raiders season preview

NRL expert Steve Green has put together his mammoth season preview for 2021. We’re running through every club, from his predicted wooden spooners to those he thinks will take out he premiership. Today it’s the Raiders season preview.

2020 recap

The Raiders failed to back up their 2019 Grand Final appearance last year. Although they were up there for most of the year, they never really looked like they were capable of winning the competition. However, I think that the market has underrated just how disrupted the Raiders 2020 season was due to injuries.

Their forward pack was decimated for much of the season and although Starling filled in at 9 admirably, the loss of Hodgson (nine games played) proved to be too much to overcome. At his best, Hodgson is as important to the Raiders as Cam Smith is to the Storm.

They also went into the finals without the likes of Guler (eight games played), Sutton and Horsburgh (six games). Although these guys are not household names, they were all having great season. Their loss, along with Bateman (11 games) being off his best all year, meant the Raiders ran out of puff in week two of the finals.

The Raiders were also the big losers in the crackdown on ruck infringements. In 2019 the Raiders used ruck control tactics to defend their way into the 2019 Grand Final. In 2020 they were the second-most penalised team for ruck infringements. They will need to change this in 2021 if they want avoid being penalised out of games.

Raiders season preview: Losses

A lot of attention has been given to the loss of Bateman and Cotric. While both are stars, I don’t think either are irreplaceable. Bateman in particular was a bit off his best for much of the year, with home sickness and injuries taking their toll. Cotric is sensational when he gets involved, but he did have a habit of falling in and out of games at crucial times. Guys like Valemei and Simonsson have shown they have a ton of potential and will step up in 2021.

Raiders season preview: Gains

While Stuart did not have too much money to throw around, he has managed to pick up a few guys that I rate highly. Ryan James was one of the best forwards in the game before his horror run of injuries. He is looking extremely fit heading into this season. Albert Hopoate has a ton of potential and provides much needed pressure on Scott and Croker in the centres. Caleb Aekins is a great back up for Nicoll-Klokstad at fullback.

Raiders season preview: Rookie radar

Harley Smith-Shields did not get too many chances in 2020, but he is an extremely athletic centre that is held in high regard at the Raiders. While he has Scott and Croker ahead of him, both of these guys struggled for form in 2020. If they do not improve dramatically in 2021, Coach Stuart is sure to give this guy a crack at some stage.

Raiders season preview: Players to watch

George Williams settled into the NRL very quickly and I thought his 2020 form was not given enough credit by the pundits. His running game, kicking game and defence were terrific. With another full pre-season under his belt and a good working relationship with his outside backs, I am expecting Williams to be one of the dominant halfbacks in the NRL in 2021.

Curtis Scott took a little while to warm up. Although he did not have a great season, we saw glimpses of what he can do. The Raiders backline needs him to fire and the premiership-winning centre will improve dramatically in 2021 now that he has the drama of his 2020 arrest behind him. He looked very solid in the trial against Roosters, having put on a few kilos in pure bulk.

Josh Hodgson’s 2020 season was ruined by injury, but he was not in the best form before this occurred. His small frame and front on tackling style saw him exposed up the middle and he made some poor choices with the ball, usually by overplaying his hand. But he is a terrific player and I think we will see Hodgson recapture his 2019 form and lead the Raiders to another Grand Final in 2021.

Raiders season preview: Weaknesses

The Raiders outside backs is where they need to improve in 2021. Croker had one of his worst seasons on record and Scott was exposed in defence on multiple occasions. Rapana struggled with injuries and tried too hard, while Simonsson was out for nearly the entire year. However, all these guys are talented players and with lots of young guys breathing down their necks, I think they get the job done and finish the chances created by their star halves pairing.

Raiders season preview: Strengths

Guys like Papalli, Wighton and Tapine finished the season among the best players in the NRL. With recruits like Ryan James and Corey Harawire-Naera, the Raiders forwards have more depth than any other team in the competition. Overall, only Souths have a better all-round squad on my ratings.

Raiders season preview: Ladder prediction

2nd

NRL season previews

Manly
Dragons
Bulldogs
Broncos
Knights

Storm
Souths
Warriors
Eels

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