A rising star, a club legend enters the last year of his current deal, a coach under pressure following his first year at the club... Below are five questions the Raiders must address ahead of season 2015.
1. What will they do with Terry Campese?
The ageing playmaker has been a fantastic servant to the club over a long period but the injury-prone 30-year-old looks to be out of favour. With a year to run on his whopping six-year deal inked back in 2009, Campese finished the year in NSW Cup and could feasibly depart to the UK if the right opportunity arises. Promising playmakers Mitch Cornish and Jack Ahearn are on the rise and Sam Williams is returning to the club, which could be ready to look to the future after a disappointing 2014.
2. Will the club finally sign a big name?
The Raiders have been knocked back more times than Clive Palmer on Tinder, with Storm winger Sisa Waqa the only notable NRL signing from outside the club, along with a couple of Super League names. Late in 2014 embattled coach Ricky Stuart insisted the Raiders wouldn't be successful without some rep players. We're not sure what Josh Papalii made of this. Or fringe Blues Jack Wighton, Jarrod Croker and Paul Vaughan for that matter. The odds of a big name coming on board for 2015 now appear more remote than an Antarctic weather station. Their best chance appears to be making a play for Broncos and Kiwi fullback Josh Hoffman, who has been given permission to look around.
3. Can they make the finals without recruiting?
The Raiders have always had a strong junior system and are known for breeding quality players. With some of their best current players, such as gun juniors Paul Vaughan, Jarrod Croker and Shaun Fensom, all inking new deals during 2014, the Raiders may need to build rather than buy. If up-and-comers such as Shannon Boyd, Brenko & Edrick Lee and Jeremy Hawkins can kick on and establish themselves as genuine NRL guns sooner rather than later the Raiders have the making of a competitive squad built from within.
4. How long does Ricky Stuart get?
Ricky Stuart is a club legend, premiership-winner and one of the finest halfbacks of the modern era – that legacy is not in doubt. But with a coaching win-rate hovering around 25 per cent over the past five years and three clubs, another year at the foot of the ladder would surely cast doubts over his chances of seeing out his deal to the end of 2016. Club CEO Don Furner has already been forced to publicly back the coach – not a good sign less than a year into a three-year deal – and if there aren’t signs of improvement, the clamouring will grow louder long before the contract runs its course.
5. Is Mitch Cornish the real deal?
Junior Kangaroos halfback Mitch Cornish has been touted as the next big thing, and showed some great signs in his limited time on field in 2014. How exactly he fits into arrangements isn't yet clear – it will partly depend on Campese's situation, partly on how Stuart elects to use utility Josh McCrone, partly on whether they sign a big-name fullback and how that affects where Jack Wighton plays – but it seems almost certain he will start in the halves for the Raiders from Round 1 next year. Ideally you'd want him finding his feet alongside a senior playmaker but that may not pan out. Either way, without heaping too much pressure on the young man's shoulders, it seems like if the Raiders are to be successful in the near term, they will need him playing well as an 80-minute half.