Through green eyes 2024

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greeneyed
Don Furner
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Through green eyes 2024

Post by greeneyed »

Through green eyes: What will 2024 bring the Canberra Raiders?

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In the first part of our Canberra Raiders season preview, we take an in depth look at the club's recruitment and retention for 2024.

The recruits

2023. It was the season that did not add up. The Raiders finished the regular season in the bottom five teams in attack and defence - and with a negative points differential of 137 points. Yet they finished in the top eight - and just missed progressing to the second week of the finals after a classic quarter final loss. They made the finals because they were gritty. They were "brawlers" at times - as Ricky Stuart described the style of team he was hoping to build - and they bled green. But it also was not enough.

Times have changed since the Raiders made the Grand Final in 2019. Only seven players who ran onto the field that night are with the Green Machine in 2024. The likes of Croker, Wighton, Hodgson, Soliola, Leilua and Nicoll-Klokstad are all gone. The style of the game has also moved on. Grindball was put out of business by Vlandysball. And while the extremes of the latter have subsided with even more rule changes, the game of rugby league has certainly changed.

So there are two major challenges facing the brains trust at Braddon. Potentially, they're interrelated.

The first is how to manage the significant generational change that is underway. After playing his 300th NRL match last year, Jarrod Croker has retired. After 13 years with the club, and almost 250 NRL games, Jack Wighton has defected to the Rabbitohs. It looks like Father Time will even catch up with Elliott Whitehead and Jordan Rapana. This season is shaping as the last in the game for the two 34 year olds.

Heading into the 2023 season, the Raiders had one of the older squads in the NRL, at an average age of over 26. This year, the top 30 squad has an average age of barely more than 24.

It is the time for generation next, according to coach Ricky Stuart.

"Over the next 12 months we're going to be transitioning into a new era," Stuart recently told The Canberra Times.

"We'll be losing 1000 games of NRL experience with Jarrod and Jack leaving this year, Elliott and Jordan being their last season in '24. So there is an enormous amount of experience that we'll be losing and it's going to be a very challenging period for us as a club, but I'm certainly looking at it as a positive and a massive opportunity... to afford our younger players a fantastic opportunity to become regular NRL players.

"There's going to be times in this transition... where there will be inconsistencies whilst we're developing this young group. I'm excited by what lies ahead for us. I'm really looking forward to these younger guys really grasping their opportunity and becoming the next generation."

The other major challenge facing the club is how to find a style of football that will better suit the times. In one sense, the process of generational change will help. The average age of NRL players has been declining. In 2017 and 2018, players were over 28 years of age, on average. The average age was around 25 in the past three years. Rugby league has increasingly become a young man's game.

Of course, a balance has to be maintained. Clubs like the Tigers know that a squad can be too young. Some older, experienced heads are needed. However, in the era of more up tempo rugby league, a club like the Panthers has thrived with a younger squad.

The Raiders are going to gamble on youth in 2024. In some ways, they haven't had much choice. There was a surfeit of good, established talent in the positions of need on the market. There were no ready made replacements available for Jack Wighton. They have also found it tough to attract higher profile players, failing in their long term pursuit of David Fifita. So the Raiders have largely focussed on young talent in recruitment. And in creating pathways for some exciting young players already with the club.

There might be some difficult times in the next year or two. But if the club gets things right, it could set the Green Machine up for another premiership window. A young team, playing an exciting brand of football. New times, that might even hark back to some golden times of the past.

So what of the new recruits?

Morgan Smithies

Morgan Smithies is Canberra's highest profile recruit of 2024. The Raiders' interest in the Wigan Warriors forward was kept very quiet - until after the Super League season had finished. The news of the his three year deal broke in mid October - and it only took a couple of weeks to agree with Wigan on a transfer fee and for the contract to be made official.





Born in Halifax, the 23 year old Englishman has played 114 first class games with the Wigan Warriors over five seasons. He's tasted victory in the 2022 Challenge Cup final and the 2023 Super League Grand Final. He's also played one game for England so far - against France last year. That's quite a bit of experience for such a young forward.

Smithies is primarily a lock forward. He's made 69 appearances for Wigan in that role. But he can also play in the second row (13 games) and even in the front row (two games). He stands at 185cms and weighs in at 106kgs, so he has physical presence, but is still mobile.

He's a noted defender. He set a record for most tackles in a Super League match (72) in 2019, at the age of 18. In last year's Super League Grand Final, he made 55 tackles, while posting 100 per cent tackle efficiency. In 2023, he ranked fourth in the Super League competition for most tackles (35 per game), while missing only 1.6 tackles per match.

His attacking numbers last year were not so strong. He averaged around 75 running metres per game, six metres per run and produced only three offloads, one line break and 21 tackle breaks in total. Smithies says he's been working on the attacking side of his game.



"I played loose forward at Wigan last year and just working on my ball-handling skills," he said recently.

"I feel like they progressed, but I'm not too bothered where I play. I'll play wherever for Sticky. As long as I'm playing I'm not too bothered where I play. Whether it's 13 or second row I'm not too bothered. I'll just be happy to play for Canberra."

"I'm a hard worker, but over the past few years I've tried to add a bit more on to my game - a bit of skill in the attack - but defensively I'll be pretty sweet."

Matt Timoko has reported that Smithies has shown some "great ball skills" in pre-season training. Assistant coach Mick Crawley recently backed that up. Maybe Smithies' 2023 numbers reflect what he was instructed to do at Wigan. Maybe we'll see more adventure from him in attack in 2024. We all shall soon see.

Zac Hosking

Zac Hosking was signed by the Raiders from the Panthers in early January this year. Released from the final year of his contract at Penrith, he's been given a three year deal. His father, David, played for the Rabbitohs and Sea Eagles in the late 1980s and early 1990s. A prop known as "The Mule". His nickname tells you a lot about he approached the game and his physique. He was tough and rugged. Zac is lankier, standing at 188cms and weighing in at 97kgs. More suited to the second row. But he's not flashy either. Defence is more his forte.



Born at Manly, Hosking will be 27 years of age by the time the 2024 season starts. He played his junior football in Newcastle with Centrals, before making his NSW Cup debut for the Knights in 2018. He twice won Newcastle's NSW Cup Player of the Year award, but he couldn't get a first grade start. After four seasons - interrupted by the pandemic - and 43 Cup games, the part time carpenter headed to Brisbane in 2022. He'd thought his NRL dream was pretty much over, but he took up a train and trial opportunity with the Broncos. And Hosking was rewarded with his NRL debut in the Broncos' Round 22 clash with the Dragons at Lang Park.

Hosking played four NRL matches with Brisbane in 2022, as well as 15 Queensland Cup games with the Wynnum Manly Seagulls. He took an offer to join the Panthers for the 2023 season, on a two year deal. He made 21 appearances for Penrith last year, including the Qualifying Final. He was given an opportunity with Liam Martin affected by injury and he grabbed it. However, he was snubbed by coach Ivan Cleary in the two biggest games of the year. Luke Garner was preferred for the Preliminary Final and Grand Final.

Prior to Christmas, he jumped at the chance of a meeting with Ricky Stuart during Canberra's training camp in Kiama. And by January, he was training in green.

Hosking started in the second row in 15 games last year, while playing two at centre and four off the bench. He scored three tries and produced six total try involvements. He also averaged nine runs for 73 metres, while posting four line breaks, 31 tackle breaks and 13 offloads. All those numbers were outside the top 20 second rowers in the competition.

Hosking averaged 26 tackles per game - and his tackle efficiency was pretty good at 91 per cent. It is not a huge defensive workload, but the tackle efficiency was in the top 20 second rowers. He was well down the list for try causes (five) and line break causes (nine). His error count was fairly low and his penalty count was very low.

Hosking's a solid player and adds some depth in a position where it is sorely needed. There is doubt about whether Corey Harawira-Naera will be cleared to return to the field after his on-field seizure last year. And the game time of captain Elliott Whitehead will likely need to be managed. It is likely we'll see a fair bit of Hosking on the bench in first grade, at the least.

Kaeo Weekes

Kaeo Weekes, 21, was signed by the Raiders last October on a two year deal. He is an Asquith Magpies junior, a feeder club for the North Sydney Bears. A junior athletics sprint champion with Newington College, he scored 11 tries in his first season of Harold Matthews with Manly. He made his NSW Cup in 2021 and his NRL debut followed soon after - the Round 19 clash with the Dragons in 2022.



Weekes was almost exclusively a fullback for Manly in NSW Cup. He played four of his 12 NRL games at the back too. But he can also play in the halves. Either way, his path to first grade has been blocked at the Sea Eagles, by the likes of Tom Trbojevic and Josh Schuster. When Trbojevic was out in the back end of 2023, Reuben Garrick was mostly preferred at fullback as well. By then, the Sea Eagles were looking in other directions.

Weekes is in a battle with 19 year old half, Ethan Strange, for the Raiders' No. 6 jersey. And he is being widely tipped as the winner of that battle, including by one Sydney journalist who has good connections at Raiders HQ. That was initially a a bit of a surprise for me, as Weekes has played only two senior games at five eighth and one at halfback at Manly. His advantage is his speed. He's clocked in during the pre-season as the second fastest player at the club over 20 metres, behind Xavier Savage. The trials will tell us more. Whoever wins the five eighth role has some big shoes to fill.

Simi Sasagi

Simi Sasagi, 22, was born in Auckland and played his junior football with the Ellerslie Eagles. He joined the Newcastle Knights at SG Ball level in 2018 - and was given a development contract in 2019. Promoted to the Newcastle top 30 squad in 2021, he made his NRL debut at centre, in the Round 11 clash with the Cowboys. He played 17 first grade matches with the Knights, two at centre, the rest off the bench. But Sasagi didn't get a look in at first grade last year. Newcastle agreed to release him last August, so he could sign a two year deal with the Raiders.



Sasagi has utility value. He's mostly played at centre or lock, but he's also played eight of his 34 NSW Cup games at five eighth and two at halfback.

"For this year, I want to settle myself in either the back row, anywhere in the middle I guess," he said after arriving in Canberra.

"I've had conversations with Ricky Stuart... being able to play multiple positions, I think, just where ever I can in the team. But I probably want to cement that middle or back row position."

RECRUITMENT AND RETENTION RATING: C+ The list of recruits is a bit thin, while the Raiders have lost a fair bit of depth in key positions.

The departure of Jack Wighton, Matt Frawley and Brad Schneider leaves Jamal Fogarty as the only senior half standing. If Fogarty is lost to injury or suspension, the Raiders could be in some trouble. The club will not only be depending on young players to step up in the halves, but also at fullback.

Edge forward is a problem area, given strong doubts over the availability of Corey Harawira-Naera and the impending retirement of Elliott Whitehead. The recruitment of Zac Hosking helps there - but he's probably not the "point of difference" recruit the club was after when they were attempting to sign David Fifita or Keaon Koloamatangi. Depth at centre is now also an issue, with the loss of Croker, Smith-Shields and Morkos.

All that sounds a bit grim. But the list of re-signings is fairly strong. Morgan Smithies could turn out to be a very strong pick up. In addition, the club has already recruited some of the best young players country in the past year or two. Think Chevy Stewart and Ethan Strange. And there is a strong junior development base. There are potential long term fullbacks, halves and hookers already at the club. Some are ready, or close to ready, some are in the pipeline.

