Nigel Wall,, NRL.com
Will the Raiders late season surge in the 2012 Telstra Premiership continue into the new season?
Strengths: Raiders fans will be hoping their boys can maintain the good spirits and momentum that saw the Green Machine end 2012 on a high, with a season-best six wins in a row before the side bowed out of the premiership race to the Rabbitohs in the second week of the Finals. A renowned streaky side, if Canberra can stay on the right side of the ledger early they will be in the box seat for a great year.
Their chance of achieving that will be huge if Terry Campese’s troublesome groin and knee can hold together; the former Blues’ five-eighth has graced the footy field on just a handful of occasions over the past two seasons and his absence devastated their 2011 and 2012 campaigns. Word out of camp is he’s unlikely to suit up for the trial matches; obviously the sooner he slots back in, the more likely the Raiders are to jump out of the blocks.
With Campese on the park the Raiders will boast one of the most potent backlines in the NRL, providing the perfect balance for their bulky and accredited forward pack. No centre busted the defensive line more often than Jarrod Croker did last season, while Blake Ferguson’s innovation and pace was a constant threat. Canberra will boast pace and guile out wide, with elusive Reece Robinson, rejuvenated Sandor Earl, and emerging stars Edrick Lee and Jack Wighton battling it out for winger’s jerseys. Then there’s fullback Josh Dugan, who would realise that 2013 looms as his most important season to date if his career is to fulfil the destiny most envisioned just a couple of years ago. Last, with Campese back on deck, Josh McCrone and Sam Williams are guaranteed full focus as they duel for the No.7 jersey.
If everything clicks there’s no reason Canberra can’t build on their excellent attack from 2012 that resulted in the fourth-most tries scored (and the most scored from a line-break – better even than the Storm and Canterbury) as well as the fourth-most line-breaks overall.
Also, representative prop Brett White’s return from long-term injury (he played just five games in 2012) will bolster Canberra’s front-row rotation, while the acquisition of back-rower Joel Edwards from Newcastle will add some sting in defence.
Coach David Furner will be drilling his charges to continue to respect the Steeden after they emerged from 2012 with the fewest errors against their names. Premiership campaigns are built around such consistency.
Weaknesses: The biggest problem coach Furner needs to fix is Canberra’s goal-line defence. Incredibly the Raiders had the most brittle defence inside 10 metres of their try line in 2012, letting in a competition-high 69 tries from close range. That was 11 tries more than the next-worse side Parramatta.
An inability to shut down second-phase play was a contributing factor – Canberra conceded the second-most offloads.
Until he gets through several games unscathed and with good movement and involvement, there has to be a question mark hovering over key man Campese.
Niggling short-term injuries need to be avoided too – Campo and White’s long-term injuries aside, in past seasons the Raiders have seemingly made a habit of losing men for six weeks at a time, often twice in the same season. This has cut deep into their continuity.
It remains to be seen how much the Raiders will miss Kiwi representative second-rower Bronson Harrison (now at the Dragons). Harrison was arguably their best ball-playing forward and his ability to pop a pass could be sorely missed.