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.”
Blake Austin appears to be the favourite to inherit Terry Campese’s number six jersey however the talented pivot will be kept on his toes by several other worthy candidates.
In a nutshell, Austin was bought by the club to play five-eighth and whilst nothing is certain in the world of rugby league, his efforts over pre-season thus far have seen the 23 year old emerge us the leading candidate to don the Raiders’ number six jersey.
Austin hasn’t taken long to settle in at the Nation’s Capital. He is a vocal member at training, which is a vital element for playing in the halves, and has led the way in the 1200 metre run and anaerobic testing.
After stints at Penrith and Wests, Austin is determined and to make Canberra his home and hungry to secure the five-eighth role for 2015 and beyond.
“I’m not coming here expecting to be handed the number six jersey, I want to earn it,” Austin said. “I plan on playing five-eighth and I will endeavour to work as hard as I can to ensure that I do.
"There are no favours handed out in the NRL so I want to work as hard as I can to make sure that Ricky thinks I'm the best man for the job and that my new team mates respect his decision.”
“There is a great opportunity for Blake here at the club in the position that he wants to play,” Stuart added.
“He has impressed me so far; he’s willing to compete and when you’re willing to compete you’re always going to be in the fight and that’s what I like about him.”
Whilst Wighton looks to be the favourite to snare the fullback role given the way he excelled in the position at the end of 2014, he also remains an option at five-eighth.
Given his breathtaking natural ability, Wighton must be in the Raiders’ line-up, the question is where?
Blessed with speed, footwork, ball skills and uncanny instincts, Wighton can play virtually any position in the backline.
The Country Origin representative grew up playing five-eighth and has played in the position for NSW and Australia at a junior level. Although he had mixed results playing five-eighth last year, it must not be forgotten that Wighton is still only 21 years old and still developing as a player.
That alone is a tantalising thought for any Raiders fan.
CLICK HERE to watch Wighton’s season highlights and read his season review and statistics from 2014.
In the lead up to 2015, the ever-reliable Josh McCrone is being groomed as a super-sub; a player brought on to lift the tempo of the play in favour of the Green Machine.
It is a role that McCrone is well versed to play and it will put his energy, fitness and creativity to good use.
Whilst the ‘super-sub’ generally comes on and plays hooker, McCrone also provides Stuart with another option in the halves given that he has over 100 games of experience in the playmaking role.
If injuries strike in the halves, the Raiders are fortunate to have the option of calling on McCrone, especially with the depth the club enjoys in the hooking department.
The 26 year old is the most durable player at the club having not missed a game in four years and played his heart out for his beloved Raiders on each occasion.
Amidst the increased competition for spots in the halves and at hooker this year, McCrone has upped the ante in pre-season and is ranked in the top three for the 1200 metre run and in the bench press for the backs.
CLICK HERE to read McCrone’s season review and statistics from 2014.
21 year old Jack Ahearn is predominantly known as a fullback but he can also slot into five-eighth with ease as he did for the VB NSW Cup representative team which played as a curtain raiser before Origin 3 at Suncorp Stadium.
The talented local junior possesses wonderful hands and intuitive vision as well as being a dynamic ball runner and an opportunistic support player.
Although he is yet to make his NRL debut, Ahearn was a junior representative star for the Raiders having represented the Australian Schoolboys, Junior Kangaroos and being named in the NYC Team of the Year.
After graduating from the NYC at the conclusion of 2012, Ahearn has been furthering his development by playing for Souths Logan Magpies in the Intrust Super Cup and Mounties in the VB NSW Cup.
At just 18 years of age, Lachlan Croker has impressed all and sundry in the way he has handled the entire course of the 2015 pre-season. He has exuded maturity beyond his years and demonstrated talents that has team mates in his position nervous.
For these reasons, Croker may well get an opportunity in the top grade at some point this year to further his development.
Already, Croker has an eye-catching junior representative resume.
The Goulburn Bulldogs junior recieved the Player's Player Award in consecutive years in the Harold Matthews and again in the SG Ball last year as well as making his NYC debut following the conclusion of the SG Ball season.
Along the way he also represented NSW Under 18's and was selected in the NSW Origin Pathways Camp by former Raiders legend and current Blues Coach Laurie Daley.
Due to these achievements, Croker, a nephew of the club's most capped player Jason Croker, was awarded the Gordon McLucas Memorial Junior Representative Player of the Year at the 2014 Meninga Medal Presentation Night.
Fortunately, Croker has a level-head on his shoulders and is under no illusion that success will be handed to him. He will continue to work hard in the lower grades and trust in Stuart's development plan for him.
Author: Simon McGuinness I Twitter: @Simon_mcg1