Whew! The blank slate. A chance to start anew. A new year is here and another rugby league season will soon follow.
Last year we had a crack at 20 predictions, and we even got some right! Joe Tapine did break out! Hudson Young did prove his worth. I did tweet about missing Jordan Rapana at least 12 times, then he came back before round three. Sure I got some things wrong (lol 10 try assists for John Bateman), but I’ve decided that instead of self reflection, I should let my minor success go to my head, branch out and go for 21 of the boldest predictions you will hear.
1. Hudson Young will start at back row
Most smarter people than me (and also NRL.com) think Corey Harawira-Naera is a shoe-in to start there. Harawira-Naera will have a proper pre-season under his belt, and will be ready to rock in 2021. I think however, that Hudson has proven he’s a dynamic runner, can do more as a ball-player than people realise and is a rock solid defender in a way that Harawira-Naera wasn’t in 2020 (or before).
2. Hudson will have five try assists
And they’ll mostly be to Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad. Call it a hunch, but towards the end of the season Young was getting that large left arm free, ready to pop a ball around the corner. Charnze was always looming, it just didn’t quite come off. Hudson will utilise this to put the Kiwi into space, and rack up the stats in the process.
3. Corey Horsburgh will be the breakout star of the Raiders pack
Ok maybe this doesn’t sound bold but consider this. Dunamis Lui was so huge for the Raiders in 2020. Sia Soliola has been a rock for five years now. Guler, James, Sutton, Harawira-Naera or Hudson Young. Last time I listed them all I forgot someone. There’s a freaking unending plethora of talent in the middle and they’re fighting for spots.
But after his 2020 was cruelly cut short, the Red Horseman of the Apocalypse (i’m pretty that’s yours Tim) will be unleashed on the NRL, partnering Josh Papalii and Joe Tapine as the Raiders stars of the middle. That’s plenty of mobility, plenty of offloads and plenty hard to bring down.
3a. Bonus prediction: Corey will play origin
This is hardly ‘bold’, but far out he would have played in 2020 if he wasn’t injured. The options available to the Maroons looks a bit rosier now than it did before 2020, but Red will still be there.
4. I will comment on how good Ryan James looks so often it will get creepy
Seriously. Have you seen him?
5. Jack Wighton will be better in 2021 than he was in 2020
Right? Now that’s bold. Jack was pretty flipping good in 2020. But for all his brilliance, Jack is still learning his position. As a fullback, he had an error in his game, until the last half of 2017 and 2018 when they pretty much disappeared (if you want to see further explanation read this). 2020 didn’t so much see an evaporation of his error rate, but it did decrease as the season went on. Jack played 22 NRL games including finals in 2020. Through the first half he had 20 errors. Through the rest he had 12. All three of his clean sheets (no errors) were in the second half of the year.
If Jack can reduce handling error he’ll go a long way to extending his effectiveness. And that should scare the crap out of the competition.
6. Jack won’t win the Dally-M though
Stands to reason the guy that wins the Dally-M gets better that he might win the Dally-M again? Of course that’s not how it works, and I can guarantee you that Jack won’t be given a shot in 2020. I don’t know how they are going to change the rules for 2021, but they may as well call the 2021 Dally-M the ‘not Jack Wighton medal’.
7. But he will start at six in origin.
Maybe play players are their best positions hey Freddy?
8. The Raiders will retain Hudson, but not Emre
They’re going to be coming for the Raiders middle depth throughout 2021. Emre and Hudson are two prime candidates for the vultures to swoop.
I don’t really have a good reason to think Emre will leave. Certainly he hasn’t said anything that would indicate his departure, but there’s a lot of competition for spots, and plenty of pull factors dragging him up the Federal Highway. Hudson should be a priority above priorities, and I reckon we’ll keep him. Probably need to keep an eye Matt Timoko while we’re at it.
9. Someone serious will wonder on proper media if Jarrod Croker should play wing
Jarrod shouldn’t play on the wing. If you still think so please read this. But because the Green Machine have a bunch of talent and not a lot of certainty, some talking head will say ‘maybe Jarrod should play wing’ at some point. And I will cry, and Jon Tuxworth will fight someone.
