It’s fair to say the Raiders have been under-achievers in the past two seasons. Even the club admits they didn’t capitalise on the success of the 2016 season when they made the preliminary final, only to be beaten in controversial circumstances by the Melbourne Storm.
Finishing tenth the following two seasons and missing the finals is unacceptable. They missed out on the top eight by ten points but only two points separated the top-side, the Roosters, and the eighth-placed Warriors.
Here are my five reasons why I believe the Raiders will perform better in 2019 and make the finals for the first time in three seasons.
Number one: Josh Hodgson missed the first 14 games in 2018 after suffering a knee injury while playing for England. His absence impacted greatly on the Raiders; they lost five games by two points or less in the first 14 rounds. I would argue if he was on the field in those games, the Raiders would have won. His impact was immediate in round 15 in his comeback game. The Raiders won 48-12 over the Wests Tigers when he returned.
Number two: Jack Wighton missed the final ten rounds through suspension. During that time, the Raiders lost six of the last ten games from round 16. Even more telling though was the energy-sapping process of the legal proceedings. This was endured by the club coupled with the Raiders’ dealings with the NRL. It became a distraction. Wighton is on his last chance with the Raiders and hopefully repays the club with the same form he showed prior to his suspension.
Number three: John Bateman, according to those who have played alongside him, is the most competitive player they have teamed with. He is exactly the style of player the Raiders need in the middle. The Raiders have lost plenty of size in Junior Paulo and Shannon Boyd, but it can be argued that the game is becoming more the domain of players with mobility. Bateman is tough and versatile and his recruitment, along with Wigan teammate Ryan Sutton, adds a new dimension to the Raiders.
Number four: Aidan Sezer in my mind always seemed to play better when Blake Austin wasn’t on the field at the same time. It may be a perception, but Sezer appeared to take more control of games. He showed, during his time at the Titans, that his best attribute was his running game. The departure of Austin may allow Sezer to play his natural game.
Number five: The co-captaincy really needed last season when Josh Hodgson was constantly rebuffed when he questioned a refereeing decision. Now with the co-captaincy, he has a legitimate licence along with Jarrod Croker to ask questions of the referee without being told he doesn’t have the right. Personally, I think it’s a masterstroke.
Having outlined my five reasons as to why the team will perform better in 2019, there is always an element of luck involved; the injury to Jordan Rapana, being a case in point.
But I believe there is reason for optimism.
Do you think the Raiders will make the NRL finals this year?