The Raiders are also ready to recruit Eels and junior Blues halfback Ethan Sanders - once Round 6 rolls around, and they are able to officially negotiate with him for 2025. Maybe the Raiders could even get him early. Add him to the list of recruits and it wouldn't be a bad haul. At the very least, Canberra will have built well for the future.

Gains: Zac Hosking (Penrith Panthers, 2026), Simi Sasagi (Newcastle Knights, 2025), Morgan Smithies (Wigan Warriors, 2026), Kaeo Weekes (Manly Sea Eagles, 2025)

Losses: Jarrod Croker (retired), Matt Frawley (Leeds Rhinos), Brad Morkos (released), Brad Schneider (Hull Kingston Rovers, Penrith Panthers), Harley Smith-Shields (Gold Coast Titans), Clay Webb (Newcastle Knights NSW Cup), Jack Wighton (South Sydney Rabbitohs)

Re-signed: Michael Asomua (2026), Jamal Fogarty (2026), Emre Guler (2025), Albert Hopoate (2025), Corey Horsburgh (2027), Sebastian Kris (2027), Danny Levi (2025), Ata Mariota (2026), Hohepa Puru (2025), Jordan Rapana (2024), Tom Starling (2025), Chevy Stewart (2027), Adrian Trevilyan (2024), Hudson Young (2027)

Off contract 2024: Nick Cotric, Peter Hola, Trey Mooney, Jordan Rapana, Pasami Saulo, James Schiller, Adrian Trevilyan, Elliott Whitehead, Zac Woolford

2024 top 30 squad: Nick Cotric, Jamal Fogarty, Emre Guler, Corey Harawira-Naera, Peter Hola, Albert Hopoate, Corey Horsburgh, Zac Hosking, Sebastian Kris, Danny Levi, Ata Mariota, Trey Mooney, Josh Papalii, Hohepa Puru, Jordan Rapana, Simi Sasagi, Pasami Saulo, Xavier Savage, James Schiller, Morgan Smithies, Tom Starling, Chevy Stewart, Ethan Strange, Joseph Tapine, Matt Timoko, Kaeo Weekes, Elliott Whitehead, Zac Woolford, Hudson Young

2024 supplementary list: Utoloa Asomua (top 30 from 2025), Jordan Martin, Noah Martin (top 30 from 2026), Vena Patuki-Case (top 30 from 2025), Adrian Trevilyan

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RedRaider
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Re: Through green eyes 2024

Post by RedRaider »

GE do you reckon we are keeping the 30th spot open for the Colonel in the hope he will get an Eels release in 2024?
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greeneyed
Don Furner
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Re: Through green eyes 2024

Post by greeneyed »

RedRaider wrote: February 3, 2024, 9:16 am GE do you reckon we are keeping the 30th spot open for the Colonel in the hope he will get an Eels release in 2024?
Very likely.
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greeneyed
Don Furner
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Re: Through green eyes 2024

Post by greeneyed »

Through green eyes: What will 2024 bring the Canberra Raiders?

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In the second part of our Canberra Raiders season preview, we take a look at the rookies to watch for 2024.

The rookies

"It's going to be a rebuilding year." That's a phrase that sports fans don't much like to hear. And no-one at the Canberra Raiders are talking about "rebuilding" in 2024. But there's going to be plenty of rebuilding going on.

While Raiders coach Ricky Stuart might not have uttered the "rebuilding" word, he has spoken about "transitioning into a new era" over the next 12 months. About losing 1000 games of NRL experience, with Croker and Wighton gone, with Whitehead and Rapana set to retire at the end of this season. About the arrival of generational change.

"I'm excited by what lies ahead for us," Stuart said late last year. "I'm really looking forward to these younger guys really grasping their opportunity and becoming the next generation."

Those younger players will include the likes of Xavier Savage (22 NRL games), Ata Mariota (17 games), Trey Mooney (5 games) and new recruit Kaeo Weekes (12 games). They no longer formally qualify as rookies, but are pretty darn close. In 2023, Mariota won the Raiders' Rookie of the Year award on Meninga Medal night. But some "real rookies", like Ethan Strange (1 game) and Chevy Stewart, are genuine contenders for the top 17 in 2024.

I too find the prospect of this year's "transition" to be exciting. Because we've seen the Raiders' premiership window slowly, inexorably, closing shut, as the squad aged. Some inevitable changes to the team were avoided for too long. Some young players were given debuts, but not properly blooded. Given limited game time. But there is now no choice but to turn to youth. There will be growing pains and the fans will need to be patient. But this rebuild is not something to be dreaded. It is an opportunity to be embraced, to build for the future. We should strap in and enjoy an exciting ride.

So let's take a closer look at the latest crop of rookies - some of whom could soon be household names in the nation's capital.

Ethan Strange

Ethan Strange, 19, is in a battle with Kaeo Weekes for the No. 6 jersey given up by Jack Wighton. And if he doesn't win that battle, he may well be a Round 1 starter at centre - with Sebastian Kris unavailable due to suspension.

Strange was signed by the Raiders from the Roosters in early 2022 on a three year deal, starting in 2023. The Central Coast junior was playing SG Ball at the time, but by July of 2022 he was in Canberra, in green and playing Jersey Flegg. He made his first appearance for the club in the Round 19 loss to the Bulldogs at Canberra Stadium - and went on to play four games in Flegg that year.

Strange began the 2023 season in Under 21s, but made his NSW Cup debut in the Round 6 loss to the Roosters at Kippax. By Round 24, he'd made his NRL debut. It turned out to be a bit of a tough day, as the Raiders were overrun by the Storm in Melbourne. He played at centre, and it wasn't fun defending on the edge. 48-2 at the end of the day. The first time the Raiders had failed to score at least one try in a match since 2013.



It had still been a special week for Strange and his family. His father, John is the coach of the Roosters' NRLW team. His sister, Jasmin plays NRLW, moving from the Roosters to the Knights this year. With Ethan's debut, they became the first father-daughter-son trio to coach or play in the NRL and NRLW. There is no doubt they are a footy family. Ethan's mother, Adele, runs the Central Coast Roosters Academy. The family even built a mini football field, with lights, at their Central Coast home, when the children were younger.

Life was better for Ethan in NSW Cup last year. He played 16 games in that grade - as well as his half dozen games in Flegg. He scored two tries in "reggies", while posting six try assists, seven line break assists, eight offloads and five forced drop outs. He also averaged 71 running metres, 23 kicking metres and 14 tackles per game. His tackle efficiency (85 per cent) was a step above his single NRL game.

The turning point in his season came along in mid July, when he represented the Blues in the Under 19s Origin match. He made a real splash in that game, getting a hat trick of tries from centre. Named man of the match. He seemed to take a lot of confidence from that and he lifted to another level in Cup. It laid the platform for his NRL debut.



When coach Ricky Stuart selected Strange for first grade, he compared the young five eighth to the likes of Laurie Daley and Jack Wighton - while stressing he was not comparing him to Laurie Daley and Jack Wighton.

"You've got players like Laurie Daley, Jack Wighton who came into first grade through fullback and centre," Stuart said at the time.

"I'm not going to put that tag on Ethan but he's a very similar athlete to those two. Ethan has got a running game similar to the same strengths Laurie and Jack have had in the way they run the football."

Chevy Stewart

Chevy Stewart, 18, is one of the main contenders for the No. 1 jersey in Round 1. If he gets the nod, it'll be his NRL debut. He was captain of the Cronulla Harold Matthews team that made the Grand Final in 2022. Selected for the Australian Schoolboys team that went to Fiji the same year. Ranked the best Under 18s player in the country after the 2022 ASSRL Championships in Redcliffe.

Stewart made his debut in green in SG Ball last year - but after five games was promoted to Jersey Flegg for the Round 2 clash with the Roosters. He was playing NSW Cup by Round 4, making his debut at that level against the Knights at Hunter Stadium. He wasn't even 18 years of age at the time. He needed special permission from the NSWRL just to play Cup footy. That's quick progression.

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There's no doubt he was a player who had plenty to learn. But perhaps the most impressive thing about his 2023 season was how quickly he learned. For example, he's a player who loves to get involved, often jumping in at dummy half and running. But probably a bit too much. He quickly adjusted. He is not the biggest player, still developing his size and strength, and struggled at times in defence. But by season's end, he was putting his body on the line and making some great try saves. He probably needed to talk a bit more. Soon enough, he was issuing plenty of orders for the more senior players from the back. Goal kicking required? No problem.

Stewart scored nine tries and 31 goals in NSW last year, while averaging 115 running metres per game. He posted 72 tackle breaks, four forced drop outs, five line breaks and eight try assists. Xavier Savage was often the beneficiary of the assists on the wing, with the pair developing a good combination. His tackle efficiency was 70 per cent, but it did improve over the course of the year. In the Week 1 finals win over the Sea Eagles, he produced a try, three tackle breaks and 169 running metres.

Stewart was selected at fullback for the NSW Blues Under 19s team last year. While he didn't have his best game, he notched up 10 tackle breaks and 59 running metres in the 32-14 win over the Maroons.

If Stewart does make his NRL debut in Round 1, it has to be recognised that it'd be a tough ask for such a young player to get through a whole season, without interruption. But it won't surprise if he sees plenty of first grade in 2024.

Hohepa Puru

Hohepa Puru, 21, joined the Raiders at the start of 2023 on an ongoing training contract. By the end of the season, he was running out onto the field in an NRL final.

The captain of Penrith's 2022 Jersey Flegg outfit, Puru finished with his former club on a high - named man of the match in the Panthers' golden point Grand Final victory over the Knights.

He's not tall, standing at 177cms and weighing in at 92kgs. But he has an impact on field which belies his size. He played 22 games for the Raiders in NSW Cup in 2023, scoring three tries. He also produced two try assists, seven line breaks, 26 tackle breaks and averaged 133 running metres and 40 tackles per game. That's a very high work rate all round. Calls from the fans for him to be given an opportunity in firsts grew as the season wore on. However, it took until the final game of the regular NRL season, before he was given a shot.

The late season suspension of Corey Horsburgh provided the opening for Puru's NRL debut in the Round 27 clash with the Sharks at Cronulla. One man's loss, another man's gain. Puru performed well. He was a late switch to starting lock and played 38 minutes in a couple of stints. He made 12 runs for 103 metres gained, 24 post contact metres, one tackle break and 25 tackles for an 86 per cent tackle efficiency rate.



He was given the No. 13 jersey the next week, the finals game against the Knights at Newcastle. Sadly for Puru he lasted just three minutes, a head knock putting him out of the game early. He attempted a tackle on Jacob Saifiti, going in low and colliding with the Knights prop's hip.



"He's an extremely talented ball-player, he can hit the short ball last minute, or he can hit out the back, he's got a nice show-and-go, and he can step off both feet, but mainly has a good right foot step," his NSW Cup coach Justin Giteau said at the time Puru made his NRL debut.

"He's got the skill of a good half and the physicality of a forward, so he's definitely going to assist in attack."

Puru is versatile. He prefers playing at lock, but he's also very happy playing at five eighth or hooker. I'd like to see Puru given more chances in first grade in 2024. It might be tough for him to force his way into the starting team, particularly after the recruitment of Morgan Smithies. But a bench utility role might be the way he finds a place in the top 17.

Adrian Trevilyan

Since arriving in Canberra in 2020, Adrian Trevilyan hasn't played a whole lot of football. Due to a combination of the pandemic and injury, he's only played a total of 31 games over the past four years in NSW Cup and the NRL - and only three games in firsts.

