Ed note: This is the first of a few pieces on 2018 and the Canberra Raiders. Keep an eye out or like us on Facebookand Twitter to make sure you don’t miss out. You can already start with our 11 Bold Predictions for 2018 and our 7 Things for Raiders Fans to Look Forward to in 2018.
The 2018 season looks to be quite different from the most recent entries in NRL history – it’s shorter by one round (from 26 down to 25) and thus each team only gets one bye. The lead up is different too, with all preseason fixtures absent except for the clubs preseason trial matches. Origin 2 takes place on a Sunday night.
All these shifts in the draw, plus a healthy amount of player transfers mean that the 2018 season will probably move at a quicker pace then previously seen. The Origin period in particular should feel different, with less time for teams to rest up courtesy of byes, which also means less chance for those teams on a roll to come unstuck due to the interruption.
Unfortunately for the Raiders the preseason lull didn’t come soon enough, with star take Josh Hodgson picking up a leg injury while playing for England in the world cup at the end of 2017. Several other rep players returned from their world cup duties only to be placed in fitness quarantine after they derailed during the competition.
Hodgson’s return is currently slated for round 16, and it’s been good to see him on the mend and undertaking light duties with the squad. Coach Stuart will need to have some adaptive strategies in place to fill the gap.
The 17/18 offseason saw some wholesale changes at certain clubs, but the Raiders had only a few turnovers on the roster.
Out: Kurt Baptiste (Leigh Centurions), Lachlan Croker (Manly Sea Eagles), Brent Naden (Newcastle Knights), Clay Priest (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Zac Santo (New Zealand Warriors), Scott Sorensen (Cronulla Sharks), Dave Taylor (Capras), Jordan Turner (Huddersfield Giants), KATO OTTIO RIP.
In: Brad Abbey (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Cooper Bambling, Craig Garvey (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Kalani Going, Charlie Gubb (New Zealand Warriors), Stefano Hala, Siliva Havili (St George Illawarra Dragons), Corey Horsburgh, Liam Knight (Sydney Roosters), Sebastian Kris, Michael Oldfield (Penrith Panthers), Sam Williams (Wakefield Trinity)
Recruitment manager Peter Mulholland and Stuart have mainly signed for depth and youth, and will undoubtedly go through the Raiders new modus operandi of weeding out 2-3 key players from the new bunch and releasing the others in 1-2 years. Garvey and Havili will Duke it out for the role of dummy-half understudy, while Sam Williams will provide some much needed variation in the halves, especially if Stuart goes ahead with his reported plan to field Austin (or Williams) at hooker until Hodgson’s return.
Abbey and Oldfield can expect to spend most of the year with Mounties, with the Raiders strong backline keeping them out barring any mishaps.
All games marked with ** have free-to-air coverage on Channel 9
Rd 1 – Titans @ Cbus Super Stadium
Rd 2 – Knights @ GIO Stadium
Rd 3 – Warriors @ GIO Stadium
Rd 4 – Sea Eagles @ Lottoland
Rd 5 – Bulldogs @ GIO Stadium **
Rd 6 – Eels @ GIO Stadium
Rd 7 – Rabbitohs @ Central Coast Stadium
Rd 8 – Cowboys @ 1300Smiles Stadium
Rd 9 – Titans @ GIO Stadium
Rd 10 – Sharks @ GIO Stadium **
Rd 11 – Dragons @ Glen Willow Oval
Rd 12 – Sea Eagles @ GIO Stadium
Rd 13 – BYE
Rd 14 – Panthers @ GIO Stadium
Rd 15 – Tigers @ Campbelltown Stadium **
Rd 16 – Broncos @ Suncorp Stadium
Rd 17 – Bulldogs @ Belmore Sports Ground
Rd 18 – Cowboys @ GIO Stadium
Rd 19 – Sharks @ Southern Cross Group Stadium
Rd 20 – Storm @ AAMI Park
Rd 21 – Panthers @ Panthers Stadium **
Rd 22 – Tigers @ GIO Stadium
Rd 23 – Roosters @ GIO Stadium **
Rd 24 – Rabbitohs @ GIO Stadium
Rd 25 – Warriors @ Mt Smart Stadium
Sunday games – 8, Saturday – 11, Friday – 4, Thursday – 1
Coverage wise the Raiders have been handed five free-to-air games, four of them landing on the Sunday afternoon spot, and the other being a rare and mythical Thursday night game. They also have four Friday night games, but all of these are on foxsports.
The toughest travel section of the draw are rounds 15 to 17, where the Raiders must visit Sydney twice with a trip to Suncorp in between.
In home ground news the Green Machine receives a three game stint at home, in rounds 22 to 23, which may prove to be crucial in a late season run.
Another notable positive are the singular encounters with the Storm and the Roosters, although given the seismic changes in many playing rosters expect the unexpected, with former minnow teams now posing a real threat.
What’s going to happen? Let us know in the comments below…