Before the NRL season started this year, I tipped an experienced Canberra Raiders side to win the 2021 premiership – but they finished as the NRL’s biggest disappointment.
The once-mighty Green Machine only managed 10 wins (14 losses) this season and with eighth position on the line in the final round, they were trounced 40-16 by an injury ravaged Sydney Roosters.
Their premiership window is about to be slammed shut unless they can fix things quickly when preseason starts in November.
The Raiders season went off the rails early with injuries and suspensions to key players, the highly publicised George Williams debacle, Joe Tapine’s wife publicly criticising the Ricky Stuart for his bench rotations on social media and rumours the coach had lost the dressing room.
Off-field dramas throughout the season were a big distraction and likely contributed to their on-field woes.
They have lost that resilience and defensive resolve they had shown in recent years. Their bumbling attack looked slow, stale and outdated.
Their Dally M and Clive Churchill medal winning five-eighth Jack Wighton was a shadow of the player he was during the previous two seasons and they lacked a quality halfback following the departure of English international, George Williams.Embed from Getty Images
Their current roster looks better suited to the 2019 game.
I feel they need to move on from the likes of Sia Soliola, Dunamis Lui, Siliva Havilli and Sam Williams. I am also not convinced that Ryan James is a good fit.
Captain Jarrod Croker had an injury riddled season and was well below his best. I believe it would in both club and player’s best interest to part ways, as the club has some quality outside backs coming through – although Croker is contracted until 2024 which will make things difficult for the Raiders.
They need to find a quality halfback with the club reportedly considering Luke Brooks, Ash Taylor, or Mitchell Pearce. An experienced head like Pearce would be the perfect fit and a quality foil for Wighton to regain his best form.
I would shift Charnze Nicholl-Klokstad to centre to accommodate young speedster Xavier Savage at fullback and commit to the dynamic Tom Starling at hooker.
Perhaps Stuart needs to evolve Joe Tapine’s game into a lock forward similar to Panthers and NSW no.13 Isaah Yeo.
I have read many people suggest Hodgson should be shifted to lock, but he is not the type of player who will take strong carries and make plenty of metres coming out of yardage. The team also needs a halfback calling the shots and guiding the team around the park, rather than Hodgson from dummy half or lock forward.
Hodgson is contracted until the end of 2022, but I would question whether he should be part of the teams plans moving forward or if the club should attempt to move him on. If he is to remain a Raider, I believe his best position would be the no.14 utility role.
Ricky Stuart needs to refresh his roster to better suit the current game under the new rules and refresh the teams attacking structures.
And perhaps most importantly, he needs to refresh and evolves his own coaching style.