TK's take on the Raiders
STRENGTHS Balance of Roster - The Raiders across the park are stacked with elite players and contain one of the best spines in the competition. While Josh Hodgson's injury was unfortunate, there were benefits with George Williams and Jack Wighton stepping up as more dominant halves and giving an opportunity to Tom Starling who added a new dimension to the team. The team is so strong players like Emre Guler, Sia Soliola, Ryan Sutton and Siliva Havili who may potentially not even get a start in round 1. Ryan James is potentially the pick up of the season considering his wage while signing Corey Harawira-Naera was a great mid season signing given the loss of John Bateman. The signings of young guns Caleb Aekins and Albert Hopoate continues to add competition for spots and depth to the backline. Halves - At the start of 2020 many were concerned at the combination of these two running halves. While slow to start the season, both worked into the season particularly after the Hodgson injury and will go from strength to strength in 2021. Ricky Stuart - Not many clubs have a coach that bleeds the culture and history of the club. He bleeds green and his passion is evident. His players love him and the past two seasons with a grand final and prelim semi finish, he has had some good runs on the board. Young guns - The injuries to the top liners in 2020 gave Stuart the chance to test a number of his rookies at NRL levels. The likes of Semi Valemei, Matt Timoko, Kai O'Donnell and Adam Cook all got a taste in 2020 and showed they will complement the roster. WEAKNESSES Losing John Bateman - Any team that loses the best player second rower in the world will struggle to fill the role. Given Bateman only played 8 regular season games in 2020 they are a lot better prepared to fill the breach. Two players in Corey Harawira-Naera and Hudson Young stand out as the two contenders to fill the role. After a volatile 2019, Young really took his game to a new level and even was starting the finals while Harawira-Naera will fit in better after a full preseason. Given the depth of the middle forwards, Stuart could even run Joseph Tapine on an edge given his footwork while Corey Horburgh also returns but is more likely a middle. While a weakness right now this could easily become a major strength if one of the players mentioned above owns the position from the get go. Goalkicking without Croker - It will be interesting to see who kicks goals in the absence of Croker. He only missed one game last year when Stuart rested nearly the entire team. The kicker that night was Sam Williams who won't be pressing for the top 17 unless an injury happens during the pre season. OPPORTUNITIES Jarrod Croker's centre spot. With the skipper set to miss the start of the season with injury there is an opportunity for one of the young guns to step up. Stuart has the option of running veteran Jordan Rapana or new recruit Albert Hopoate in the centres but the player I'm tipping is Matt Timoko. The New Zealand born centre debuted in 2020 with two games including a starting role in the final game of the season against the Sharks where he got the eye. A busy starting debut which included 137 metres run, 4 tackle breaks, 20 tackles for only 1 miss, 1 offload and 1 error and the 20 year old is a physical specimen already weighing 99kg. VERDICT - Top 4 and premiership contender. The quality of the squad across the park and the competition for spots makes the Raiders one the most impressive teams in the NRL. To think they had so many injuries to key players and still found the strength to qualify for a prelim semi final shows the quality of their roster and coaching staff. They have made some key additions and the only real question marks will be the role of Josh Hodgson on his return to the field and how well they can replace their captain Jarrod Croker during the early part of the season.
How do you see the Raiders going in 2021?