He started in 14 games, eight at lock, five in the second row, one at prop - and came off the bench seven times.

Tapine has spent a fair bit of time on the sidelines due to injury or suspension in previous seasons. Not in 2020. He missed only one match through injury last year, the Round 7 golden point loss to the Eels. It was the result of a niggling knee problem. The only other match he missed was the Round 20 clash with the Sharks, when coach Ricky Stuart rested a host of his stars. He was remarkably disciplined on the field, with his aggression channeled into good, tough play.



His minutes lifted to an average of 55 per match in 2020 (45 in 2019). All of his numbers were up, but by more than the extra minutes might explain. He scored four tries (one in 2019) and posted seven try involvements (three in 2019). His average running metres rose to 116 per game (73 in 2019) and that was second only to Josh Papalii amongst the Raiders' forwards. His metres per carry also rose (to 9.2, compared with 8.6 in 2019). His tackle breaks more than doubled, rising from 21 in 2019 to 44 this year - and he ranked equal first with Josh Papalii amongst the Raiders forwards in that department.

His defensive numbers improved in 2020 as well. He made 29 tackles per game (up from 21 in 2019), ranked fifth amongst the Raiders forwards. His tackle efficiency rate improved again (to 94 per cent, compared with 86 per cent in 2018). Only Josh Papalii had a better tackle efficiency rate at the club. His average missed tackles remained low (one per game, compared with over three in 2018), as did his try causes (one, compared with 12 in 2018).

It became clear in 2019 that Joe Tapine was probably at his best in the middle. But his performances last year left no shadow of a doubt about that. He was just immense at either lock or prop. With the forward pack decimated by injury, he was one of the players who stood up and led in a way he has not done before. In the second half of the year, he was in career best form. For mine, he was one of the top three Raiders players of 2020.

So who is there to back him up? Obviously, a number of the middle forwards who we covered in the discussion of the contenders for prop and second row can do the job. Hudson Young, Sia Soliola, Ryan Sutton, Corey Harawira-Naera, Kai O'Donnell and Siliva Havili all had at least one appearance at lock in 2020. But let's now talk about the players the Raiders "officially" list at lock.

Corey Horsburgh had an impressive debut season in 2019, sharing the Raiders Rookie of the Year award on Meninga Medal night with Bailey Simonsson. He made a good start to 2020, but unfortunately his season was cut short early - after suffering a Lisfranc injury to his foot in the Round 7 golden point loss to the Eels. It was initially thought he might be able to return before the end of the year, but that did not prove to be the case.



Horsburgh made six appearances in green in 2020, starting in the second row in Round 1, before shifting to lock in his subsequent matches. He missed the Round 5 clash with the Tigers - a late withdrawal due to illness. It is difficult to make too much of his 2020 statistics, due to the low number of matches he played. His average minutes rose from from 34 per game in 2019 to 50 in 2020. He ranked fifth amongst the Raiders forwards for average running metres (94, compared with 92 in 2019). He's not the sort of player who makes a lot of tackle breaks or line breaks, but he ranked first for average offloads per game. He averaged 32 tackles per game (21 in 2019), which was exceeded at club by only Josh Hodgson and John Bateman. At the same time, his tackle efficiency rate (93 per cent) rose slightly.

Horsburgh is a player with huge potential. He is still aged just 23, and that is young for a middle forward. The experiment of playing him in the second row didn't really work out - but even then, he didn't play too badly in that game in my view. It is a shame that we saw so little of him on the field last year, because it was shaping up to be even better than his debut year. When he left the field at Western Sydney Stadium, after suffering his foot injury, his emotions came to the fore. It was awful to see the pain he was in. But I loved how he reacted, because you could see how much his football means to him. How passionate he is about it. It is probably doubtful that he'll take on a starting role in Round 1 next year, but it will be very hard for Ricky Stuart to leave him out of the top 17.

There are also two locks on the Raiders' development player list: Darby Medlyn and Trey Mooney.

Darby Medlyn, 21, comes from Parkes and is a graduate of the Raiders' 2019 Jersey Flegg Grand Final team. He joined the Raiders in 2018 and impressed in the No. 13 in Under 20s. He was also a part of the NSW Blues Under 20s team that beat the Maroons in 2019. He only played 18 minutes in his Round 20 NRL debut against the Sharks, but he played pretty well when on the field. He’s on a development deal until the end 2021. Hopefully he’ll get a lot more game time next season - as more experience in Canberra Raiders Cup or, preferably NSW Cup, will doubtless help his football.



Trey Mooney joined the Raiders in 2020, after coming through the junior ranks of the Parramatta Eels and the rugby league program of Westfields Sports High. He's represented New South Wales at Under 16 and Under 18 level and, in 2019, the Australian Schoolboys. He was the captain of the Eels' SG Ball team in 2019 - and he started out in that grade for the Raiders last year. The junior representative season was never completed because of the pandemic, but he subsequently joined the Raiders' "bubble" to train with the top squad. In August he started playing with the Raiders Under 20s in the local CRRL Cup - a team that went on to win the premiership.

