It’s that time of the year again where Raiders fans across the country gather together to discuss their ideas for the best possible line-up for the upcoming season and as such, Raiders.com.au thought we would assist you all by providing a descriptive list of contenders for each position.
The entire NRL squad will have two opportunities to showcase their wares leading into the club’s first match of the 2015 season on Sunday the 8th of March against the Cronulla Sharks at Remondis Stadium.
The first full-format trial for the year kicks off on the 7th of February against the Melbourne Storm in Griffith followed by the ‘Return to Seiffert’ trial against the Newcastle Knights on the 21st of February.
These trials will of course be preceded by the Auckland Nines Tournament which will take place from the 31st of January through to the 1st of February.
After a productive pre-season, Coach Ricky Stuart is thoroughly looking forward to the upcoming trials as they will provide him with an invaluable building block in terms of selecting the right on-field formula.
“I’ve been very impressed with the efforts of the players during the pre-season and by the way they have handled themselves,” Stuart said.
“Their hard work, coupled with the addition of a handful of talented recruits will ensure that there is plenty of competition for spots in 2015. The upcoming trials are an opportunity for several players to push forward their claims to be a part of the top 17 for Round 1.”
Following the acquisition of Sisa Waqa from the Melbourne Storm and the emergence of promising youngsters such as Jeremy Hawkins and Jordan Rapana, the Raiders are fortunate enough to be well-stocked on the flanks for 2015.
Sisa Waqa is one of the major recruits by the Raiders over the off-season and shapes as an almost certainty to be one of the side’s wingers for Round 1.
The flying Fijian stood alongside Jarrod Croker in third place on the top try scorer’s list in 2014 with 18 tries and will bring a wealth of experience and a proven finishing ability to Canberra’s right hand flank.
Waqa, who has scored 43 tries in just 74 appearances, has also proven to be a tremendous mentor to the club’s up and coming outside backs.
The 28 year old has demonstrated tremendous leadership qualities throughout the pre-season and can be regularly seen encouraging and motivating the younger brigade.
On his day there are few more entertaining finishers in the game than Edrick Lee, alas unfortunately for Lee and Raiders fans, the emerging talent has been struck down by injury in consecutive seasons.
Since his debut in 2012, Lee has not reached double figures in appearances for a season. Lee managed just eight games last year due to a Lisfranc injury to his foot in Round 3 against the Gold Coast Titans, a week after he scored the match winning try against the Newcastle Knights.
As such, Lee is determined to turn his fortunes around and become a dominant force for the Green Machine over the course of the entire season.
Lee possesses arguably the best aerial ability in the club and will be a frequent target for the likes of Mitch Cornish, Sam Williams and Blake Austin’s kicks.
CLICK HERE to see Lee’s season review and statistics from 2014.
After shining for Mounties in the VB NSW Cup all year, Hawkins was rewarded with his long awaited NRL debut in Round 24 and his promising performances on the wing ensured that he kept his position for the remainder of the season.
As it stands, the exciting prospect is impressively yet to taste defeat in his first grade career.
Hawkins, a former Junior Kiwis representative, is a dynamic and powerful ball runner with speed to burn. He was amongst the competition’s highest try scorers in the VB NSW Cup and makes many valuable metres out of dummy half.
Given the competition for spots in the backline for 2015, the 22 year old, who is capable of playing both wing and centre, has been working exceptionally hard in the gym over the pre-season.
Hawkins leads the backs in bench press, squats, deadlifts, hang cleans and in the bench throw.
CLICK HERE to see Hawkins’ season review and statistics from 2014.
Any memories of Bill Tupou’s forgettable start to 2014 were quickly eroded when he finished the year off strongly by scoring three impressive tries in the final five matches in the NRL.
Tupou was dropped from the Raiders line-up during the first half of last year after a series of handling and positional play errors however he was determined to prove his doubters wrong and went on to fight his way back into the side later on in the season.
The 24 year old registered under 100 metres gained in just one of his final five matches for the year and his three tries in these fixtures proved his ability as a strong finisher.
His impressive finish to the year saw Tupou selected in the Tongan National side for the Test against the Papua New Guinean Kumuls at season’s end in which he crossed for an eye-catching try.
Tupou’s strong finish to 2014 should give him plenty of confidence leading into 2015 as he looks to cement a regular spot in Stuart’s top 17 amidst pressure from the likes of new recruit Sisa Waqa and the emergence of the likes of Jordan Rapana, Brenko Lee and Jeremy Hawkins.
CLICK HERE to watch Tupou’s season highlights and read his season review and statistics from 2014.
Whilst Rapana’s preferred position is fullback, he is also well-equipped to play wing with ease and if Jack Wighton is to secure the number one jersey for the first match of the season, Rapana provides Ricky Stuart with another option out wide.
Despite a few fumbles early on, Rapana was terrific on debut in Round 22 with his enthusiasm, pace and work rate leaving Stuart no choice but to retain him at fullback for the next week’s clash against the St George Illawarra Dragons.
Unfortunately, Rapana suffered the rarity of fracturing his skull against the Dragons and the injury subsequently ended the 25 year old’s season, however he did enough in his brief time in the top grade to earn a contract extension with the Green Machine.
The Cook Islands representative averaged the highest amount of metres per game of any Raiders player in 2014 (159.2), scored an eye-catchingly scything try and broke an incredible 23 tackles in just two appearances to emerge as a strong contender to be the Raiders fullback in 2015.
CLICK HERE to watch Rapana’s season highlights and read his season review and statistics from 2014.
Author: Simon McGuinness I Twitter: @Simon_mcg1