A few years ago, when things were pretty dark for the Raiders we were wondering what might have been. It was 2018 and you might remember but the Milk hadn’t had the best year. They lost 55 games by less than a try, and 13 in the last minute despite leading by over 30 each time. Or at least so it felt. The short version was that it was weeks before the finals started and Canberra’s season was already over.
Meanwhile, Tevita Pangai Jr, who had been at the Raiders just a few years before, was having himself a breakout period at the Broncos. It was hard to take his emergence while swallowing the salty, salty pain that was the Green Machine’s season. So we did a piece of all the good or emerging players Canberra had let go under Sticky.
In reviewing the actual list from then it appears that Sticky may have a bit of a clue of what he’s doing (shock!). Pangai Junior and Paul Vaughan are the only players I wish we still had in the squad, and even Pangai Jr wouldn’t necessarily start for the Milk nowadays. Blake Austin, Shannon Boyd and Dave Taylor all appear to be players he ‘sold high’ on.
But given we don’t have football to chat about, we decided to review the list and update it to match the changes that have happened to the Raiders roster since then. Now obviously not all of these are totally Ricky’s choice. But for the most part, these are players the Raiders could have kept, but didn’t.
As it was then, and is now, it’s the players that Sticky rejects that make Sticky the ‘best’.
Fullback: Anthony Milford
True story. When Anthony Milford scored one of the great tries in recent times in round two, I was watching. I got *this* close to enjoying the try before remembering I am sooooo bitter about him leaving, even if it probably worked out best for Canberra, and probably for him too.
Wingers: Jordan Rapana and Edrick Lee
You can say that Jordan Rapana was on the back end of his prime. You can say that his 2019 wasn’t as good as previous years as he struggled with his unwillingness to believe something as petty as an injury could hamper him. He was a great Raider, and still might be a great Raider. No one wanted him to leave, but here we are. I wish I could win him back.
Edrick Lee was in the original 17, and nothing changed. He was pushed out because Nic Cotric is better than him. That was the right decision then and it’s been proven true by Nic and Edrick’s performances since.
Centres: BJ Leilua and BRENKO
When the Raiders signed Curtis Scott these pages were pretty clear about our position: the Green Machine would rue letting BJ walk. We thought he’d be rejuvenated by a new start at Wests Tigers. Madge McGuire’s disciplinarian nature would get him fit, and get him operating within a structured defence. If round two was anything to go by (and to be honest, one game doesn’t make a season) this was about as far from being right as anything we’ve ever written in these pages. He’ll be better if the season comes back, but right now we can only go on what we’ve seen this year.
BRENKO has yet to establish himself at each stop since leaving Canberra. When the Titans and Bulldogs won’t give you regular time, it’s no surprise to see him riding the pine there. If there’s a coach that can get the best out of him, its Bellamy.
Halves: Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer
I’m sad every day that Aidan Sezer is in the Super League. He was reportedly dominating the competition before it went on hiatus, which isn’t surprising because he should be playing in the NRL. He never won Ricky Stuart over, which gives him something in common with about 1000 other halfbacks. George Williams might be better, but we don’t really know yet.
Blake Austin is a flawed ex. He was perfect for us for a time, but it was never going to last. All that’s left to do is to hope he’s happy with his new life, and given how he went in the Super League last season, it seems he is. And that makes me happy.
Initially we had Mitch Cornish and Lachlan Lewis in the halves. We’re still sad (and mad) Mitch didn’t make it. Lachlan Lewis is running around for the Dogs, which is good for him I guess.
Lock: Shaun Fensom
Second row: TPJ and Mitch Barnett
When we wrote this the first time around Tevita was absolutely tearing up the league. He’s still really good, but he’s about the fourth best player in a Broncos pack that looks absolutely astounding. Thank the footy gods the only useful backs they have are Milford and Isaako, and they are helmed/restricted by Brody Croft.
Mitch Barnett has always been a strong runner, but his lack of lateral movement restricts him, particularly on the edge. Now he’s going to have his starting spot in Newcastle taken by Tyson Frizell. Ricky wins again.
Props: Paul Vaughan and Shannon Boyd
One win and one loss for Sticky here. Shannon Boyd was playing his best football since he got picked for Australia when he signed for too much money to go to the Gold Coast. I thought it was a lose/lose for both sides. Turns out only for the Titans. Story of their life.
Vaughan was pushed out of Canberra to keep Boyd and add Junior Paolo. At the time it seemed like there was something going on relationship-wise between the Coach and Vaughan – no right minded rugby league man would have Vaughan behind Clay Priest and Luke Bateman as Sticky did in 2016.
Hooker: Kurt Baptiste
Bappers is one of those guys who’s heart and energy you could never fault. Sure his service wasn’t as pretty or as calculated as Josh Hodgson, but not many hookers have that gift. After the Raiders he failed to get major minutes with either the Roosters or the Cowboys and is now playing (to what extent anyone is playing) in the Queensland Cup.
Bench: Liam Knight, Mark Nicholls, Lachlan Lewis, Dave ‘Coal Train’ Taylor
Liam Knight was a Raiders reclamation project until he wasn’t. He’s been excellent for Souths and will be a many year starter for them. Mark Nicholls came through the Canberra system until there was no space for him. Both are quality forwards, and I’m anxious to see what Wayne Bennett will make them into.
For about two weeks in 2018 people thought Lachlan Lewis was going to be good; now it’s clear he’s a good defender and a good kick and that’s about it.
And Dave Taylor. Well, he was a gift.