He is still eligible for SG Ball (Under 19s) in 2021, but he'll no doubt be playing Jersey Flegg (Under 21s). The sky is the limit for this determined young man. I don't expect he'll play first grade this year, but I won't be surprised when he does. I can still hardly believe that the Eels somehow let him slip through their fingers.

What's your view on the contenders for lock? Tell us below.

That is the final article in our series. However, we will continue to run some polls, so as to complete the Canberra Raiders strongest possible 2021 line up... according to the readers of The Greenhouse. Once the polls for starting spots have concluded, we'll start some polls the determine the bench... and we will announce all the results right here.
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Matt
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Re: Locks and contenders 2021

Post by Matt »

@greeneyed,
Surprised you left Young off this list. He looked very good there this yr.
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Re: Locks and contenders 2021

Post by greeneyed »

Matt wrote: January 16, 2021, 8:05 pm @greeneyed,
Surprised you left Young off this list. He looked very good there this yr.
I didn’t leave him off the list, he was covered under another position... and he’s mentioned as having played at lock last year. I think Tapine is a certainty of starting at lock though.
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Re: Locks and contenders 2021

Post by Matt »

greeneyed wrote: January 16, 2021, 8:10 pm
Matt wrote: January 16, 2021, 8:05 pm @greeneyed,
Surprised you left Young off this list. He looked very good there this yr.
I didn’t leave him off the list, he was covered under another position... and he’s mentioned as having played at lock last year. I think Tapine is certainty of starting at lock though.
I agree, but thought you could mention him and say 'refer to'.
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Re: Locks and contenders 2021

Post by greeneyed »

Following the polls for contentious positions, this is the strongest starting team according to the readers of The Greenhouse:

1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad
2. Bailey Simonsson
3. Jarrod Croker
4. Matt Timoko
5. Jordan Rapana
6. Jack Wighton
7. George Williams
8. Josh Papalii
9. Josh Hodgson
10. Dunamis Lui
11. Corey Harawira-Naera
12. Elliott Whitehead
13. Joe Tapine

We will now have some polls for bench forwards and a bench utility.
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Re: Locks and contenders 2021

Post by dubby »

I think HSS and Scott would be ahead of Timoko, but we'll see.

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Re: Locks and contenders 2021

Post by greeneyed »

Following the polls to date, this is the strongest squad... with one spot to go... according to the readers of The Greenhouse:

1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad
2. Bailey Simonsson
3. Jarrod Croker
4. Matt Timoko
5. Jordan Rapana
6. Jack Wighton
7. George Williams
8. Josh Papalii
9. Josh Hodgson
10. Dunamis Lui
11. Corey Harawira-Naera
12. Elliott Whitehead
13. Joe Tapine

14.
15. Hudson Young
16. Corey Horsburgh
17. Emre Guler
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Re: Locks and contenders 2021

Post by Colk »

Yeah I agree with that squad. Unfortunately I think Ricky will pick Scott but otherwise it is bang on
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Re: Locks and contenders 2021

Post by Roger Kenworthy »

greeneyed wrote: January 16, 2021, 8:10 pm
Matt wrote: January 16, 2021, 8:05 pm @greeneyed,
Surprised you left Young off this list. He looked very good there this yr.
I didn’t leave him off the list, he was covered under another position... and he’s mentioned as having played at lock last year. I think Tapine is a certainty of starting at lock though.
So if Tapine is a lock for lock then how many non-lock locks do we have in the 17?
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Re: Locks and contenders 2021

Post by Roger Kenworthy »

Follow up question - how many locks in the 17 aren't locks?
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Re: Locks and contenders 2021

Post by greeneyed »

There were six others... no protest votes received (so far)!

Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad
Jack Wighton
George Williams
Josh Papalii
Josh Hodgson
Elliott Whitehead
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Re: Locks and contenders 2021

Post by Seiffert82 »

Incredible to have our spine largely settled.
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Re: Locks and contenders 2021

Post by greeneyed »

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Here are the results after all the polls. The Canberra Raiders strongest 2021 lineup, according to the readers of The Greenhouse.


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Re: Locks and contenders 2021

Post by greeneyed »

I think that The Greenhouse readers have selected a team with an eye to the future. The majority view might have written off Curtis Scott a bit too soon. He'd be at right centre in my strongest team. Plus, I'm inclined to think that there needs to be an additional experienced middle forward in the line up, with either Ryan James or Sia Soliola included... with either Corey Horsburgh or Emre Guler dropping out. Ryan Sutton... incredibly unlucky to dip out as well.

The choices, especially in the forwards, are exceptionally difficult, and it may end up being horses for courses each week. With the likes of Esera, Mooney and Clarkson in the wings, the forward ranks are incredibly strong.

If a youngster forces his way into the outside backs, I'd go with Harley Smith-Shields rather than Timoko. Both are very talented, however.
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