He's long been regarded as a very promising hooker. Hailing from north Queensland, he helped lead Townsville's Kirwan State High to the National Schoolboys Championship in 2019. In the process, he won the Peter Sterling Medal as the player of the tournament. Andrew Voss - who has been commentating on the Schoolboys Cup since the early 1990s - named Trevilyan as the best hooker he's seen in that competition.



Trevilyan made his NRL debut in Round 2 in 2022 against the Cowboys. He played 23 minutes off the bench and didn't look out of place. However his opportunities that year were limited by injury - and he ended up having both shoulder surgery and an ACL reconstruction.

Sidelined for much of 2023, he finally made his return to the field in the Round 20 NSW Cup clash with the Sea Eagles at Blacktown. The 22 year old almost instantly produced good form. So good that Raiders coach Ricky Stuart promoted him to first grade for the match up with the Tigers in Round 23, at the expense of Tom Starling.

"As soon as he did his ACL I said, 'Mate, just work hard and concentrate on your rehab. I know what's going through your mind - you're off contract. I promise you I'll keep you here, I'll look after you'. Because he's a talent," Stuart said at the time.

"He's a young player who hasn't been able to show any of our supporters or anyone on the outside the talent he actually has."

"He's a very good young dummy half. He just hasn't had the ability yet to play consistent football. We're all very confident in Adrian's future."

"The best thing for Adrian is to keep getting game time now. Whether it's NRL, that's up to him now with performance, or just playing Cup. But getting game time is really important for his confidence and his belief."

Trevilyan also played in the top grade the next week in the huge loss to the Storm. While he certainly wasn't among the worst performers in that game, he lost his spot to Starling for the Round 25 match against the Bulldogs.

Trevilyan made seven appearances in NSW Cup in 2023, producing two tries, four try assists, four line break assists and one offload. He also averaged 40 running metres and 28 tackles per game. Those are good numbers, particularly for a player on the comeback from an ACL injury.

Trevilyan is on contract for 2024, but is not a part of the top 30. He's on the supplementary list. All the mail coming from Raiders HQ is that Danny Levi and Tom Starling are the leading contenders at hooker. But, in my view, Trevilyan probably has the highest ceiling of any of the dummy halves at the club. I'd love to see him get a chance this year - and see what he can deliver.

Michael Asomua

Michael Asomua, 20, has come through the ranks of the Raiders' junior grades, winning an SG Ball premiership and selection for the Under 19 Blues and Australian Schoolboys along the way. He was named the NSW Cup Player of the Year on Meninga Medal night last year. He reminds me a lot of Panthers winger, Brian To'o. Shorter in stature, but very hard to stop. He was given a contract extension late last year to the end of 2026. He's on the supplementary list in 2024, but will be promoted to the top 30 squad in 2025. He has heaps of potential, but might have to bide his time for a little longer in Cup. But who knows? An NRL debut this season is not beyond him.



Players to watch

There are some other players to watch. Vena Patuki-Case is a 19 year old prop on the supplementary list. The Windsor Wolves junior is signed up until the end of 2025, and will be part of the top 30 next season. A graduate of Hills Sports High, he played with the Roosters in Harold Matthews (2020) and SG Ball (2022). He was also part of Brad Fittler's junior Blues squad in 2022. He played his first game for the Raiders in Round 1 of SG Ball last year. But we have not seen him on field since then. Hopefully, he gets a good run of games this year.

Jordan Martin, 23, and Noah Martin, 18, are brothers who hail from the NSW south coast. Both second rowers, on Canberra's supplementary list. Both have impressive mullets. Both are high impact, high energy players, who really impressed in the lower grades. Jordan's career has been affected by the pandemic and injury. He's posted 26 NSW Cup games after making his debut in 2018 with Canberra feeder club, Mounties. Noah is still eligible for SG Ball.

Jake Clydsdale, is a tall young prop, who joined the Raiders last year. He started the season in SG Ball, and ended up in NSW Cup. He comes from Scone and is the much younger brother of former Raiders hooker Adam Clydsdale. He won the Raiders' SG Ball Player's Player award - and was impressive in representing the NSW Blues in the 2023 Under 19s Origin match.

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greeneyed
Don Furner
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Re: Through green eyes 2024

Post by greeneyed »

Through green eyes: What will 2024 bring the Canberra Raiders?

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In the third part of our Canberra Raiders season preview, we take a look at how the squad is shaping up for 2024.

The squad

The job of building and rebuilding a football team is a process that never ends. But at present, the Canberra Raiders squad is in the midst of a major transformation.

Since Canberra's Grand Final appearance in 2019, players like Aidan Sezer, Joey Leilua, John Bateman, Sia Soliola, Josh Hodgson and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad have retired or moved on. 2023 was the last season in green for two veterans of the club, Jarrod Croker and Jack Wighton. Players who have been leading lights. But the recent losses of Matt Frawley, Brad Schneider, Harley Smith-Shields and Brad Morkos have also significantly affected the depth at the club. In particular, the ranks of the halves and centres has been left in a depleted state.

In his first major rebuild at the Raiders, a decade ago, coach Ricky Stuart spoke in blunt terms about how he needed to bring in experienced talent in from the outside. Representative players from other NRL clubs. That didn't go too well. Think back to the failed attempts in 2014 to recruit Michael Ennis, James Tedesco, Josh Mansour and Kevin Proctor. The loss of Anthony Milford to the Broncos also shook the club's commitment to being a "development club". Stuart shifted gear and he innovated. He "moneyballed". He looked to England. And that was critical in building the squad to one that could challenge for a premiership.

In 2024, coach Stuart faces another major rebuild of the Green Machine. He has looked to bring in players from other clubs who would be a "point of difference". Again, that hasn't gone too well. Not so far, anyway. The pursuit of players like Fifita and Koloamatangi proved fruitless. One player, Morgan Smithies, has been brought over from England. But this rebuild looks like it will be different to those that have gone before. This time, the club has a renewed commitment to the development of young talent. It's an approach that is risky, but is one that promises to pay off, big time. Perhaps not in 2024. But rebuilds are like that. They are the platform for future success.

So how is the squad as a whole shaping up for 2024?

The spine

There is no doubt about who will be the Canberra Raiders' No. 7 in 2024. Jamal Fogarty. He's really the last man standing in the halves, after Jack Wighton, Matt Frawley and Brad Schneider moved to what they saw as greener pastures. But there is a big question over which young player joins him in the halves. The leading contenders for the No. 6 jersey are 22-year-old recruit, Kaeo Weekes and 19-year-old junior Blues representative, Ethan Strange.



Fogarty has recently been extended to the end of 2026 and given the job of vice-captain. With captain Elliott Whitehead likely to play reduced minutes in his farewell season, coach Stuart is clearly expecting Fogarty to step up as a leader, as a mentor to the young players around him.

"Sticky is always telling me I need to talk more. That’s what he wants me to do; take control," Fogarty said.

"Being that senior half now I've got to be a little bit more dominant and show my experience."

"Last season we were bottom four in attack and bottom four in defence and we still scraped into the top eight. It shows we're a gritty team but the more consistent we are, we can hopefully be higher up the ladder."

"I've had a lot of time with Kaeo and Ethan and we're starting to understand how we play. I'm pretty sure if one of those guys misses out there might be a utility role for them."

Weekes and Strange have been selected as the starting halves in the Raiders' first trial this Saturday. Weekes will have the No. 6 on his back, Strange the No. 7. To me, that signals that Weekes has the inside running at the five eighth job. Strange might get the nod at centre, for Round 1 at least - given Sebastian Kris will be unavailable for that match due to suspension. But both know that performances in the trials could decide who wins the battle for Jack Wighton's old spot.



Fullback is also a position that is wide open. Sebastian Kris filled in at No. 1 last year, and did a good job in terms of his running game. But not so good in terms of ball playing and defence. Jordan Rapana took over towards the end of the year and performed well. But the veteran can't be expected to play there, for a full season. Kris will turn out in his correct position, at centre in 2024. So this spot is shaping as a battle between Xavier Savage and 18-year-old young gun, Chevy Stewart.

Stewart played at fullback in NSW Cup in the back end of last season, with Savage pushed to the wing. They actually formed a very good combination in those roles. And Stewart has now been awarded the No. 1 jersey in the Raiders' first trial match. Savage the No. 5. Reading the tea leaves on this one is even more difficult than the halves. It could mean Stewart has been anointed as the leading fullback contender. But last year, some selections for the first trial indicated that the player was the least likely contender. Personally, I'd have Stewart at fullback and Savage on the wing - based on how they played in NSW Cup last year. But it will be tough for any 18-year-old to play out a full season. So there could be some chopping and changing.

The Raiders have plenty of depth at hooker, but it is a position that the Raiders should be looking to strengthen. Zac Woolford and Tom Starling are the incumbent hooking duo. Woolford is solid, gives very good service, and gets the team rolling. The experience of the last two years proves the side just gels better with him starting. But he's not the most creative dummy half. Tom Starling produces his best when injected off the bench. He adds spark, running from dummy half at tired forwards. But his passing game is a relative weakness. Danny Levi unfortunately broke his jaw twice last year, so didn't see a lot of first grade action. Youngster Adrian Trevilyan has heaps of potential, but has been injury prone.

So who gets the No. 9 and No. 14 jerseys? Woolford and Starling have them for the first trial, with Levi on the extended bench. Woolford has also been named as captain. But Levi and Starling were the players given extended contracts last year, while Woolford and Trevilyan are playing for new deals in 2025. That probably gives the best sense of the pecking order, according to the Braddon brains trust. And there's a bit of mail suggesting that Levi is favoured for starting hooker in 2024. The other thing to remember is that Woolford was selected at No. 9 last year in the first trial, and the next week was trialing with the NSW Cup team. I guess we'll get a better indication when we see the team list for the second Preseason Challenge match that is to be played at Seiffert.

Is that a top eight spine? Right now, I'm doubtful. There are players who have the potential to be part of a top four spine. A premiership spine. But it looks like it will be a very young, inexperienced line up in 2024. Hooker is a weak spot - though there is a slew of very good young hookers on the way up in the lower grades. Things could click in 2024, if Jamal Fogarty can consistently play to his best and the young players develop quickly. It won't surprise me if they can steer the team to a spot around the edge of the top eight. But right now, based on experience, my rating for the spine has to be relatively low.

SPINE RATING: D

The forwards

The forward pack shapes as Canberra's greatest strength. There is oodles of depth in the middle. Joe Tapine and Josh Papalii are two of the leading props in the competition. Tapine won the Meninga Medal for the past two years. He was one of the Props of the Year in 2022. Papalii is in the veteran class these days, and he might not be the No. 1 prop at the club any more. But he's still a real leader of the pack. I'd split them, with Tapine starting and Papalii on the bench - so as to ensure that at least one of them is on the field at all times.



The recruitment of Wigan premiership winner, Morgan Smithies, has added a specialist lock to the team. I doubt the Raiders have paid a transfer fee and brought him all the way from England to play out of position or on the bench. His statistics from Super League indicate that his relative strength is defence. He tackles anything within sight and reach. Ball playing was not part of the repertoire. However, a number of Canberra players have told us that he's done well in the pre-season in that area. I guess we will see. I think he's a certainty for the No. 13 jersey, myself. That frees up Queensland forward Corey Horsburgh for the prop rotation. He handled lock with aplomb last year, but I'd have him starting at prop alongside Tapine. Hohepa Puru offers very good depth at lock as well.

