Front Row Contenders
The Raiders have been blessed in the front row department for a number of years now with the experienced quartet of Learoyd-Lahrs, Shillington, Tilse and White complimented by the emergence of a new crop of tearaways. Take a look at the list of candidates for the hotly contested front row positions.
Shillington is a proven performer at all levels of the game, be it for the Raiders, Queensland or Australia and is likely to be one of the side’s starting front rowers in 2014.
Whilst the 30 year old performed admirably for the Raiders in 2013 he will no doubt look to take his game to another level in the upcoming season in an attempt to reclaim his Queensland and Australian jumpers.
In his 22 appearances for the Raiders last year, Shillington averaged the second highest metres gained and the fourth highest offloads for the Raiders.
Averaging 44.2 minutes of game time, Shillington registered two tries, two line breaks, nine tackle breaks, 14 offloads along with an average of 110 metres and 21.1 tackles per match.
Shillington is one of the leaders of the side and Ricky Stuart will call on his experience and leadership qualities to assist in returning the Green Machine to the semi-finals in 2014.
Like Shillington, White is also one of the side’s leaders and one of the most accomplished members of the squad having represented New South Wales and Australia as well as having won a premiership.
Whilst White is nearing the end of his respectable career, he is still one of the most dominant and intimidating front rowers on his day.
In his 20 appearances for the year in 2013 White averaged just under 100 crucial metres per game and 23 authoritative tackles, along with registering two tackle breaks and four offloads.
When a hard carry or a big hit to inspire his team mates is needed, White always stands up no matter how exhausted he is.
This is exactly why he was honoured with the Raiders Coach’s Award at season’s end.
White commands respect amongst his peers but he also repays this respect with playing a leading role in the development of emerging talents such as Paul Vaughan and Shannon Boyd.
The Cooma Colts revealed that feels reinvigorated after representing Ireland at the World Cup and cannot wait to get back out on the field for the Raiders in 2014, where he would love nothing more than to finish his career off with a premiership at his local club.
Tilse is currently the most capped Raider at the club and has been a marvellously consistent front rower for Canberra since his debut in 2007.
The former Junior Kangaroo was one of only two players at the club to have played in every game in 2013 and this impressive feat enabled the tallest player at the club the opportunity to notch up 150 NRL games for his beloved Green Machine.
Tilse has portrayed his durability and toughness by only averaging an impressive 23 games of NRL per year. Given that Tilse plays in arguably the toughest position on a rugby league team, the front-row, this is quite some feat.
The towering front rower has alternated between the starting role and interchange bench in recent seasons and whilst it is yet to be determined which of these roles Stuart elects for him in 2014, the one thing that is certain is that Tilse will no doubt be a part of the first grade line-up if he continues with his form of last year.
Learoyd-Lahrs is the final member of the Raiders’ experienced quartet of front rowers however Raiders fans have been robbed of seeing him at his best on a consistent basis in recent years as injuries have worn the damaging prop down.
At full flight, Raiders enforcer Learoyd-Lahrs is one of the most fearsome propositions for the staunchest of defensive structures around the globe.
Learoyd-Lahrs will look to return to his best in 2014 in what will hopefully be an injury free year for the 28 year old.
The former Test forward provides the Raiders forward pack with an element of explosiveness and intimidation. If the Raiders are to put a dent in this year’s semi-finals series then having Learoyd-Lahrs firing on all cylinders will provide the side with a massive boost.
In Learoyd-Lahrs’ absence in recent years, several young front-rowers have emerged to keep the big fella on his toes.
The greatest threat to the experienced quartet is the young Italian Stallion, Paul Vaughan.
Vaughan enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2013 in which he accomplished a host of achievements including his long-awaited NRL debut, receiving the Rookie of the Year Award at the club’s presentation night as well as selection in the Italian World Cup squad.
With an ability to play at either lock or in the front-row, Vaughan developed into an integral member of the side last year due to the noticeable impact he provided during his spells on the field.
In his 18 appearances for the year, Vaughan registered one try, 13 tackle breaks and three offloads in addition to his average of 94.4 vital metres in attack and 19.1 hard hitting tackles in defence.
The Gungahlin Bulls junior exudes enthusiasm, work ethic and a stellar attitude to improve himself. When you throw in his obvious natural athletic and footballing ability, it is clear that bigger and better things were to come of the 22 year old in the upcoming season.
Mataora is a talented young front rower who held his own in the NRL in his handful of appearances for the Raiders in 2013.
The 23 year old has plenty of leg speed for a big man, a handy offload and has considerable sting in his defence.
He represented the Cook Islands with distinction at the World Cup and his confidence has grown significantly as a result.
After debuting in 2010, Mataora will now enter his 5th season for the Raiders in 2014. He needs to ensure that he is either consistently playing in the NRL or constantly pressing for selection so that he can take the next step in what is sure to be a fruitful career.
After a superb debut season in 2012 in which he registered 12 appearances and took out the club’s Rookie of the Year Award, Nicholls suffered a disappointing campaign last year in which he took the field just twice in first grade due to a broken arm.
Nicholls has since recovered from his injury and judging by his efforts in pre-season, he will be pressing hard for selection on the interchange bench in 2014.
The Leeton Raiders junior has an impressive work-rate for a big man and an underrated toughness to match.
He has been working closely with Assistant Coach and former international Dean Pay and is determined to make up for last year’s frustration.
Nicholls and Mataora will apply plenty of pressure on the experienced quartet of front-rowers throughout the year.
At just 22 years of age, Boyd is already a man mountain weighing in at 122kg and standing at 194cm. With talent to match, Boyd’s is viewed by many viewing him as one of the finest up and coming front rowers in the game.
Front-rowers tend to mature a lot later than players in other positions and unfortunately a series of troublesome injuries hampered Boyd’s progress in 2013 after playing his first season of senior rugby league with Mounties in the NSW Cup last year.
Boyd has been training the house down in the pre-season and has impressed Stuart considerably. Boyd’s game is set to go to another level this year as he is reunited with Dean Pay, who coached the Cowra Magpies junior in the Under 20s Origin side in 2012.
Boyd is currently injury free and in the best shape of his career. Raiders fans should watch this space.
Whilst Lynch is likely to spend the year with Mounties in the NSW Cup, his immense promise and outstanding work-rate entail that he should still be included as one of the front-row candidates at the club.
Lynch graduates through to the Raiders NRL squad after being one of the club’s best forwards in the NYC for a number of years.
The Cowra Magpies junior isn’t the sort of player who seeks the spotlight, but he is the type of player that his teammates love playing alongside.
Lynch now enters his first year of senior rugby league and will look to continue to soak up all the advice and tutelage provided to him by Dean Pay and seasoned forwards such as Tom Learoyd-Lahrs and David Shillington.