The Canberra Raiders feel they are on the NRL’s hunted list following their grand final finish last year, but they’re taking nothing for granted, even as they prepare for one of last year’s cellar dwellers to kick off season 2020.
It all starts this Friday (13 March) in round one at GIO Stadium against the Gold Coast Titans, in a repeat of last season’s opener which saw the Raiders run out 21-0 victors at Cbus Super Stadium. The Green Machine have also won four of the last five meetings between the two outfits – a record they want to continue.
Ricky Stuart’s men fell just short of claiming the premiership last term as they lost out to the Sydney Roosters in one of the most controversial grand finals in recent memory.
However, the 1994 premiers will be aiming to go one step further with two debutants taking the field – centre Curtis Scott and English half-back George Williams.
In saying that, pre-season has not been smooth sailing, to say the least , with their preparation interrupted by the devastating bushfires and recent troubles surrounding new signing Scott.
Five-eight Jack Wighton will be looking to form a solid partnership with new halves partner Williams after he secured his playing future with Canberra for another four seasons. 2019 was a very successful year for Wighton as he won the Clive Churchill Medal, he was part of the winning New South Wales Origin side that took down Queensland and he also made his debut for Australia in the Oceania Cup.
Given the triumphs of 2019, the 27-year-old feels that his team will be a target other clubs will chase and it starts with the Titans group.
“Every team is going to be tough and we are going to be one of the hunted teams given our success last year,” Wighton said.
“They have a big pack and fast outside backs so we are going to have to turn up. We don’t take anyone lightly because last year was last year, this is a whole new season and they are going to come out firing at our home stadium.”
While the green machine faithful will see a new halves partnership on display, they will also witness a new combination on the right edge with Nick Cotric and Scott.
Like Wighton, Cotric comes into the new season on the back of the Oceania Cup for the green and gold, as well as being a part of the successful NSW squad.
With their combination getting stronger on the verge of round one, Cotric said Scott has fit right in to his new surroundings and that personally he is ready for the new NRL campaign.
“He is a great player,” Cotric mentioned. “He has grand final experience, so he fits perfectly. He is loud and very vocal, as well as being a strong ball runner.
“I can only just improve and try as much as I can, I haven’t touched a footy on the field in a long time so I’m itching to get out there.”
Coach Stuart believes that his men underwent a different pre-season compared with previous years but that it has had a positive impact on his playing group heading into the season and hopefully in into the future.
“It’s been a shorter pre-season and we’ve had to put a lot more load into the boys post-Christmas,” Stuart said. “I wanted to use this pre-season as an experience for the team because we want to keep making the top four, keep making grand finals, be a team that competes at the back end of the season and then has short pre-seasons.”
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The Raiders v Gold Coast Titans will kick off at 6:00 pm with gates opening at 4:30 pm on Friday, 13 March at GIO Stadium. Tickets through Ticketek.
Team list for the Raiders round one v Gold Coast Titans
1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, 2. Bailey Simonsson, 3. Jarrod Croker (C), 4. Curtis Scott, 5. Nick Cotric, 6. Jack Wighton, 7. George Williams, 8. Josh Papalii, 9. Josh Hodgson (C), 10. Dunamis Lui, 11. Corey Horsburgh, 12. Elliott Whitehead, 13. Joe Tapine.
14. Siliva Havili, 15. Emre Guler, 16. Sia Soliola, 17. Michael Oldfield, 18. Jack Murchie, 19. Sam Williams.
Ryan Sutton (Suspended) – Round 2
Hudson Young (Suspended) – Round 6
John Bateman (Shoulder) – Round 7-8.