Paul Vaughan is one of several Raiders forwards set to impress in 2014.
A giant prop rotation
In terms of inches, Canberra's 2014 prop rotation must be one of the tallest ever seen. There are plenty of clubs Tom Learoyd-Lahrs, David Shillington and Mark Nicholls (all 194cm or 6'4") could move to and be the biggest front-rower going around, but at Canberra each is dwarfed by Dane Tilse, who stretches the measuring tape out to 200cm or around 6'7". Of course size doesn't automatically equal success – any of the men mentioned above would have been the tallest man on the field in the 2013 Grand Final between the Roosters and Manly (barring lanky 6'5" Roosters winger Dan Tupou) so a lack of giant props didn't slow those clubs down in 2013. But having that many huge bodies coming at you can get wearying and that pure size be an added weapon for the Green Machine in 2014. And there's one more secret weapon – Canberra NYC and NSW Under-20s prop Shannon Boyd is already being described as a 'man mountain' – like most of the other props at the club he measures up at 194cm and tips the scales at 122kg.
Anyone who's played NRL fantasy games in the past couple of seasons will be familiar with Shaun Fensom's work rate – the lock was the eighth top tackler in 2013 with 946, and every player ahead of him was a hooker. Having such a tireless defender in the middle – especially one who can churn out 100 metres per game with the odd line break and offload – is a huge asset. And expect big things in 2014 from Italy World Cup prop Paul Vaughan, who churned out massive metres in the recent tournament. Vaughan made 497 metres in his team's three group matches to be tournament leader at that point. Fellow World Cup emerging nations prop Brett White was also the best of his squad, with the Ireland star making 232 metres in three games and a team second-high 96 tackles.
Poor old Canberra have suffered more than most teams in terms of off-field trouble makers. Fans have had to watch as one-time bad boy Todd Carney went off to earn a Dally M medal at the Roosters, now disruptive fullback Josh Dugan is the incumbent NSW fullback from his new home at the Dragons. Dugan's one-time partner n crime Blake Ferguson may or may not end up playing NRL in 2014 but if he does he's likely to play Origin as well. But the silver lining for long suffering Raiders fans is that the major disruptive influences at the club have left. You can imagine the senior playing group, including Terry Campese, Shillington, Fensom and Jarrod Croker – let alone new coach Ricky Stuart – will have little patience for any repeat performances if misbehaviour does rear its head again.
A fresh start
Just on Stuart – he may not have had the happiest of years in the blue and gold last season but as a Raiders legend he should have no trouble inspiring his new charges, or getting them to buy into a fresh start for the club. The club has also taken the opportunity of a new coach arriving to appoint a new high performance manager (former Australian Institute of Sport director Dr Peter Fricker), spruce up the club gym and upgrade its video review training facilities. The Raiders have been one of the least active clubs on the player market – former Storm forward Lagi Setu is the notable signing at this stage – but as always Canberra is proving a breeding ground of exciting young talent. Which brings us to...
A strong junior system
With recently debuted players such as Jack Wighton and Mark Nicholls to be joined in the top squad by prospective NRL talents including the likes of Boyd, Mitch Cornish and Jack Ahearn in 2014, not to mention now-established stars like Jarrod Croker and Shaun Fensom and last year's breakout prop Paul Vaughan, Canberra's talent breeding ground has been a fertile source of NRL talent for the Green Machine in recent years.
The club is also reportedly set to renew its association with Intrust Super side Souths Logan Magpies. Queensland-bred players such as Josh Papalii, Anthony Milford and Edrick Lee have arrived at the Raiders via the Queensland Cup and this adds just another string to the powerful bow that is Canberra's junior rugby league system.