The back-row looms as an interesting selection decision for Ricky Stuart with the likes of Papalii, Soliola, Kennedy and Edwards expected to be kept on their toes by a new brigade of up and coming players such as Patrick Mago and Tevita Pangai Junior.
With a granite-like frame, a powerful running game and shoulders that show no mercy in defence, Papalii once again confirmed his standing as one of the best young forwards in the world in 2014, and the Raiders premier back-rower.
The softly spoken enforcer is fast becoming a crowd favourite of the Raiders faithful and has undeniably emerged from comparisons to former club great Ruben Wiki to become a fantastic player in his own right.
Papalii is one of the first players chosen for the Raiders and a regular member of the Queensland and Australian representative sides.
A big play by the Logan Brothers junior can turn the momentum of a match, inspire his team mates and strike fear into the opposition.
CLICK HERE to read Papalii's season review and statistics from 2014.
Soliola brings to the Raiders a wealth of experience from the NRL, English Super League and the international stage.
The 28 year old is a classy back-rower with tremendous leadership qualities, an incisive running game and an unrelenting appetite for work in defence.
By joining the Raiders, Soliola is reunited with Ricky Stuart, the coach who hand-picked him to make his debut for the Roosters in 2005 at just 18 years of age.
“Sia brings a lot of strengths to our roster that will assist in us continuing to build a successful culture here at the club,” Stuart said.
“He has a lot of experience and possesses a winning personality that lifts the culture wherever he goes. He is definitely a role model for our younger players and a real asset to the club both on and off the field.”
Soliola arrives in the Nation’s Capital after scoring a pivotal try in St Helen’s 2014 Grand Final victory and captaining Samoa at the 2013 Rugby League World Cup with distinction.
In his two years at the club, Edwards has proven to be a consistent and hard-working back-rower with an ability to inflict some serious pain on the opposition in defence.
Edwards harbours a strong ambition to cement himself as a starting back-rower at the Raiders and has been training appropriately this pre-season to fulfil his quest.
Despite his desire, Edwards is the ultimate team player and given his valuable ability to play on an edge on in the middle, Stuart may elect to play Edwards from the interchange bench in 2015.
Regardless of whether Edwards plays on an edge or in the middle, one thing is for certain; he will play his absolute heart out every time he runs out onto the field in a Canberra jersey.
CLICK HERE to read Edwards' season review and statistics from 2014.
2015 can undeniably be titled as Jarrad Kennedy’s breakthrough year with the hard working back-rower establishing himself as a regular feature of Ricky Stuart’s top 17.
On top of becoming a consistent first grader, Kennedy can also take a great deal of confidence out of the fact that he finished in the top five for polling for the Meninga Medal and should use the confidence derived from his breakthrough year to build for an even better 2015.
Kennedy has earned a reputation as one of the fittest, if not the fittest forward at the club and his outstanding fitness levels again came to prominence during pre-season testing, which will give him the best possible opportunity to improve on his feats from 2015.
The 25 year old has posted the best results out of the forwards for the 1200m run, anaerobic testing, weighted chin-ups and was ranked in the top three for squats.
Given how hard Kennedy has worked to play regular first grade, the Tuross Heads junior will not be letting go of his position in the side without a fight.
CLICK HERE to read Kennedy's season review and statistics from 2014.
Mago is an outstanding young prospect who will push heavily for first grade honours in 2015.
The 20 year old graduated from the Raiders NYC side last year and within that competition Mago proved to be consistently one of the team’s better players.
Along the way, Mago also represented Queensland Under 18’s, Under 20’s and the Junior Kangaroos in 2013 and 2014.
The Souths Logan Magpies junior spent a large portion of last year playing for his old club in the Intrust Super Cup to further his development.
Mago ticks a lot of the attributes of a top class back-rower; size, speed, footwork, the ability to hit a hole as well as the ability to pass before and through the defensive line.
To top it all off however, Mago has a level head and a strong work ethic which should see him fulfil his potential.
Tevita Pangai Junior
Similar to Mago, Pangai Junior is another back-rower whom the coaching staff and fans have been excited about for quite some time.
Despite still being eligible for the Under 20’s, Pangai Junior played the majority of last year with Mounties in the VB NSW Cup to gain some experience of playing against grown men with NRL involvement.
Through his junior career, Pangai Junior has represented NSW Under 16’s, Under 18’s and alongside Mago in the starting back-row for the Junior Kangaroos last year.
Pangai Junior is blessed with raw and explosive power which enables him to regularly bust the defensive line and leaves ball-carriers sprawled out on the ground when tackling.
The damaging back-rower still has plenty of work to do on his game and training ritual to be seen as a regular first grader, but he will no doubt push for selection at some point this year.
Barnett was rewarded with an NRL contract after starring for the club’s Holden Cup side in 2015.
The NSW Country Under 18’s representative was regularly among the top performers for the Raiders’ NYC team last year and his consistently ferocious displays up front saw him awarded the NYC Player’s Player at the Meninga Medal.
Barnett, who is also able to play in the front-row, is highly rated by the club’s Recruitment Manager David Hamilton and is described as a “player that you want in the trenches alongside you.”
The 21 year old played a handful of games for Mounties in the VB NSW Cup last year and is likely to play a full year in the competition this year to take his game to the next level just as Paul Vaughan, Shannon Boyd and Jarrad Kennedy have done before him.
Author: Simon McGuinness I Twitter: @Simon_mcg1