CANBERRA RAIDERS - 2009 Season Preview

PERENNIAL odds-on favourites to claim the wooden spoon, the Raiders always seem to prove their doubters wrong.

If last year’s late-season form is anything to go by, they won’t be taking a backwards step in 2009.

With the acquisition of Maroons 18th man and Roosters enforcer David Shillington up front, and Wests Tiger Bronson Harrison, the squad is even stronger than last year’s – even allowing for the loss of impact centre Colin Best.

But the burning question is: How will club legend David Furner handle the pressures of coaching at NRL level?

How They’ll Play Itt
The Raiders will be one of the biggest benefactors from the introduction of two referees in 2009.

Displaying arguably the most exciting attacking football of any side last season, the Raiders’ game could go to a new level against scattered defensive lines and tired defenders.

Marc Herbert showed enough at halfback last season to suggest he’s capable of steering the side around the park, meaning Terry Campese can play a Darren Lockyer-type role and inject himself into the play when he can smell points – and he will provide his speedy outside men and back-rowers with plenty of score-trying opportunities.

Keep An Eye On

Stuart Flanagan. A livewire dummy-half with excellent peripheral vision from behind the ruck, the former Wests Tigers rake will be a much-welcomed extra attacking option in the seemingly jinxed Raiders No.9 jumper.

Canberra were forced to use skipper Alan Tongue in the role last season after injuries to their three top-line hookers, but having a permanent ‘9’ to team with Campese, Herbert and electric fullback David Milne will make the side that much more dangerous.

Flanagan has been Robbie Farah’s understudy for two seasons and it’s safe to say we’ll see him develop into one of the NRL’s best in the role. A smart attacking player with an excellent running game, Flanagan also possesses a handy kicking option.

They’ll Really Miss

There might be some talented outside backs coming through the ranks in Canberra, but matching Colin Best’s experience and ability to sniff out a try will be a tough task.

The former St George Illawarra and Cronulla veteran scored 14 tries last year (equal second for the club), with his ability to find a gap and beat defenders – especially from long-range – second to none in the competition. His absence will put a lot of pressure on star centre Joel Monaghan (who also scored 14 tries in 2008) now the most experienced outside back at the club.

It’s Time To Stand Up

We’ve all seen what Phil Graham’s capable of, but after another season on the sideline the injury-prone 27-year-old needs to find form quickly and fill the gap left by Colin Best.

A 2007 Country Origin player, Graham’s no slouch. But he has a big task at hand.

With pressure building from the likes of new main squad graduate Justin Carney and Toyota Cup stars Josh Dugan, Daniel Vidot and Jarrod Croker, Graham needs to prove he’s not a liability.

Should he do that, the Tamworth junior could find himself again featuring in representative discussions. Inside, Campese’s wide-running game will suit him.

Coach Watch

As with the two other new coaches in the NRL this season, David Furner’s ability to handle the pressures of top grade football remains to be seen.

But if he applies the same dedication he did as a premiership-winning player for the club, chances are he’ll handle it with grace and composure. Teamed with former St Helens premiership-winning coach and Cowboys assistant Ian Millward, Furner has a wealth of experience at his disposal and the teachings of outgoing coach Neil Henry to work from.

And if he’s half as successful as dad Don – former Raiders and Australian coach – in the coach’s seat, Furner could find himself a contender for Coach of the Year.

They’re All The Better For

An off-season without Todd Carney. After Carney’s sacking in disgrace mid-last season, Terry Campese was thrown into the key playmaker’s role and he led his side to the finals on nothing more than instinct.

The Carney saga rolled on for much of the remainder of the season, consuming player focus and energy. However, the makeshift side, which used a mammoth 31 players during the season due to injuries, still mounted a sensational finals charge.

With a full pre-season under their belts, Marc Herbert and Campese will have their combination near perfect, and the remainder of the team will know what to expect from each of them. Set plays, special moves and general reading of the playmakers will be a piece of cake for the players around them, making the 2009 Raiders an even more dangerous proposition.

Predicted Finish

Considering they finished eighth last season with a makeshift, battered and bruised team that bared little resemblance to the side named in round one, things can only get better for the Green Machine.

With players of the calibre of David Milne, Joe Picker, Trevor Thurling and the like still improving, and some good buys in the front row, expect the Raiders to be competitive in the race for the finals – they’re one of a few teams with largely the same player base as 2008.

But much will depend on their record on the road – they won just four of 12 last season.

Under-20s

Expect nothing less than another spectacular year from the ‘Teen Machine’. Reigning premiers and with the majority of last year’s squad still eligible for Toyota Cup, 2009 looks like being another strong season for the Raiders.

However, question marks hang over the head of new coach Andrew McFadden, who replaces popular premiership-winning mentor Tony Adam.

Making it harder, 2008 stars Joel Thompson and Justin Carney have graduated to the top squad this season. But with Josh Dugan, Jarrod Croker and the like still available and looking to impress NRL coach David Furner, the junior Raiders still shape as one of the competition’s most fearsome outfits.

New Breed

with a devastating shoulder-charge and blistering speed, it’s little wonder NRL coach David Furner has drafted the powerhouse youngster, Jarrod Crocker, into his top-grade side in 2009 – despite the fact the centre is just 18 years of age.

Keep an eye out for more on Jarrod Crocker when NRL.com brings you New Breed profiles in the coming weeks.