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They've commanded the focus in pre-season wooden spoon betting but senior Raiders have warned rivals not to take them lightly in 2010 – rating Canberra’s giant forward pack the equal of any in the NRL.<br><br>Despite competition heavyweights Parramatta, South Sydney and St George Illawarra having grabbed all the headlines in the lead-up to this weekend’s opening round, the Raiders believe they have the size and power up front to rattle all-comers and are already predicting a finals finish in 2009.<br><br>“I think we showed last year what we can do with our forward pack,” NSW State of Origin forward Tom Learoyd-Lahrs said. “I think we can match it with any pack in the comp. <br><br>“You hear a lot about South Sydney and Parramatta, and rightfully so, when you look at their teams and forward packs – they’re definitely going to be a force – but we can compete with those packs, no worries.<br><br>“The style of football we play, you don’t have to have the biggest names in the comp to execute our game plan. We can beat all of those sides. <br><br>“When we do play these high-profile sides like St George Illawarra or Parramatta or Melbourne, we always go in with a lot of confidence knowing we can beat them.”<br><br>Certainly the Raiders boast one of the most imposing forward packs in the competition, headed by Learoyd-Lahrs himself at 112kg and two-metre monster Dane Tilse.<br><br>Prop David Shillington was another to make his State of Origin debut last season in Queensland’s record-breaking series win, while back-rower Bronson Harrison was rewarded for his most consistent season yet with a recall to the Kiwi Test team.<br><br>“A lot of these guys are hitting the best form of their careers,” captain Alan Tongue said. “I’m expecting huge things from Dane Tilse this season and I think he’ll crack rep honours this year. <br>“He is going from strength to strength. <br><br>“So there are plenty of great times there in our forward pack. <br><br>“That’s where the experience is and we need to set the platform for the younger backs.”<br><br>Asked how he felt about being written-off as title contenders – with TAB Sportsbet rating them ahead of only Cronulla in the premiership betting at $34 – Tongue said: “It’s almost become a part of life now! <br><br>“You don’t even worry about it anymore – people are entitled to their opinion. We probably haven’t recruited as many people as some journalists think we could have, but at the end of the day we’re happy with the squad we’ve got. <br><br>“We just need to come out and build some confidence and let our footy do the talking.”<br><br>Learoyd-Lahrs, who will miss tomorrow night’s clash with Penrith through injury, believes Canberra’s low profile could prove to be one of their greatest assets.<br><br>“I don’t think it’s such a bad thing,” he said. “We do boast less high-profile players across the board and we do get less exposure but that can work in our favour. <br><br>“Last year we crept up on a few sides and showed that we’re capable of beating anyone when we’re on our game.”<br><br>The Raiders will be sweating on the fitness of a number of key players in the coming weeks, with Learoyd-Lahrs one of four players sidelined this weekend.<br><br>Veteran centre Joel Monaghan is expected to miss up to five weeks with a broken thumb while David Milne and Justin Carney are hoping return by Round 4.<br><br>But Learoyd-Lahrs said he was confident of another big season after debuting for NSW in Game Three last year.<br><br>“I think I gained a lot of confidence out of playing Origin and having the experience of training alongside those players,” he said. “It definitely boosted my confidence. <br><br>“Unfortunately I picked up a few injuries late last year so I didn’t get a chance to put into practice those things I gained through that. <br><br>“But going into this season it’s definitely something I’d like to get another crack at. <br><br>“At least now, any doubts I’ve had in the past and being unsure of myself – it disproved a few things. <br><br>“I know that if I’m on my game I’m capable of making a few more rep sides.”
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