Pasami Saulo and Emre Guler played plenty of first grade off the bench last year. And their efforts per minute were good. But they sometimes didn't get a lot of minutes. And in my view, the forward pack lacked some oomph when the interchange props were injected. Ata Mariota and Trey Mooney both offer a whole lot of oomph. Mariota is Papalii like. Mooney is very damaging in attack. I'd like to see them both feature in the top 17 regularly in 2024. Whatever happens, coach Ricky Stuart is spoiled for choice in the middle.

The edge is a bit of a problem area. Hudson Young played Origin for the Blues last year, but didn't have the happiest of Brad Fittler experiences. His confidence seemed to be dented in the back half of the season. He is still the first second rower picked for mine. Elliott Whitehead will also be selected as Young's second row partner, no doubt. Aged 34, this season will be Whitehead's last in the NRL. Expect his game time to be managed more carefully in 2024. There will probably be some games where he's rested. It's likely that new recruit Zac Hosking will take some of his minutes. But even with the recruitment of Hosking, depth in the edge forwards is a bit thin - especially as Corey Harawira-Naera could be forced into medical retirement.

Overall, the Raiders have one of the best packs around. In my view, anyway.

FORWARDS RATING: A

The backs

Matt Timoko and Sebastian Kris should be a strong centre pairing this season. Both have now represented New Zealand. They're just coming into their peak years. The challenge for the Raiders will be to make sure they play the style of football which uses their talents. As mentioned, the retirement of Jarrod Croker, and the departures of Harley Smith-Shields and Brad Morkos, mean that depth is lacking at centre. James Schiller seems to be the best back up option.

Jordan Rapana is the first winger picked. All effort. All in. All the time. There is more doubt over the other wing spot. Nick Cotric finished last season as the incumbent, after Albert Hopoate spent plenty of time in the role. However, Cotric is not the player he was when he burst onto the scene. I don't know what it is, but it is almost like he's lacking some of the hunger he had when he forced his way into the NSW Origin team. Hopoate is a good metre eater, but his pace has been affected by ACL injuries. I think Xavier Savage would offer something the team is short on - pace and threat. I'd have him starting on the wing.

I'm hoping the backs will prove to merit a "B" rating, with good selections. But the depth does worry me.

BACKS RATING: B

The Sydney critics mostly have the Raiders missing the finals. A lot are saying that they're a bottom four team. Some are even tipping a wooden spoon. Bottom four or the spoon are very unlikely, in my view. This is a squad that should be around the middle of the pack, at least. If they don't make the top eight, they should be close.

In the final part of the 2024 season preview, I'll looking at the new coaching structure and the draw, predict a Round 1 line up and give an overall verdict on the Green Machine's prospects for the season.

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mick63
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Re: Through green eyes 2024

Post by mick63 »

For someone interstate who doesn’t keep an eye on all the details and minutiae of the Raiders I really appreciated that read.
Thanks GE.
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BadnMean
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Re: Through green eyes 2024

Post by BadnMean »

Yeah. Gives the site a spine for the rest of us to crap on around.

Well said mick63
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greeneyed
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Re: Through green eyes 2024

Post by greeneyed »

Thanks for that!
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Re: Through green eyes 2024

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Through green eyes: As I saw it

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2024 Preseason Challenge Week 1. Canberra Raiders 38 - Parramatta Eels 16. "It was only a trial". Everyone says that after every trial match, every year. I still like to see the Raiders perform well in the trials. Usually I'm disappointed. If we know one thing about Raiders coach Ricky Stuart it is this: he doesn't like trial matches. If he could get away with it, he wouldn't play any. And often, Canberra's trial performances reflect the attitude of the coach. Often, they don't look like they want to be there.

But tonight, the Raiders performed well in their first hit out of the season. No risks were taken with senior players. Some of them played in the All Stars match on Friday night. But pretty much all the others were rested. The players who did turn out definitely wanted to be there. It was not only important to them because it will help build combinations. It was important because positions in the NRL squad for Round 1 were on the line. And quite a few important positions were - and still are - wide open.



So what did we learn tonight about the key positional battles? The most talked about battle is between Kaeo Weekes and Ethan Strange for the No. 6 jersey. Weekes probably had his nose in front coming into the game. And he probably still has his nose in front. They were paired in the halves and both played well. Weekes is a bit older and is just a bit more experienced at this stage. He scored a try tonight and used his speed to good effect. Strange made more running metres (51-24), kicking metres (198-95) and one more tackle break (4-3). Defence was the area where Weekes was a bit better - with Strange missing four tackles and posting two ineffective tackles. Weekes missed two tackles only. It was interesting to see Strange given the goal kicking duties. I expect Chevy Stewart to take that role. But Strange kicked well (4/5). Next week, Weekes and Strange will probably both get time at five eighth, playing alongside Jamal Fogarty. That will tell us more.

Chevy Stewart did a very good job at fullback. I'm surprised he only produced 52 metres from seven runs. But he looked assured in the role. He also wasn't frightened to play his usual game, and jumped in a few times at dummy half. He didn't have to make a lot of tackles, but he didn't miss any either. He stopped a runaway Morgan Harper late in the first half, in a good one on one tackle. He is such a confident player, for such a young player. I'd have him in the No. 1 jersey in Round 1. Xavier Savage had some moments in the No. 5, but I don't think he's really in the running for fullback. He probably finished a bit in front of Nick Cotric in the wing stakes.

Three hookers were in the squad with Zac Woolford starting in the No. 9 and Tom Starling in the No. 14. Danny Levi was on the extended bench. Woolford had a smart start and he looks pretty fit. But he had to leave the field very early in the first half for an HIA - and he was ruled out of the game. Tom Starling and Danny Levi produced some good things when they took over at dummy half. Starling made seven tackles breaks (Levi none), while Levi made seven dummy half runs (Starling three). Both made some good metres. Levi missed four tackles, Starling two. The footy gods definitely smiled down on Levi when he somehow managed to turn a fumble into a mis-kick into the Stuart try. The kick went across field and found James Schiller. It was freaky. In any case, I don't think the game told us anything we didn't already know about the hookers. I suspect Levi is the front runner for the No. 9. Personally, I'd be selecting Woolford.

James Schiller and Albert Hopoate were in a battle for the centre spot of a suspended Sebastian Kris in Round 1. Schiller won hands down. Both made some errors. Hopoate had a particularly unhappy opening 10 or 15 minutes. But as the game wore on, Schiller clearly showed more in attack. At one stage he defused a kick in the in goal, tore up field for a quick 20 metre tap - and then ran 80 more metres for a wonderful try. Hopoate still churned though some metres. He made 20 runs for 174 metres gained. Schiller posted 178 metres from 12 runs. Schiller was also awarded the try assist for the Jed Stuart try. Defensively, Hopoate was poor, missing five tackles.

One other thing to mention. Recruitment target Ethan Sanders - who played in the No. 7 for the Eels - was mostly good. Some errors, sure. But hopefully, Canberra can tie him up very quickly, after Round 6.

Stats that mattered: It was a slow start to the game for the Raiders - and the Eels were clearly in control in the opening quarter. The Eels had about 55 per cent of possession and territory in the first half - so Canberra did well to head into the break with a 10-10 score line. The second half belonged to the Raiders. They had 55 per cent possession and 65 per cent of the territory. Overall, the teams roughly had an equal share of the ball, while the Raiders had more territory (55 per cent). Given the Raiders' A team was missing, the B team did pretty well, and the C team - who took over around the 60 minute mark - did even better.

The Raiders finished with the better completion rate (75 per cent, Eels 71 per cent), but it was trial standard handling (Eels 14 errors, Raiders 10). The Raiders produced slightly more run metres (1861-1822) and post contact metres (672-663), despite making fewer runs (189-211). Canberra also posted two more line breaks (7-5) and a few more tackle breaks (57-54) and offloads (12-9).

Both teams conceded plenty of missed tackles (Eels 57, Raiders 54) and ineffective tackles (Raiders 18, Eels 17). They both ended with an effective tackle rate of around 81 per cent.

In the end, seven tries to three was the stat that really mattered.

Memorable moments: I've mentioned the freaky kick from Danny Levi to set up the Jed Stuart try. That was memorable. The Kaeo Weekes try was fairly special too. He put in a bomb and the Eels let the ball bounce. Nick Cotric gathered in the ball and put in a second kick instantaneously. That set it up for Weekes in the corner. The best try was scored by Noah Martin. Martin was unfairly sin binned for a shoulder charge early in the second half. There didn't seem to be much in it to me. So I was glad he was the one who finished the final try. It was real razzle dazzle, three ring circus, stuff. It went from one side of the field to the other on the last tackle. The ball thrown every which way but loose. If you can guess the movie references, you get a gold star. A shout out to Peter Taateo, Peter Hola and Adam Cook for their tries too. Good efforts from all.

Best performers:

Top tacklers: Pasami Saulo (31), Mitchell Spencer (30), Simi Sasagi (24), Emre Guler (22), Logan Lewis (20), Noah Martin (19), Vena Patuki-Case (19)
Most metres gained: James Schiller (178), Albert Hopoate (174), Xavier Savage (152), Pasami Saulo (130), Peter Hola (125), Peter Taateo (105), Logan Lewis (105)

I won't award player ratings for the trials. We'll start with those in Round 1 of the season proper.

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Billy Walker
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Re: Through green eyes 2024

Post by Billy Walker »

greeneyed wrote: February 3, 2024, 5:24 pm
RedRaider wrote: February 3, 2024, 9:16 am GE do you reckon we are keeping the 30th spot open for the Colonel in the hope he will get an Eels release in 2024?
Very likely.
Does door close if we sign LL or is there some other flexibility in the roster? CHN’s spot perhaps?
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Re: Through green eyes 2024

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There’s flexibility in the roster.
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Re: Through green eyes 2024

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greeneyed wrote: February 19, 2024, 8:09 pm There’s flexibility in the roster.
:thumbsup
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greeneyed
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Re: Through green eyes 2024

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Through green eyes: The five greatest games at Seiffert

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The Canberra Raiders host the North Queensland Cowboys at Seiffert Oval this Sunday, in the second week of the Preseason Challenge.

Seiffert is the club's "spiritual home", the Green Machine's first home ground. It was named in honour of John Seiffert - a local member for the state seat of Monaro between 1941 and 1965 and one of the founders of the NSW Country Rugby League. A good local player before that. But the history of the ground stretches back to the 1930s and the early days of our game in the region. The venue has seen better days, with even the most recent refurbishment efforts showing signs of wear. But back in 1982, it was a facility that put many of the suburban grounds of Sydney or Brisbane to shame. The wealth of the Queanbeyan Leagues Club was behind that - and behind the new team.

It was always envisaged that the Raiders would move to a venue in Canberra itself. And when that finally happened, it was an emotional time for the Queanbeyan community.

The last premiership game that the Raiders played at the ground was the Round 21 win over the Illawarra Steelers in 1989. Just 6,161 fans turned out in miserably wet conditions. It was the fourth win in a nine game winning streak, which saw Canberra win it's first ever premiership. In the Seiffert era, the club had gone from the bottom to the top. From a wooden spoon in 1982, to the most extraordinary of Grand Final victories. Still the greatest Grand Final of all time.

So as the team prepares for a return to Queanbeyan this Sunday, it's time to reflect on the greatest ever Raiders games at Seiffert Oval. My top five.

