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.”
The options for the halfback position at the Raiders shapes as a show-down between incumbent number seven Mitch Cornish and the returning Sam Williams.
Both players are local juniors who have trod similar paths on their journeys through the Raiders junior grades. The talented duo each captained their respective sides with distinction, represented the Junior Kangaroos and were named in the NYC Team of the Year in 2010 (Williams) and 2012-13 (Cornish).
The two are friends off the field, but have been competing with each other fiercely throughout the pre-season in a bid to oust the other to the club’s number seven jersey.
Fortunately for all the contenders for Canberra's 2015 halfback spot is the fact that they get to learn first-hand of the greatest Raiders halfback of all time, Ricky Stuart.
A year after Williams’ departure to the Dragons and after positional experiments and subsequent reversions with Josh McCrone and Jack Wighton, Cornish was able to make his long awaited NRL debut in Round 11 2014 against the North Queensland Cowboys at GIO Stadium.
Cornish was initially warmed into first grade by Stuart from the interchange bench however the Goulburn Stockmen junior finished the year with two appearances in the number seven jersey.
The 2013 Under 20’s Origin representative led the side to three victories to finish the year off and firmly put his case forward to be the club’s long term number seven.
Cornish possesses a clever kicking game, refined passing skills and is an excellent on-field organiser. The 21 year old would be a favourite to start the season at halfback if it had not been for a certain off-season acquisition.
CLICK HERE to read Cornish’s season review and statistics from 2014.
That acquisition of course is Williams, who returns from stints with St George Illawarra and the Catalans Dragons, whom he steered to the semi-finals in the English Super League last year.
The Cooma Stallions junior was the heir apparent to be the Raiders long term halfback due to his Man of the Match first grade debut against the Sharks back in Round 1 2011 and promising form over his next 41 appearances in lime green.
Unfortunately, with the likes of Terry Campese and Josh McCrone blocking his path to regular first grade appearances, Williams made the difficult decision to leave the club he grew up supporting in search of more regular NRL opportunities.
Fortunately however, the stars have aligned and Williams is back at the Green Machine and motivated to wrestle the number seven jersey back from Cornish.
Williams is a marvellous on-field tactician who is blessed with an effective kicking and passing game and an innate ability to straighten, throw a deceptive dummy and scythe through the defensive line.
The ever-reliable Josh McCrone is being groomed as a super-sub for 2015; 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 now 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.
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, who is able to play either five-eighth or halfback, has an eye-catching junior representative resume.
The Goulburn Bulldogs junior received 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