March. After what seems an age the herald of Autumn (barring seasonal shifts due to climate change) is finally upon us, and with it comes the joy of footy. There’s also a host of dubious rule changes, plus some new faces in the starting 17.
Round 1 sees the Green Machine take on the reincarnated form of their historical rivals the Tigers in the capital. Those keen to be there on game day should be warned they could cop a bit of rain so make sure to pack a poncho or wheelie bin size garbage bag.
The damp conditions will make for a cautious start to the Raiders 2021 campaign – expect both teams to play conservatively if the ball proves slippery. The new rules will be conducive to it. This obviously is not what fans want to see for the season’s curtain raiser but a premiership requires a solid foundation. Canberra have proven over the last few seasons that they’re more than capable of playing consistent footy over a grinding 80 minutes, rather than razzle-dazzle that peters out in the last quarter.
BIG BOPPER WATCH
Josh Papali vs Joe Ofahengaue
The Raiders perennial props up against the Tigers newly acquired tall timber. They’re the polar opposites of the prop body-type: Papa carries that low centre of gravity and battering ram physique, Ofahengaue the tall, rangy type that leans into the line and uses his limbs to brush off would-be tacklers. Papa is a known quantity of the highest calibre, so it’s definitely the Tigers newcomer who has the most to prove.
George Williams vs Luke Brooks
Williams proved himself an adept running 7 in his debut season in the NRL. Tack on his genuine kicking ability and you have one of the more unpredictable halves in the comp. Brooks can produce magic on occasion and certainly provides consistency, but he’ll need to take it up a notch if the Tigers are to be a genuine threat this year.
BACK IT UP
Curtis Scott vs BJ Leilua
Scott suffered through a torrid 2020 but ended the year cleared of charges and with NSW police being ordered to cough up some cash after a wrongful arrest. 2021 is the circuit breaker he needs, with team and fans both hoping he can produce the goods. Leilua needs no introduction here, but it’s fair to say he’s yet to reach the heights he did in Canberra for the Tigers. The Raiders know he can be a handful when in form and should shutdown in attacking play that gets him involved. Seb Kris and Bailey Simonsson will have their hands full on the Raiders left wing.
BENCHMARK TO BEAT
Ryan James vs Russell Packer
Welcome Ryan! The former Titans veteran gets a chance to don his favourite childhood colours, hopefully providing some starch off the bench. Canberra is a good place to ease into the twilight years (just ask Sia) and we hope RJ enjoys his time here. Packer remains a contentious figure, capable of big metres but also liable for brain snaps that can derail the Tigers game.
LAST TIME THEY MET
The Raiders took the win (14-6) over Wests in round 5 of the stop/start 2020 season in a low scoring match at Campbelltown. Luke Brooks scored the Tigers only try when he cleaned up a cross-field chip in the first half. Canberra would have to wait until after the break for points, with Wighton spearing through a disorganised defence for a try. Russell Packer got binned for interfering in a quick tap, and then George Williams served up the perfect grubber for Cotric to score in the corner.
A new segment where we use the Google random number generator to bring you a different Raider each week (rough calculations say it’ll take 18 seasons to cover 400 players so bear with us)
Raider #225 Darren Porter
Porter played just 15 games in green as a forward from 2001-2004. At nearly 29 years of age he was the oldest player to make his first grade debut in Canberra until Clay Priest. Porter’s busiest season was 2002 where he made 9 NRL appearances, although he never scored in any of his 15 games. A bit of digging shows he did some radio work for 2CC 1206 in the years after footy.
THE FINAL SIREN
The Tigers look set to improve on 2020, but to be legit they’ll have to overcome a Raiders outfit that has well and truly cemented its spot in the big four over the last three seasons. The home ground advantage and playing cohesion should see the Raiders home
Raiders win 22-8!
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