5. Raiders power through the Seiffert mud

Travellers on the road from Canberra to Sydney are always fascinated by Lake George, just outside the borders of the ACT. Empty or full, it tells you a lot about Canberra’s weather. In prolonged periods of dry weather, the waters disappear. But in 1989 it was full. 1989 was one of the wettest autumns and winters the national capital had seen.

So when the 1988 premiers, the Canterbury Bulldogs met the Canberra Raiders at Seiffert Oval on a Sunday afternoon in April of 1989, the field was muddy. It had been so wet, the Raiders trained indoors at the Australian Institute of Sport on the Thursday night prior to the clash. The Bulldogs were clear favourites, with the Raiders losing all three contests in the previous season - after being in a position to win them all. In their last encounter, the Raiders had lost an epic finals match, 19-18, to the Dogs.

The Raiders lost three players to injury on the eve of the game. Forward Craig Dimond had been expected to miss the game with a shoulder injury. But the Raiders were forced into further late changes. Hooker Steve Walters twisted his ankle at Thursday night's training session, while an ongoing groin injury kept fullback Gary Belcher out of the clash. Kevin Walters was brought in at fullback, Wayne Collins at hooker, and Brent Todd into the starting forward pack.



The atmosphere was thick, despite a crowd of just 11,000. Things didn't start well for the Green Machine, with Terry Lamb scoring the first try after three minutes. But gradually, Canberra asserted control. Brad Clyde scored the Raiders first try in the 28th minute - and it was the start of a blitz. The smaller players, Ricky Stuart, Chris O'Sullivan and Ivan Henjak stepped around the big Bulldogs pack with lightning speed, producing breathtaking breaks and a five try haul. After the match, they were hailed as "the mosquito squadron".

Henjak was simply outstanding at centre - a position he was reluctant to fill. He had a role in four tries and could have set up a couple more.

"I am still not completely happy, I have been concentrating on maintaining my intensity for the full 80 minutes," he said amidst the post match celebrations.

Laurie Daley scored a total of 22 points, with one incredible penalty goal from 40 metres out and not far from the sideline. After the match, Laurie Daley said the team had been motivated by their underdog status.

"We were written off by everybody during the week, they were all saying that they had beaten us last year and that we had no chance," he said. "That really hurt, no one likes to be written off, and our confidence was sky high after the last two wins."

Coach Tim Sheens admitted he felt numb after the victory. Dogs coach Phil Gould was left shell shocked on the sidelines with no answers to the blistering Raiders attack.

"I suppose I am as numbed as they are at the moment," he said. "It was an outstanding win, but there is a long way to go yet. There was some poor handling early, but our defence made up for the errors. Our goal was to attack Canterbury in defence, to move forward and put them under pressure, and the blokes did that."

1989 Round 5 – Raiders 34 (Laurie Daley 2, Chris O'Sullivan 2, Brad Clyde tries, Laurie Daley 7 goals) defeated Bulldogs (Terry Lamb try) 4 at Seiffert Oval

Canberra Raiders: 1. Kevin Walters 2. Phil Carey 3. Ivan Henjak 4. Laurie Daley 5. John Ferguson 6. Chris O'Sullivan 7. Ricky Stuart 8. Brent Todd 9. Wayne Collins 10. Glenn Lazarus 11. Dean Lance (C) 12. Gary Coyne 13. Brad Clyde

14. Steve Jackson 15. Mark Lowry 16. Ron Coskerie 17. Mark Bell

Coach: Tim Sheens

Crowd: 11,090


4. Not bad for a bush team

1984 saw Canberra improbably finish the season on equal fifth place on the ladder with the Rabbitohs... only to be knocked out by South Sydney in a play off for the last finals place. Instead of being referred to as the "Faders", the media started to refer to Canberra as the "Green Machine". But the best performance of season 1984 was again against the Parramatta Eels.

The three time premier visited Seiffert Oval in Round 19. It was the match of the round on a Sunday afternoon and the Eels fielded a team littered with big names... Sterling, Kenny, Cronin, Grothe, Price. Canberra had caused a massive upset in 1983 against the Eels, and a record crowd of 17,407 turned up to see if this new Green Machine could repeat the feat.

They could.



It was a battle in the first half, the struggle between the forwards underlined when a clash between David Grant and Parramatta forward Chris Phelan resulted in 15 stiches between them.

Canberra then played Parramatta at their own game in the second half, and came out on top. The Raiders trailed 10-8 with less than 15 minutes remaining. But a repeat set on Parramatta's line gave David Grant his chance. He crashed over for a try and Giteau's conversion delivered a 14-10 lead. The Eels challenged strongly in the final minutes, but could not score.

Don Furner's reaction after the match would be often repeated during the rest of the season. "Not bad for a bush team, are they?" he said. "It was a team effort but the forwards played a big part in our win today. The big men took it up and the rest worked hard on defence without stopping. We knew if we let them run they'd do it all day. We tackled, tackled and then attacked. Most importantly we kept possession and it was a good win."

Parramatta would again go on to make the Grand Final in 1984, but their coach John Monie admitted: "The Raiders broke us up the middle – that has not happened to us before and it must not happen again. Canberra's defence was excellent and their big men hit us hard with a result we dropped a lot of ball that they were able to make good use of."

1984 Round 19 – Canberra Raiders 14 (Matthew Corkery, David Grant tries, Ron Giteau 3 goals) defeated Parramatta 10 at Seiffert Oval

Canberra Raiders: 1. Steve O'Callaghan 2. Bill Walker 3. Ron Giteau 4. Craig Bellamy 5. Ian Hamilton 6. Ivan Henjak 7. Chris O'Sullivan 8. Dean Lance 9. Paul Elliott 10. Sam Backo 11. Grant Ellis 12. John McLeod 13. David Grant

14. Matthew Corkery

Coach: Don Furner

Crowd: 13,578


3. They came but we conquered

The Brisbane Broncos entered the NSWRL competition in 1988 and the Raiders had disposed of the star studded outfit, 36-16 in their first ever clash - played at Lang Park.

The Broncos made their first visit to Seiffert Oval in June 1989. Both teams were in the top four - the Broncos running second on the ladder, the Raiders in fourth. Canberra had produced a seven game winning streak between Rounds 3 and 9, but had faltered in the following two rounds, with losses to Newcastle and Penrith.

The fans' expectations of the clash were still high, with both teams littered with Origin stars. The rivalry between the clubs was also fueled by the defection of coach Wayne Bennett, along with Sam Backo and Peter Jackson, from the Raiders to the Broncos. As the match loomed, Bennett was openly seeking to poach half Kevin Walters from Canberra.

On the Wednesday night prior to the Round 12 match, Queensland wrapped up the State of Origin series, with a 16-12 victory over New South Wales. But the tough clash left new Raiders captain Mal Meninga with a badly swollen eye and cheek and a fractured sinus wall - after being punched in the face by Blues forward Peter Kelly. The Raiders toyed with playing him on the wing in the Broncos match, but he was unable to take the field. Laurie Daley also damaged ligaments in his right ankle, putting him in serious doubt - but after anti inflamatories and plenty of ice, he was cleared to play at the final training session. The Broncos were also injury affected, with Allan Langer breaking his left ankle in Origin II - and with Gary French brought in at half.

In the week of the game, the ACT Government decided to provide a $2.8 million grant and a $2.5 million loan for the $6.5 million redevelopment of Bruce Stadium - clearing the way for the Raiders to move their home base from Queanbeyan to Canberra in 1990. The Broncos' first visit to Seiffert would also be their last. A record Seiffert crowd of 18,272 turned out on a cold Sunday afternoon.

The thrilling game fully lived up to expectations. The Raiders pack, criticised for their performances against the Knights and Panthers, were intent on smashing the big name Broncos forwards into submission. Props Glenn Lazarus and Brent Todd led the way up front, along with Gary Coyne and Brad Clyde, who were both backing up from Origin. Clyde, just 19 years of age, scored two tries, including a solo effort from near half way. He shifted to centre in the second half when Laurie Daley left the field, and didn't miss a beat.

Hooker Steve Walters, overlooked for Origin, was outstanding, finishing on top of his brother Kerrod, who had been given the Queensland No. 9 jersey. Halves Ricky Stuart and Chris O'Sullivan outplayed the Broncos pair, with O'Sullivan keeping Wally Lewis quiet, before "The King" left the field in the second half.

The Raiders' first try came in just the first few minutes, when Lazarus broke two tacklers, and Todd and Walters set up Craig Dimond for a try under the posts. The strong start continued in the 22nd minute with the first of Clyde's tries. Ricky Stuart regathered his own grubber, which had rebounded off a Broncos player, and he then threw a trademark wide pass to Ivan Henjak to set the try in motion. The Broncos scored through Terry Matterson eight minutes before the break, but a Ricky Stuart field goal gave Canberra a 13-6 lead at half time.

Just two minutes into the second half, the Raiders won a scrum on their own line - with Ricky Stuart then making a 70 metre break, before passing to Gary Belcher for a stunning try under the posts. Remarkably, Laurie Daley missed the conversion from in front. Canberra was in five minutes later, with a Steve Walters break setting up Clyde. The conversion was again missed from in front, this time by Ricky Stuart, but Canberra was well on the way to victory. John Ferguson got his own four pointer in the 57th minute, when Joe Kilroy could not handle the ball in the Broncos' own in goal - and Stuart converted from the sideline. The Raiders kept up the pressure in the final 20 minutes, with a couple of try scoring opportunities not coming off.

It was a comprehensive 27-6 victory, a portent for what was to come that season. The headline in The Canberra Times the next day screamed: "They came but we conquered".

Glenn Lazarus was understandably pleased with the performance of the pack - and his own performance.

"I am available for selection, just tell them that," Lazarus said, after he was overlooked by the Blues for Origin II.

Tim Sheens was also very happy with his forward pack.

"The forwards came back to form today, it is the old adage once again that it is the forwards who win you the games," he said after the match.

1989 Round 12 - Canberra Raiders 27 (Brad Clyde 2, Gary Belcher, Craig Dimond, John Ferguson tries, Gary Belcher 2, Ricky Stuart goals, Ricky Stuart field goal) defeated Brisbane Broncos 6 (Terry Matterson try, Terry Matterson goal) at Seiffert Oval

Canberra Raiders: 1. Gary Belcher (C) 2. John Ferguson 3. Laurie Daley 4. Ivan Henjak 5. Phil Carey 6. Chris O'Sullivan 7. Ricky Stuart 8. Glenn Lazarus 9. Steve Walters 10. Brent Todd 11. Gary Coyne 12. Craig Dimond 13. Bradley Clyde

14. Craig Bellamy 15. Kevin Walters 16. Ashley Gilbert 17. Mark Bell

Coach: Tim Sheens

Crowd: 18,272


2. Upset of the decade

Round 16 1983. The Raiders took on Parramatta at home. The Eels had defeated Canberra by huge scores in their previous three meetings. The 54-3 defeat from 1982 still ranks as one the worst losses in Raiders' history. And when the Eels came to Seiffert in 1983, they were on their way to a third straight premiership, after back to back grand final wins in 1981-82. But in a remarkable upset, the Raiders held Parramatta scoreless, the first time in 18 years, and toughed out an 8-0 victory in front of 15,578 fans.

Ron Giteau scored all the points for the Raiders that day – a try and two penalty goals. The Raiders led 4-0 at half time through two penalty goals.

During the break, coach Furner asked the team if they could continue to stifle the Eels in the second half. “To a man, they all shouted 'yes'!” Furner said. The only points in the second period came from the try from Giteau, scored at the 47 minute mark. The Raiders just smothered Parramatta for the rest of the match.

