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 there is one player at the club who has a mortgage on a position it is Shaun Fensom at lock.
However, with the dual Meninga Medallist recovering from an ACL reconstruction, someone has to step up to fill Fensom’s void at the start of the season.
Let’s take a look at the players who may potentially wear the number 13 jersey at some stage this year:
Fensom has been described by David Furner and now Ricky Stuart as the “glue that holds the side together.”
For this reason, it would be ludicrous to pry the number 13 jersey from the tense grip of Fensom, however Stuart’s may be forced into doing so to start the year with his star lock still recovering from an ACL reconstruction.
When fully fit though, there is no question that Fensom will be the side’s lock given the Herculean efforts he has consistently delivered since making his debut back in Round 5, 2009.
The statistics that Fensom continuously compiles are mind-boggling and convey exactly why he is such a favourite with Dream Team coaches all over Australia.
In 2014, Fensom averaged 44.6 tackles and 112.3 metres in attack per game and ultimately finished third in the Meninga Medal count despite missing the last six games.
Fensom’s ball-playing has also improved significantly of late. His deft and accurate passing game provided a link between the ruck area and his fellow forwards or halves.
What goes more unnoticed than his underrated ball-playing though is the work he does off the ball whilst the Raiders are in possession.
While his importance to the Raiders often goes unnoticed externally by representative selectors, his team mates and fans appreciate just how treasured he is in the Nation’s Capital.
Nuuausala arrives in the Nation’s Capital with big wraps and deservedly so.
A ‘wrecking ball’ style of player with 15 Test Caps for New Zealand, Nuuausala was a vital ingredient in the Sydney Roosters premiership winning outfit of 2013.
The 27 year old was brought to the club by Stuart because of his win-at-all-costs mentality. Nuuausala knows how to win and consistently rises to the occasion, especially in the big games.
With an ability to play at either prop or lock, Nuuausala may well be the one packing into the back of the scrum in place of Fensom at the start the year.
Based on his tremendous season in 2014, Vaughan is almost certain to be a part of Canberra’s top 17 in 2015.
In just his second year of first grade, Vaughan evolved into an integral member of Ricky Stuart’s top 17 and as he famously proved against the Melbourne Storm at GIO Stadium, a match-winner.
Whether he is in the starting side or off the bench, the self-named Italian Stallion was a consistently high contributor for the Green Machine. Vaughan has brilliant leg speed which enables him to chew up countless metres and his presence in the defensive line certainly leaves opponents wary.
Playing at either prop or at lock once Fensom was injured, Vaughan averaged 23 tackles and just under 130 metres per game in 2014 and he is tipped to reach similar heights in 2015 given his efforts over the pre-season.
The Country Origin representative leads the preseason testing in dead lifts and is ranked in the top three for bench press, squats, weighted chin up and prone bench pull.
CLICK HERE to watch Vaughan’s season highlights and read his season review and statistics from 2014.
21 year old Luke Bateman is a dark horse to play lock for the Raiders at some point in 2015.
Ironically, Bateman is very much in the Shaun Fensom mould; a courageous player who gets through a mountain of work in the middle of the field and one who lets his actions do the talking.
Bateman has captained the Raiders Holden Cup side for the past two years however he spent a large portion of 2014 playing for the Souths Logan Magpies in the Intrust Super Cup to further his development.
Whilst playing in the Holden Cup, Bateman represented Queensland Under 18’s and Under 20’s with distinction. He also played in the Auckland Nines in 2013 and has been selected to do so again this year.
Like Fensom was at his age, Bateman is mature beyond his years. Although it is highly likely that Bateman will play out the year with Mounties in the VB NSW Cup, he may be blooded at some stage if his form warrants selection.
Author: Simon McGuinness I Twitter: @Simon_mcg1