10. Josh Hodgson is going to be good
This normally wouldn’t be bold, but the reaction to this piece has got me thinking most people simply don’t realise how good Josh is. He’s shown that he’s capable of putting the work in to get back on the field, and he’ll remain the Raiders premier rake throughout the season.
11. But that doesn’t mean Tommy S won’t see the field
Josh will get the majority of minutes at hooker, as you’d expect but pending the NSW legal system, Tommy S is going to be an asset to the Raiders in 2021. He’ll mostly do it short stints at the end of halves or perhaps the last 20 of games – akin to how the Green Machine once used Kurt Baptiste.
12. Josh, George and Jack will get the balance right
But it will take time. Unfortunately the teething process was derailed early in 2020 when Hodgson went out with an injury. As we pointed out, Josh was actually feeding George more ball than people realise, but there was unquestionably an issue with picking the moments. This will take time, but they’ll get there this year, and the Raiders will be better for it.
13. Bailey Simonsson and Matt Timoko are going to score more than 10 tries each.
Look I’m not exactly sure how this one fits together. Bailey can make the spot on the wing outside Croker his own, but will it be Croker who he shares that side with? I feel like Timoko will be given first crack at that side if Jarrod isn’t ready to play round 1. But he could also unseat Curtis Scott if he doesn’t fire. The long and the short of it though, is that both will be excellent finishers in 2021.
14. The Raiders will find a replacement for Nic Cotric on tik tok
Nic was an early adopter to everyone’s favourite lockdown discovery. Now Nic has headed to Sydney, and the Milk will need a new tik tok star. My guess is Siliva Havili. My dude has moves.
15. Elliott Whitehead will continue to be Canberra’s best kept secret.
Smelly has formed quite the connection with Jack and Jarrod, and is a tremendous defender. He played every minute that Sticky would let him in 2020. He’ll be excellent in 2021 again, and people outside Canberra will continue to not notice. Mind you that’s not particularly bold. Ok let’s try again.
15a. Elliott Whitehead will finally get noticed.
I mean he freaking played half in a win and barely anyone outside Canberra noticed. This is proper bold. The Sydney rugby league media will catch on at one point. Maybe if he fills in at fullback….
16. Josh Papalii will run over Damian Cook
He did it in the 2019 preliminary final. He did it in game two of origin in 2020. He’ll make it three for three in the 2021 grand final.
17. I will write at least three reviews while on my second or third whisky.
It’s not a problem I can still write officer I’m good.
18. Harry Rushton will get a run in the big leagues
Another hunch. He’s young, and Canberra have enough edge forwards and the Raiders will be hoping the only way he finds the field will be through outperforming expectations. But they also need to start looking for a future replacement for Elliott Whitehead (not this year or any time soon calm down) and it would’t hurt to find some development minutes for Harry.
19. Only 1 of Sam Williams, Sia Soliola and Jordan Rapana will retire at the end of 2021
Sam is too young to retire. Even if he doesn’t sign on with Canberra, he will sign on with a super league team to get a bit of that nest egg money. Jordan feels like he’ll keep playing until his body won’t let him. Sia though, feels to me like he’s ready to take his off field leadership to the next level.
20. I will be there in bay 72 at Bruce on a sunny Sunday afternoon
Screw this heinous virus and all the hell it has wrought. 2021 will hopefully be a turning point where the pain around the worldwide can subside.
It’s hardly a big deal, but I haven’t been to a footy game since the 2019 grand final. I’d like to make the pilgrimage back to god’s country, sit where I used to in Bay 72 with Rob and maybe a beer in the Sunday afternoon sun.
*crosses fingers, knocks on wood and throws entire salt mine over his shoulder*
21. Raiders win it all
To paraphrase Maximus Decimus Meridus, if you find yourself at Homebush, watching Jarrod Croker lift the trophy, do not be troubled. For you are in Elysium, and you are already dead!