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Ashley Gilbert tackled by Stan Jurd and Neil Hunt.

The Eels were without Peter Sterling and Eric Grothe on Test duty, but the Raiders too were missing captain Allan McMahon, Jon Hardy and regular fullback Steve O'Callaghan. The next day, the headlines in Sydney read "Eels humbled by discards" and "Eels stunned".

Second rower John McLeod later recalled: "I remember we beat Parramatta 8-0 around the time that Irishman Bobbie Sands died [in jail from a hunger strike]. In the sheds after the game one of us yelled out, 'What's Parramatta and Bobbie Sands got in common? Ate nothing, ate nothing!"

Hooker Jay Hoffman said later of the match: "I don't think there would have been too many better wins from a club point of view. It wasn't luck, it wasn't because they were missing their stars, we just played better footy."

Halfback that day, Chris O'Sullivan recalled: "That would be the pick of them in the early years. We just went out and got stuck straight into them. We knocked them around severely, we really gave them a bashing. We were in their faces. They didn't cross our try line and never looked like it either."

1983 Round 16 – Canberra Raiders 8 (Ron Giteau try, Ron Giteau 2 goals) defeated Parramatta 0 at Seiffert Oval

Canberra Raiders: 1. Gary Wurth 2. Terry Fahey 3. Ron Giteau (c) 4. Craig Bellamy 5. Ray Blacklock 6. Percy Knight 7. Chris O'Sullivan 8. Ashley Gilbert 9. Paul Elliott 10. John McLeod 11. David Grant 12. Jay Hoffman 13. Gary Spears

14. Angel Marina 15. Ian Hamilton

Coach: Don Furner

Crowd: 13,578


1. First taste of victory

The worst point of the Canberra Raiders' debut season came in Round 7 at Belmore Oval - a 54-3 thrashing from the Eels. But something better was to come on the following Sunday at Seiffert Oval in the Round 8 clash against Newtown – the team that met premier Parramatta in the 1981 Grand Final.

It turned into a tense and gripping contest. Canberra trailed 8-2 at the break, but a barnstorming try from John McLeod shortly after half time brought the Raiders back into the contest. Late in the match, the Raiders trailed the Jets 11-7, but a young replacement, Chris O'Sullivan proved the difference. He ran past two Newtown defenders, leapt over some more, and lunged over the try line. It produced a 12-11 lead for the home side, which the Raiders held until the hooter sounded.



It's a cliché to say "the crowd went wild", but it certainly did. There seemed to be many more in attendance than 9,982. The seven game losing streak was over, the local team had won its first ever match and the roar was as loud as if Canberra had won the premiership. After the match captain David Grant simply said: "We are on top of the world".

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Captain David Grant on the burst.

Goal kicker Steve O'Callaghan was the other hero of the first win. The Raiders scored just two tries to Newtown's three. O'Callaghan was a reluctant kicker that day, with coach Furner revealing: "O'Callaghan had to be press ganged into it. I called for volunteers to take the goal kicks at training during the week, but O'Callaghan is such a quiet type that he didn't say anything. Fortunately I had seen him kick before and knew he was up to it". O'Callaghan kicked three from three, while normally reliable Newtown goal kicker, Ken Wilson, landed only one from five attempts.

Second rower Ashley Gilbert recalled the match later: "It was like winning a grand final. Like batting in your first Test match and finally getting off the duck". Hooker Jay Hoffman said: "I'd injured my neck towards the end of the game and had to go to the hospital for some x-rays. All I wanted to do was to get back for the celebrations. To carry that losing streak for so long, it was a momentous occasion." Others were thinking about more than just the win. "I remember walking into the sheds after our first win against Newtown and David Reid said 'You beauty, 500 bucks.' Most of the other clubs were paying $200 a win, but we were on $500. That was a lot of money back then," Steve O'Callaghan said.

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The Jets had been grand finalists the year before and in the midst of Seiffert celebrations, it must have felt like they had lost another decider. Four future Raiders were amongst their midst - Allan McMahon, Ray Blacklock, Dean Lance and John Ferguson. Some of them would see much better days in the national capital.

The day after the Newtown victory, Sydney commentator Ron Casey sent a telegram to Canberra Raiders headquarters at Queanbeyan. He had predicted the Raiders would not win a match in their first year. All it said was: "Sincere congratulations – JC is infallible. RC is not." It would not be the last time that the so-called Sydney experts would be proven wrong by the team from the national capital.

1982 Round 8 - Canberra Raiders 12 (Jon McLeod, Chris O'Sullivan tries, Steve O'Callaghan 3 goals) defeated Newtown Jets 11 at Seiffert Oval

Canberra Raiders: 1. Rowan Brennan 2. Steve O'Callaghan 3. Craig Bellamy 4. Frank Roddy 5. David Reid 6. Lloyd Martin 7. Terry Wickey 8. Carl Frommel 9. John McLeod 10. Jon Hardy 11. David Grant (c) 12. Jay Hoffman 13. Jeff Simons

14. Gary Britt 15. Graham Waugh 16. Chris O'Sullivan 17. Peter Elliott

Coach: Don Furner

Crowd: 9,982


What are your memories of Seiffert Oval? Are there matches we haven't mentioned that stick in your memory? Tell us below.

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The Nickman
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Re: Through green eyes 2024

Post by The Nickman »

Craig Bellamy played quite a bit of time in the centres in the early days, it appears.
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greeneyed
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Re: Through green eyes 2024

Post by greeneyed »

The Nickman wrote: February 22, 2024, 3:03 pm Craig Bellamy played quite a bit of time in the centres in the early days, it appears.
He played most games there, but played just about everywhere for the Raiders:

Craig Bellamy (150 games)

Centre 62
Bench 43
Five eighth 29
Lock 11
Wing 5

Also played halfback and fullback during his career.
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The Nickman
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Re: Through green eyes 2024

Post by The Nickman »

Ha. There you go. I always thought he was a secondrower.
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dubby
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Re: Through green eyes 2024

Post by dubby »

I remember my first time at Seiffert. I think we played against the Dragons off memory....



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The spiral of silence refers to the idea that when people fail to speak, the price of speaking rises. As the price to speak rises, still fewer speak out, which further causes the price to rise, so that fewer people yet will speak out, until a whole culture or nation is silenced. This is what happened in Germany.

If you do not speak, you are not being neutral, but are contributing to the success of the thing you refuse to name and condemn.
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Re: Through green eyes 2024

Post by RedRaider »

greeneyed wrote: February 22, 2024, 5:03 pm
The Nickman wrote: February 22, 2024, 3:03 pm Craig Bellamy played quite a bit of time in the centres in the early days, it appears.
He played most games there, but played just about everywhere for the Raiders:

Craig Bellamy (150 games)

Centre 62
Bench 43
Five eighth 29
Lock 11
Wing 5

Also played halfback and fullback during his career.
That diversity of positions may assist Bellamy with talking to players about their role in the team. He has experience in what is required.
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Re: Through green eyes 2024

Post by denissnowy »

dubby wrote: February 23, 2024, 11:10 am I remember my first time at Seiffert. I think we played against the Dragons off memory....



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My earliest Raiders memory is when I met Victor the Viking at seiffert and he signed my flag. Would have been circa 87 I reckon.
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dubby
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Re: Through green eyes 2024

Post by dubby »

RedRaider wrote: February 23, 2024, 11:13 am
greeneyed wrote: February 22, 2024, 5:03 pm
The Nickman wrote: February 22, 2024, 3:03 pm Craig Bellamy played quite a bit of time in the centres in the early days, it appears.
He played most games there, but played just about everywhere for the Raiders:

Craig Bellamy (150 games)

Centre 62
Bench 43
Five eighth 29
Lock 11
Wing 5

Also played halfback and fullback during his career.
That diversity of positions may assist Bellamy with talking to players about their role in the team. He has experience in what is required.
In those early years my favourite players were Bellamy, Lance, O'Sullivan and Henjack.
The spiral of silence refers to the idea that when people fail to speak, the price of speaking rises. As the price to speak rises, still fewer speak out, which further causes the price to rise, so that fewer people yet will speak out, until a whole culture or nation is silenced. This is what happened in Germany.

If you do not speak, you are not being neutral, but are contributing to the success of the thing you refuse to name and condemn.
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Re: Through green eyes 2024

Post by Off »

No Ashley Gilbert love Dubs?

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Re: Through green eyes 2024

Post by Hong Kong Raider »

Thanks for the great memories. I loved 5 above when we beat the reigning premiers Canterbury and then later in the season at the WACA. I didn’t know that Daley was such a good kicker as I just recall his misses in front. What a player he was. Henjak and Walters were elusive at centre
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Re: Through green eyes 2024

Post by greeneyed »

Through green eyes: As I saw it

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2024 Preseason Challenge Week 2. North Queensland Cowboys 36 defeated Canberra Raiders 26. Look, I know I shouldn't be disappointed. The Raiders "won the first half" when the top teams were on. The Raiders didn't even have their top team on. They had top 17 players rested from the trials entirely. The Cowboys came back in the second half, against a Raiders B team. The B team was often in disarray, especially on the edges in defence. The Green Machine still nearly won the game at the end. I don't want to blame Adam Cook, he did well while he was on the field. Set up the Peter Hola try with a great pass. But a winning try was "on" in the final minutes. And Cook decided to kick, when it would have been better to hold the ball and run. Try bombed. The Cowboys then took the ball to the other end and scored the match sealer.

And yes, I shouldn't be disappointed with that. But I sort of am. You know, there was this thing in the bottom of the heart which yearned for the Raiders to win. And for the Raiders to score five tries. And make five line breaks or 10 offloads. You know, win a title. A title that the Raiders fans have been waiting for for 30 years. Even a "Mickey Mouse" Preseason Challenge title, decided after two round robin games by wins, tries, line breaks and offloads. Maybe points differential. You know a competition is "Mickey Mouse" when you say all that. And don't get me wrong. I love Mickey. Loved visiting Disneyland, Disney World or whatever in three different places around the actual world. But you know, in my heart I was hoping for a title. SOMETHING!

But no. Ricky doesn't like trials. And you know, he's sort of right. No point risking players in a competition in which Mickey should have been lining up besides Victor and Velda on the sidelines. But darn it (that's as bad as my swearing usually gets). Couldn't we have won the $100,000 thing? Instead, the Broncos won. At least the Panthers lost this morning. When they really wanted to win that World Club Championship thing in England. I enjoyed that, but most of all, all of the whinging and whining since about the refereeing. Talking about refereeing... how about this afternoon at Seiffert? That was really bad at times. A blatant forward pass produced a Cowboys try. One Cowboys try after a shepherd, not penalised. Penalties for things which should have been let go. Things which should have been penalised that were ignored. How about just before half time when an offside Panthers player forced Zac Woolford into an error in the red zone. Obvious. Let go by the referee. Who was that bloke?



OK, enough of all that. What did we learn?

Well, we re-learned what we always knew. That Ethan Strange should play on the right edge. I loved what he did today. Kicked ahead for himself to score a try. Produced some great defence. Maybe some kicks for goal that weren't the best. Being sin binned for a dangerous tackle not so good either. But, wow, we saw today what I and many others have been going on about for some time. Despite the drawbacks, he was well ahead of Kaeo Weekes in the battle for a halves spot. The problem for Ethan is he might be suspended for Round 1. The tackle he was put on report for... well, he put the hands between the legs of the Cowboys player and the player was lifted. That's a no-no. So he could be in some trouble... and might not be available for Round 1. We'll see what the Match Review Lottery comes up with tomorrow.

