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.”
If Jarrod Croker’s dazzling form over the last couple of years hadn’t already cemented his position as the side’s premier left-edge centre, then being granted with the honour of captaining this proud club certainly did.
The question is however, who will partner Croker in the centres?
One of the traits that led to Ricky Stuart anointing Croker as Terry Campese’s successor to the Canberra Raiders captaincy is the ultra-consistency he has demonstrated over the last couple of years. Not once since his debut back in 2009 has Croker played under 20 games in a season and he was last year awarded the Meninga Medal for Player of the Year.
Stuart would not just hand the captaincy to anyone; on top of his ever-growing leadership qualities, Croker is a staple figure of the side and a prominent attacking spark out wide.
Playing in every minute of every game for the Raiders in 2014, Croker finished the year as the side’s leading point scorer with 202 points (3rd in the competition) and leading try scorer with 18 tries (3rd in the competition), whilst also having the second most line breaks and tackle breaks.
When you throw in his deadly-accurate goal kicking success rate of 85% in 2014, it is hard to imagine anyone else donning the number three jersey in 2015.
CLICK HERE to see Croker’s season review and statistics from 2014.
Brenko Lee is primed to take the next step in his budding NRL career in 2015 after debuting last year, and he is well-placed to snare the vacant right centre position.
The Logan Brothers junior had been a standout throughout the junior grades but was faced with a steep learning curve during his first ever NRL pre-season last season.
To his credit, Lee worked extremely hard to put himself in contention for selection and made his debut in Round 15. It was in the following week’s game against the Wests Tigers though that the Queensland Under 20’s representative announced himself as one of the brightest prospects in the game with two tries, one a spectacular chip-and-chase effort.
Whilst Lee spent the first half of his four games in 2014 on the wing, he played the final two in his favoured position of centre until a troublesome hamstring injury ended his season.
If Jack Wighton is retained at fullback, another excellent pre-season effort may see Lee partnering Croker in the centres next year, and if that is the case, 20 year old will fulfil one of his dreams in playing alongside cousin Edrick.
CLICK HERE to see Lee's season review and statistics from 2014.
The name Haydon Hodge may be relatively unknown to the majority of Raiders fans but rest assured, the kid can play.
Hodge was a star of the Raiders’ junior grades and represented the Australian Schoolboy’s in 2009, scoring a hat-trick of tries against a touring Great Britain side at GIO Stadium.
Alas, Hodge suffered repeat knee injuries in 2011 and again in 2013 whilst playing NSW Cup for Mounties. This enforced a year-long layoff in 2014 to ensure that his knee fully recovered.
It looks to have worked a treat with Hodge flourishing during the pre-season.
Hodge leads the backs in testing results for the 1200 metre run and in the prone bench pull and is placed in the top three for bench press, bench throw, anaerobic testing and speed testing.
The Canowindra junior is lightning quick and deceptively strong and is capable of playing fullback and wing however he is concentrating his efforts into the centre role for 2015.
Whilst Lee is primarily a winger at the NRL level, he played the majority of his NYC career in the centres and represented Queensland Under 20’s in the position.
When injury struck in the club’s backline stocks at the end of last year, Lee also featured in the centres with Hawkins switched to the wing.
Lee is brilliantly evasive and possesses arguably the best aerial ability in the club meaning that he will be a frequent target for the likes of Mitch Cornish, Sam Williams and Blake Austin’s kicks.
Although Lee will most likely be chosen on the wing, he does provide Stuart with another option in the centres.
CLICK HERE to see Lee’s season review and statistics from 2014.
Similar to Lee, Hawkins has only played on the wing in his three appearances in the NRL however he proved he was equally adept at playing in both positions in the lower grades.
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 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.
Although he is yet to make his first grade debut, 20 year old Andrew Heffernan is also a potential candidate to play centre for the Raiders in 2015 despite the Junee Diesels junior still developing as a player.
Despite being able to play in a variety of position in the backline, Heffernan is being groomed as a centre to utilise his wonderful attacking skills and pace.
The Under 18’s Australian Institute of Sport Captain is currently undergoing his second pre-season with the NRL squad and was a part of last year’s Auckland Nines side in which he scored an impressive try.
This pre-season he leads the backs in squad jumps and is ranked in the top three for weighted squats.
Author: Simon McGuinness I Twitter: @Simon_mcg1