For 6 long, hot months the faithful walked through the desert of sport. Occasionally a red leather ball would zip past, but they cared not. Mirages of tennis would appear on the horizon, but they gave these little thought. Then, when all seemed lost, when the thermometers had all exploded as the mercury climbed higher and higher, they heard the sound of boot on Steeden, and yea, they came unto the valley of league.
Small signs at first: Off season signings, a tournament here, an All-stars game there, and then, after one last week the season proper was upon them, and they wept, for it had been way too bloody long since any proper football had been played.
In short: FOOTY! The Raiders get a great chance to open their 2016 account with a home match against the Penrith Panthers, both teams looking to secure a foothold in a season where they could both conceivably excel.
Both sides have made astute buys for 2016, with the Raiders signing Aidan Sezer, Eliot Whitehead and Jeff Lima while the Panthers picked up Trent Merrin and Peta Hiku. The Panthers also have themselves a new coach, Anthony Griffin, and a new captain in Matt Moylan, who hasn’t played properly since round twelve of 2015.
Battle of the Big Boppers
With the NRL’s new interchange rules coming into effect clubs have been racing all off-season to trim their huge forwards down and improve their mobility. Sia Soliola has confirmed he’s a cool guy by taking up a rotational gig in the middle of the pack so that Whitehead and Papali can ply their trade on the fringe. Shannon Boyd has apparently shed half his body fat, which still doesn’t make it any less terrifying when he falls on you.
I don’t know much about the Panthers forwards, possibly because they’re a youngish pack, but expect the charge to be led by new comer Trent Merrin at lock and young gun Bryce Cartwright, as well as Sam McKendry and Reagan Campbell-Gillard.
Your cue, Maestro
Canberra fans probably owe Daly Cherry-Evans a little thank-you after his back flipping contract talks gave Aidan Sezer the impetus to pick up the role of #7 in the nation’s capital. Sezer’s short kicking game in particular is crucial to the Green Machine this year, as so many attacking raids in 2015 ended in extremely poor short kicking options *coughWilliamscough*. If the forwards do it right and clear space then Sezer, Hodgson and Austin can wreak true havoc on opposition defense.
The Panthers truly struggled through the backend of 2015 due to a massive injury list that had them fielding all kinds of weird team lists. They’ll no doubt be grateful to start the year with a near full strength spine, with only Matt Moylan missing at fullback. Soward can be a true genius when in form, but he requires space and calm from his young forwards.
NRL coaching has to be one of the most insecure jobs in the world, along with Australian political leadership. It only takes a few bad losses to get the knives out, and both coaches will be desperate to hit the ground running: Ricky wants to finally deliver Raiders fans to the promised land, whilst Griffin probably just wants to erase 2015 and not piss off Phil Gould.
Lucky Numbers Player Bingo
#7 Aidan Sezer #6 Jamie Soward
#9 Josh Hodgson #9 James Segeyaro
#11 Sia Soliola #11 Bryce Cartwright
#17 Shannon Boyd #13 Trent Merrin
GIO Stadium has been anything but a fortress for the Raiders over the last few seasons, and it’s about time that bloody well changed. The Raiders have an exceedingly good draw for the start of 2016, with 3 of 4 games being played here in the first 4 rounds. A win over the Panthers would add some much needed confidence for the round two clash against the mishap hit Roosters.
The final tip
Raiders by at least 10!
 These are the players Rob thinks will have the biggest impact on the weekend.
 Or, as us natives call it, Bruce…