Kaeo Weekes. I'm really left wondering why he didn't spend more time training at fullback. As that is probably where he is best suited and perhaps most needed. He set up a great try for Xavier Savage today, with a bomb that was dropped by Kyle Feldt in the corner. But he also produced some errors. A kick out on the full. A dropped ball on a scrum play. I had Strange as my preferred halves partner for Jamal Fogarty for the entire off season, and today confirmed that for me.

Fullback? I'm not sure Chevy Stewart has done enough in the trials. I wanted him to get the No. 1 jersey in Round 1, but the trials have not been his friend. He might be starting the season in NSW Cup. Albert Hopoate started at fullback today, but he hasn't done enough in the trials either. Veteran Jordan Rapana has been tipped in The Daily Telegraph as the fullback for Round 1. I can't see that lasting a full season. I'm hoping Chevy Stewart is the regular fullback towards the end of the season, at least.

Wingers? Nick Cotric scored a try today, running like a bulldozer, running like a forward into the middle. It is probably time he starts to transition to the pack. But I expect he'll be partnering Xavier Savage on the flanks in Round 1, provided Rapana starts at No. 1.

Centres? Matt Timoko produced a good try from a scrum play today. He's already locked in, alongside Sebastian Kris, as part of the regular centre pairing. Kris is suspended for Round 1, so Strange is the most likely replacement - provided he's not suspended. If he is suspended, James Schiller should come in. Not that he made much impact today. (I am expecting the coach will have Weekes in the No. 6 in Round 1.)

Hookers? Again, we didn't learn anything today that we didn't already know. Zac Woolford didn't start and didn't have his best game. Danny Levi played in the opening 20 minutes alongside the strongest line up. He showed a bit of spark, as did Tom Starling later in the match. I expect coach Stuart will pick Levi in the No. 9 and Starling in the No. 14. I'd have Woolford starting and Starling on the bench. That's the partnership we know works.

So, there's now a little under a couple of weeks until Canberra's first game of the season - in Newcastle against the Knights. Can't wait for the next Teamlist Tuesday. Can't wait for the season opener!

Stats that mattered: The Cowboys had 55 per cent of possession and 60 per cent of the territory. They probably should have won by much more, given those numbers. It was almost 50-50 on both counts in the first half, which was when the Raiders were most competitive. The better team, really. The Cowboys had 60 per cent possession and over 70 per cent of the territory in the second half.

All the attacking numbers were in favour of the Cowboys. They made a lot more runs (227-144), running metres (1927-1290), post contact metres (648-463) and metres per set (45-33). The Raiders were a long way off making the required 10 offloads (Cowboys eight, Raiders five) for the Preseason Challenge title. And they didn't make the required five line breaks either (Cowboys seven, Raiders three). The Raiders did get the required five tries... but that didn't matter much, given the Cowboys produced seven and scored more points.

As you'd expect, Canberra had to do a lot more tackling (315-253). They also missed more tackles (39-29) and posted more ineffective tackles (16-10).

Memorable moments: I've mentioned most of the things I wanted to. But how about Zac Hosking's defence? He came on the field and promptly made a wonderful legs tackle on Luki. He produced some other very good tackles too. The issue with Hosking is that attack is not his forte. The other forward to mention is Smithies. Did everything I expected him to do in his first game in green. Very impressed. I expect Raiders fans will be loving these two, very quickly.

Best performers:

Top tacklers: Zac Hosking (26), Trey Mooney (23), Hohepa Puru (22), Morgan Smithies (20)
Most metres gained: Albert Hopoate (121), Ata Mariota (95), Pasami Saulo (89), Trey Mooney (87), Matt Timoko (87)

Those numbers for metres gained are not good.

I am not awarding player ratings for the trials. We'll start with those in Round 1 of the season proper.

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Re: Through green eyes 2024

Post by Billy Walker »

We didn’t score a single point with Woolford on the ground. His passes were awful when he did get to dummy half. He turned his back on a kick he didn’t contest that led to a try and his defence was average. Why on earth would we consider him over the guy that got us going forward and set up a three try lead?? Oh that’s right, there is a GH narrative against Danny Levi we need to maintain. Also, I’m not sure why it pains everyone to acknowledge that Hoppa had a really good game. Some people watch games with their hearts not their eyes. Puru takes 3 carries for not much ground and somehow is a world beater. Was a pity we missed out on the $100k. Broncos will just lose it in Vegas.
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Re: Through green eyes 2024

Post by The Nickman »

That's a good writeup, Ferg. I enjoyed that.
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Re: Through green eyes 2024

Post by RedRaider »

Another good write up GE. On Strange, he has reached between the legs of the Cowboys player from behind (it looked like a Xmas hold) and lifted, forcing him to face plant into the surface of the field. MRC is never kind to the Raiders but that was clearly a dangerous tackle. Not Seb Kris level dangerous, but still worthy of being placed on report and sin binned. He was my player of the match up to that point. I don't know that Strange has been before the MRC, it is not like he is a repeat offender, but I will be surprised if he is available for Round 1.

That leaves us with Weekes the likely 5/8. He has a long kicking game which will be handy. I've not seen him in the clear for the Raiders to know what his top end speed carrying a football is like. Defensively his first contact does not appear to be solid shoulder contact rather he is a grabber. Maybe Hosking and Smithies can assist with his technique.

For FB I remain a Xav fan. The back three that make most sense to me for game 1 are Cotric, Rapa and Xav. I would have Cotric and Rapa as big wingers to take the ball out of the danger zone. All three catch the ball well. Hoppa's catching technique of 'sitting down' to catch the high ball will be picked up by other Coaches and as he is so low there will be a runner coming through to catch the ball virtually uncontested by Hoppa.
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Re: Through green eyes 2024

Post by greeneyed »

Through green eyes: What will 2024 bring the Canberra Raiders?

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In the final part of our Canberra Raiders season preview, we take a look at the Raiders coaching structure, the draw and make some predictions.

The verdict

Two trial matches. One win, one loss. Overall, the Raiders trialed pretty well.

Some players didn't feature in the trials at all. The likes of Joe Tapine, Jamal Fogarty and Jordan Rapana were wrapped in cotton wool. Most of the top players, like Josh Papalii, saw 20-30 minutes of action at most. Enough to blow out a cobweb or two. Coach Ricky Stuart doesn't like to risk players in trial matches. He's been stung by injuries too many times. And he'll tell you he doesn't need to see those players to decide on the make-up of his Round 1 team.

Indeed, assistant coach Mick Crawley said on breakfast radio this week that the make up of the Round 1 team had basically been decided over a week ago. That the Raiders have been running intra-club scrimmages since Christmas, testing out the combinations. All the trials did was confirm the thinking of the coaches.

Personally, I'd like to see the trials treated a little more seriously than they are by the Raiders. To develop the combinations you're going to use in Round 1 in a match situation. At least run your top team for 60 minutes. That's because the Raiders have a habit of slow starts to the season. And competition points are on offer right from the start of the season... in Round 1. But that's just me.

From the outside looking in, there are still quite a few questions about the Round 1 team. The strongest possible team won't be running out, as Sebastian Kris and Corey Horsburgh are still suspended. So there are holes in the side that need to be filled at centre and lock.

New English recruit Morgan Smithies will obviously take over the No. 13 jersey. In fact, that probably would be the case, regardless of the Horsburgh suspension. Lock is Smithies' favoured position, while Horsburgh is a first class prop. I'd be using "Big Red" in the prop interchange myself. Smithies was strong in his first hit out in green last weekend. I think he'll soon be a crowd favourite.

Ethan Strange had a blinder in the second trial match, impressing in both attack and defence. One tackle went wrong, but the Match Review Lottery produced good news for a change. Strange's lifting tackle on Cowboys forward Thomas Mikaele only resulted in a $1,000 fine. All that aside, Strange was clearly a step above the other contender for the No. 6 jersey, Kaeo Weekes. I'd be selecting Ethan at five eighth. But, given there is a vacancy at centre, I suspect that Strange will find himself in that position in Round 1. James Schiller is the other main option. While he impressed in the first trial - scoring a spectacular long range try - he didn't make much impact in the Cowboys trial.

Last week, The Daily Telegraph told us that Jordan Rapana had won the No. 1 jersey - with Chevy Stewart and Albert Hopoate missing out. Stewart started in the first trial and looked good, but didn't have the best of games in the second. Hopoate didn't do enough in the trials either, for mine. He can produce some good running metres, but I'm not sure he has enough pace or threat in attack since his ACL injuries.

Jordan Rapana played well at fullback in the run to the finals last year. He's lost five kilograms and the 34 year old veteran says he's the fittest he's ever been. Faster too.

"I've been thrown in there plenty of times throughout my career so I'm confident if I am to be put there. I've had a huge pre-season, the fittest I've been. I'm ready go," Rapana told The Canberra Times this week.

"I obviously love playing on the wing and that's where I've made my career. As a youngster, my first position was fullback. It is a lot of running, but I'm confident in the work I've put in during the off-season that I can handle it. 'Hoppa' can handle it perfectly fine as well and Chevy is a superstar in the making. He's still only 18, though, and has a lot of footy ahead. I'm sure Ricky Stuart has a plan. In the meantime, if I'm to play there I'm excited."

So the fullback job seems to be sewn up. At least for now. I'm still hoping to see Chevy Stewart force his way into the side this year.

Hooker is the other contentious position. Danny Levi showed some spark when starting against the Cowboys, while Zac Woolford didn't have the best of games. Personally, I think the past couple of years have shown that Woolford is the best No. 9 available. And that he and Tom Starling are the best hooking duo available. At least right now. But I expect the coaches will go with Levi at starting hooker and Starling on the bench.

The forward pack is the Raiders' clearest strength - and the depth among the middle forwards is extremely strong. Some very good players are going to miss out. Emre Guler and Pasami Saulo were the leading bench props last season. But there are plenty of challengers for those spots this year.

Saulo recently acknowledged he'll have to lift, and he played like that in the trials. He was good. I'd be giving Ata Mariota and Trey Mooney their shot in the top 17 this year, myself. But I suspect the coaches will go with the more experienced Guler and Saulo in Round 1. When Corey Horsburgh comes back in Round 4 even tougher choices will have to be made.

Edge forward recruit Zac Hosking impressed with his defence and involvement in the Cowboys trial. Captain Elliott Whitehead, in his final season in the NRL, will likely get a breather or move into the middle when Hosking's injected off the bench.

So, here's my predicted Round 1 line up. It's not my preferred top 17. It is my best guess at the line up that will be selected next Tuesday.

Predicted Round 1 line up: 1. Jordan Rapana 2. Nick Cotric 3. Matthew Timoko 4. Ethan Strange 5. Xavier Savage 6. Kaeo Weekes 7. Jamal Fogarty 8. Josh Papalii 9. Danny Levi 10. Joseph Tapine 11. Hudson Young 12. Elliott Whitehead 13. Morgan Smithies

14. Tom Starling 15. Zac Hosking 16. Emre Guler 17. Pasami Saulo

The coaching

Ricky Stuart is the longest serving coach in the Canberra Raiders' history. He's been in charge of the Green Machine for a decade. He'll notch up his 250th game as coach of the club in Round 3 this year. He ranks fifth for the most NRL games coached (492), more than the likes of Warren Ryan, Bob Fulton and Jack Gibson.

