It seems like an age has passed since the final siren blew on the tumultuous and ultimately frustrating 2019 Grand Final. For a few weeks there the most we had to worry about were the obnoxious Roosters trolls, until suddenly smoked covered the usually clear blue skies above the nation’s capital. My engagement with sport across the summer was almost nil, the 7 month old whirlwind and natural disasters pushing any kind of tv watchable sporting endeavour to the back of the queue.
I am tired. I feel older than I have ever felt before (probably due to aging). I watched the All-stars game through the all too familiar lens of test match/exhibition match indifference. But now on the horizon there appears the first of the pre-season trials, and Dan on messenger gently prodding me from my baby induced stupor.
“Do you want to whip up a Rumble for this weekend?”
This weekend? What? Then all the pieces slowly start to link up. It’s February. The weather is cooling. The days are growing shorter. The F1 cars are doing their pre-season shake downs.
Do I want to do a Rumble?
Yes I do.
It would be fair to say that the Raiders have had the off-season if not from hell than at least from the waiting room from the reception at the front of hell – the water cooler is fresh out of water, and all the magazines are running terrible tabloid bits about your team.
Rapana left for more cash dollars in Rugby Union, in a land where Rugby Union isn’t in extreme death throes.
BJ Leilua took the hint early and walked (drove) up the Hume highway to link up with his younger brother at the Tigers.
Curtis Scott had possibly less than a week in green before he had most of the Raiders community seeing red.
The Raiders look set to release young forward Jack Murchie to the Warriors.
Don Furner died. The Raiders legend made it to 87, and he saw and supervised the greatest moments in the club’s history.
The Raiders now need to take all this turmoil and fashion it into something positive and purposeful. They need to show the competition that they are not cowed by the experiences from the Grand Final onwards, but rather enriched by them.
The Raiders bring 6 new players to the match at Port Macquarie – George Williams gets his first hit out alongside Wighton whilst rookie talent in Harley Smith Shields, Daine Spencer, Matt Timoko and Kai O’Donnell all get a chance to display their wares against the Dogs. Raiders junior Matt Frawley has returned from the Bulldogs/Super League, but the big surprise packet this weekend is Curtis Scott being cleared to play. Let’s just say that he’ll need to have a blinder of a game if he’s to win over some of the more cynical Raiders fans.
For me personally I’m keen to see what GWilliams and Smith-Shields can produce. The English recruit has been touted as a very good running half, which means that the Raiders will be playing with two running creators rather than a runner/organiser combo. Given how much organising Hodgson does from dummy half this is not a terrible manoeuvre, and it could see the Raiders moving a lot more attack through the middle corridor.
Harley Smith Shields by all accounts is the next big thing for the Raiders backline, and as someone who doesn’t really have the time to invest in watching junior grades I’m intrigued to see what he can do.
Everyone’s cult fave John Bateman has to sit this one out as he’s recovering from the shoulder surgery he underwent in the off season. The update came through on Thursday that he won’t be back until 7-8 weeks into the season proper, fully healed and ready to go.
LAST CHANCE SALOON
It goes without saying that both Curtis Scott and Hudson Young need to put their best foot forward in 2020 – Scott’s legal fate is still shrouded in grey while the spectre of wandering fingers hangs over Young who very much needs to play square and fair, avoiding any “rubbish” on the face.
The Canterbury Bulldogs are still out in the footy wilderness, looking for that one thing that can transform them place holder to a proper contender. They finished 12th in 2019 and seemed to have suffered quite a lot of off season injuries, culminating in Chris Smith doing an MCL/ACL combo during the All-stars game. The biggest blow for the Dogs came last year when it was discovered that Keiran Foran would most likely miss all of 2020 with a shoulder injury.
GIMME WHAT I WANT
Defence, defence and then more defence. The Raiders 2019 campaign was built on defence and a faith amongst teammates that when push came to shove they’d be making the right choices in the right spot. While the razzle dazzle attack of previous seasons will always be exhilarating there’s something satisfying about knowing the Green Machine can grind it out in a close encounter.
The Bulldogs put 30 on the Sharks 18 in PNG so we should all be looking for the Raiders to hopefully keep the Dogs score to a single digit.
ALL EYEZ ON GREEN
So how can you watch it?
Kick off is at 4:30 Saturday 29th February. You can view the game either through the NRL app or via raiders.com.au, but you will need an NRL account to login (it’s free). Foxtel users won’t be able to catch it by that service as it clashes with the Eels vs Panthers charity trial match.
If they get the defence right then the Raiders should be able take it out 20-8.
CARN THE MIGHTY GREEN MACHINE!