Stuart won the premiership in his first year as a head coach - with the Sydney Roosters. But he's yet to win another. He came close in 2019, getting the Raiders to the Grand Final - a controversial match in which Canberra was probably the better team everywhere but on the score board. But as we head into 2024, his long wait for another premiership, the long wait of the Raiders faithful, continues.

Last year, former Rabbitohs and Tigers coach, Michael Maguire was brought on board as an assistant. He had a short lived tenure. Maguire elected to coach the NSW Blues - after Ricky Stuart considered the role and turned it down. The Raiders board reportedly wanted Stuart to be completely focused on his young squad. It recently emerged that the players also wanted Stuart to be more "hands on" - and that is just what he's been doing in the pre-season.

Michael Maguire will continue with the club as a consultant, remotely, from Sydney. His role is to focus on upcoming opponents and act as a resource for the coaching team. It might be for the best, given that Maguire was in charge of the defence in 2023 - and the Raiders went backwards in that department.

Maguire's replacement has come from within the club. Justin Giteau, the NSW Cup coach last year, has been elevated to NRL assistant coach, alongside Mick Crawley. Giteau is the son of former Raiders captain, Ron, and the brother of Australian rugby union player Matt. Justin has had plenty of experience, coaching in the Canberra Raiders Cup - and he did well with the Cup team last year. He offers a bit of generational change in the coaching ranks.

Generational change in the squad, of course, is the big challenge ahead for the coaching team. Ricky Stuart has tended to be conservative in selections and tactics in recent years. There are reasons for that. Giving young players too much responsibility, too soon, may not only cost some wins. It may not be the best thing for the development of the players. And there always has to be a balance between experience and youth. I'm not sure the Raiders got that balance right in 2023. But there are reasons to be positive. There is great potential in the squad that is shaping. If the coaches get it right, there is every prospect that the Raiders will soon be back in a premiership window. Hopefully, sooner than most expect.

The draw

On the release of the 2024 NRL draw, NRL.com told us that the Raiders have the fourth easiest draw, behind the Sharks, Warriors and Knights. That was based on rating opposition teams by their finish on the 2023 competition ladder, and the number of times the Raiders play more highly rated opposition. The Fox Sports Lab analysis was not too different. Based on the 2023 results and each club's records at different venues, they concluded the Raiders had the sixth easiest draw. Of course, things are never the same as they were last year. Some teams are on the way up, others on the way down. But all round, the draw doesn't look too bad.

Teams they play twice
2023 top eight teams: Warriors, Knights, Sharks, Roosters
Others: Cowboys, Sea Eagles, Bulldogs, Tigers

Teams they play once
2023 top eight teams: Panthers, Broncos, Storm
Others: Rabbitohs, Eels, Dolphins, Titans, Dragons

Games played against
Top eight: 11
Top four: 5
Bottom nine: 13
Bottom four: 6

Free to aid broadcasts
Seven games on Nine

Day-by-day breakdown
Thursday: 1 game (0 home, 1 away)
Friday: 5 games (3 home, 2 away)
Saturday: 9 games (4 home, 5 away)
Sunday: 9 games (5 home, 4 away)

Turnaround time
5 days: 1 game
6 days: 5 games
7+ days: 17 games

Round 1: Thursday, March 7: Knights v Raiders at Hunter Stadium, 8:00pm (Nine)
Round 2: Saturday, March 16: Raiders v Tigers at Canberra Stadium, 3:00pm
Round 3: Friday, March 22: Warriors v Raiders at Rugby League Park, Christchurch, 6:00pm
Round 4: Sunday, March 31: Sharks v Raiders at Shark Park, 6:15pm
Round 5: Sunday, April 7: Raiders v Eels at Canberra Stadium, 6:15pm
Round 6: Sunday, April 14: Raiders v Titans at Canberra Stadium, 6.15pm
Round 7: Saturday, April 20: Broncos v Raiders at Lang Park, 7.35pm
Round 8: Sunday, April 28: Raiders v Sharks at Canberra Stadium, 4:05pm (Nine)
Round 9: Friday, May 3: Sea Eagles v Raiders at Brookvale Oval, 6:00pm
Round 10: BYE
Round 11: Friday, May 17: Raiders v Bulldogs at Lang Park, 6:00pm (Home game taken away)
Round 12: Saturday, May 25: Raiders v Roosters at Canberra Stadium, 3:00pm
Round 13: Saturday, June 1: Dolphins v Raiders at TBA, 7:35pm
Round 14: BYE
Round 15: Friday, June 14: Raiders v Cowboys at Canberra Stadium, 6:00pm
Round 16: Sunday, June 23: Tigers v Raiders at Campbelltown Stadium, 4:05pm (Nine)
Round 17: Saturday, June 29: Storm v Raiders at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, 7:35pm
Round 18: Sunday, July 7: Raiders v Knights at Canberra Stadium, 4:05pm (Nine)
Round 19: BYE
Round 20: Friday, July 19: Raiders v Warriors at Canberra Stadium, 8:00pm (Nine)
Round 21: Sunday, July 28: Raiders v Rabbitohs at Canberra Stadium, 6:15pm
Round 22: Sunday, August 4: Bulldogs v Raiders at Belmore Sports Ground, 4:05pm (Nine)
Round 23: Saturday, August 10: Raiders v Sea Eagles at Canberra Stadium, 3:00pm
Round 24: Saturday, August 17: Cowboys v Raiders at North Queensland Stadium, 5:30pm
Round 25: Saturday, August 24: Raiders v Panthers at Canberra Stadium, 3:00pm
Round 26: Sunday, September 1: Roosters v Raiders at Sydney Football Stadium, 4:05pm (NIne)
Round 27: Saturday, September 7: Dragons v Raiders at Kogarah Jubilee Stadium, 3:00pm

The verdict

Predicted finish: Edge of the eight

My ratings of the squad a couple of week's ago averaged out at about a B- or a C+. That translates into a ladder finish on the edge of the eight. Could make the finals, maybe not. The depth in some positions is thin, in particular in the halves and at centre and edge forward. But the forward pack is among the best in the competition. The punters clearly don't agree with my assessment. The Raiders presently rank 15th in the betting futures market. Only the Tigers and Dragons are less favoured. Personally, I think that's seriously under rating the potential of this Raiders side. We can but wait and see. Regardless, it should be a great ride.

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The Nickman
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Re: Through green eyes 2024

Post by The Nickman »

Good writeup, Ferg. I think you've pretty much nailed the Round 1 team, although I think Mariota might just get the jump on Guler.

Surprised you didn't discuss the Xavier Savage wing much, I think that position is still up for grabs and don't be surprised if Hopoate edges him out... but hopefully some sanity will prevail.
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Raiders_Pat
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Re: Through green eyes 2024

Post by Raiders_Pat »

greeneyed wrote: February 29, 2024, 4:27 pm Through green eyes: What will 2024 bring the Canberra Raiders?

Predicted Round 1 line up: 1. Jordan Rapana 2. Nick Cotric 3. Matthew Timoko 4. Ethan Strange 5. Xavier Savage 6. Kaeo Weekes 7. Jamal Fogarty 8. Josh Papalii 9. Danny Levi 10. Joseph Tapine 11. Hudson Young 12. Elliott Whitehead 13. Morgan Smithies

14. Tom Starling 15. Zac Hosking 16. Emre Guler 17. Pasami Saulo
Can't say I'm a fan of this line up but I think there's a very good chance it will be this or close to, possibly with Hopoate on the wing as well. Personally, I'd go with Strange at 6 first and then reassess after a few weeks... they can always fall back on Weekes if they need to. Then I would prefer Puru, Mariota and Mooney for 14/16/17 but I know we won't see that.
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Re: Through green eyes 2024

Post by RedRaider »

It is a shame we are not playing the Panthers twice during the season. Always good to benchmark against the best imo. Of the predicted side I would prefer Strange at 6. I wonder why Weekes can't play center? Also Levy and Guler, I would have Woolford and Ata or Mooney in those spots. Let the games begin.
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BadnMean
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Re: Through green eyes 2024

Post by BadnMean »

I'd be tempted to run Schiller at centre and Strange at half just so you don't need to muck around with your spine at the start of the season. Kind of the tail wagging the dog if you're changing your halves to solve a single match issue in the 3/4 line.

So if Kaeyo does run out at #6 that might mean he's got the gig for a decent stretch at least. Personally I think what Strange showed defensively in the trials was impressive and there were moments for him an attack too. If trials were for selection he won the #6 imo.
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Re: Through green eyes 2024

Post by The Nickman »

BadnMean wrote: March 1, 2024, 9:07 am I'd be tempted to run Schiller at centre and Strange at half just so you don't need to muck around with your spine at the start of the season. Kind of the tail wagging the dog if you're changing your halves to solve a single match issue in the 3/4 line.

So if Kaeyo does run out at #6 that might mean he's got the gig for a decent stretch at least. Personally I think what Strange showed defensively in the trials was impressive and there were moments for him an attack too. If trials were for selection he won the #6 imo.
Schiller and Strange would be my pick too. Makes me wonder why they didn't trial Weekes at fullback though, surely he won't be playing NSW Cup?
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Raiders_Pat
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Re: Through green eyes 2024

Post by Raiders_Pat »

The Nickman wrote: March 1, 2024, 9:50 am
BadnMean wrote: March 1, 2024, 9:07 am I'd be tempted to run Schiller at centre and Strange at half just so you don't need to muck around with your spine at the start of the season. Kind of the tail wagging the dog if you're changing your halves to solve a single match issue in the 3/4 line.

So if Kaeyo does run out at #6 that might mean he's got the gig for a decent stretch at least. Personally I think what Strange showed defensively in the trials was impressive and there were moments for him an attack too. If trials were for selection he won the #6 imo.
Schiller and Strange would be my pick too. Makes me wonder why they didn't trial Weekes at fullback though, surely he won't be playing NSW Cup?
Old school way of thinking I suppose. I think Stuart wants wingers only for fullback depth. And the guys training in the halves are our halves options.

I think if Weekes loses the race for 6 to start the year then he will be in NSW cup, and will get his chance if there's an injury/suspension/poor form. I think Weekes is more suited to fullback but due to our lack of halves and the fact that we're bringing through a rookie half he will be playing halves only this season.
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Re: Through green eyes 2024

Post by RedRaider »

The Nickman wrote: March 1, 2024, 9:50 am
BadnMean wrote: March 1, 2024, 9:07 am I'd be tempted to run Schiller at centre and Strange at half just so you don't need to muck around with your spine at the start of the season. Kind of the tail wagging the dog if you're changing your halves to solve a single match issue in the 3/4 line.

So if Kaeyo does run out at #6 that might mean he's got the gig for a decent stretch at least. Personally I think what Strange showed defensively in the trials was impressive and there were moments for him an attack too. If trials were for selection he won the #6 imo.
Schiller and Strange would be my pick too. Makes me wonder why they didn't trial Weekes at fullback though, surely he won't be playing NSW Cup?
I wouldn't expect Weekes to be in NSW Cup and playing FB with Stewart developing in that spot. Possibly 5/8 in NSW Cup. TLT will be interesting.
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Re: Through green eyes 2024

Post by -PJ- »

RedRaider wrote: March 1, 2024, 5:02 am It is a shame we are not playing the Panthers twice during the season. Always good to benchmark against the best imo. Of the predicted side I would prefer Strange at 6. I wonder why Weekes can't play center? Also Levy and Guler, I would have Woolford and Ata or Mooney in those spots. Let the games begin.
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