It’s been one of the most memorable pre-seasons in recent times for Raiders fans, with a raft of player re-signings and new signings dominating headlines throughout the off-season.
Following strong performances in the Auckland Nines and their sole pre-season trial match, the Raiders will look to keep the good times rolling this Saturday, when they take on the Penrith Panthers in round one of the 2016 NRL season.
The Raiders and Panthers are both looking to use the match to stake an early indicator of how serious their finals ambitions are, with the youthful Panthers looking to rebound after a disappointing 2015 season.
Jarrod Croker will again lead from the front for the Raiders, taking the reins as captain for the second year.
“It feels like the season has come around really quick, but this week has gone really slow. The boys are trying to keep a lid on their excitement, but we are all ready to go,” Croker said.
“There were a couple of tough losses last year. I think we have learnt a lot from that, as individuals and as a squad. I have a great leadership group and coaching staff around me. The more I can pick up every game on being a leader, on and off the field, the better I can be.
“Every side has expectations for round one. The Panthers have recruited well and have a very strong side. It’s going to be a good, tough game. Everyone is primed, fit and focused for round one. There’s not much else you can do except go out there and get into it.”
The Raiders have very recent history with the Panthers, having twice defeated them in round 20 and 25 of last season.
CLICK HERE to see highlights from the Raiders round 25 victory.
The Panthers failed to make it out of their group at the Auckland Nines, while the Raiders made it to the quarter-finals. The Panthers had a mixed set of pre-season trial results, beating the Bulldogs and losing to the Eels, while the Raiders had a victory over the Knights in their sole trial.
The Raiders will take a full strength team into the round one match, with only Adam Clydsdale unavailable for the game through a shoulder injury. Raiders fans will get their first look at new recruits Aidan Sezer, Elliott Whitehead and Jeff Lima, all who have been named in the top 17. Blake Austin will start on the bench for the Raiders, continuing his comeback from shoulder surgery in the off-season.
New captain Matt Moylan is missing for the Panthers through injury, with Will Smith taking over at fullback. Dean Whare will also miss the match, with Waqa Blake replacing him in the centres.
CLICK HERE to see the Raiders team list.
CLICK HERE to see the Panthers team list.
Shaun Fensom v Trent Merrin
Merrin is the big name recruit for the Panthers, a rampaging lock who has represented NSW Origin on numerous occasions. After seven seasons with the Dragons, Merrin joins the Panthers on a three year deal.
Fensom is often the forgotten man when it comes to Origin time, and will be seeking to get the upper hand on Saturday when he comes up against Merrin. A broken arm hasn’t stopped Fensom in the off-season, declaring he is fully fit and ready to go on Saturday.
Josh Hodgson v James Segeyaro
Hodgson and Segeyaro are pivotal members of their respective squads, both looking to take their games to new levels in 2016. Hodgson has already displaying terrific form in the Raiders trial match, and will be under pressure on Saturday to play big minutes with the Raiders not selecting a specialist hooker on the bench.
Penrith’s attack is dependent on Segeyero, and stopping him on Saturday will be a key focus for the Raiders.
Shannon Boyd v Reagan Campbell-Gillard
With reduced interchanges, mobile big men will be even more important in 2016. Boyd and Campbell-Gillard will be out to prove that they can adapt to the changes on Saturday.
Boyd has dropped considerable weight over the pre-season, with Campbell-Gillard also following a similar path. Boyd was destructive in the Raiders trial against the Knights, showing no signs that a loss of weight equals a loss of power.
Record against the Panthers:
In a total of 68 games against Penrith, Canberra has won 34 games, drawn once and lost on 33 occasions.
Panthers record at GIO Stadium:
In a total of 25 games played at GIO Stadium, Penrith has won just 8 games and lost on 17 occasions.
Last three encounters:
1. Raiders defeated Panthers 34-18 at GIO Stadium in Round 25, 2015
2. Raiders defeated Panthers 34-24 at Pepper Stadium in Round 20, 2015
3. Panthers defeated Raiders 26-20 at GIO Stadium in Round 10, 2014
HE SAID IT
Joey Leilua: “I feel really good at the moment. My fitness is a lot better than previous years. I just want to play good football this year with the Raiders and see how I go.”
CLICK HERE to see the full interview with Leilua.
Josh Papalii: “The boys are confident going into round one. We had a good trial in Orange, everybody is really excited to start the season.”
CLICK HERE to see the full interview with Papalii.
Sia Soliola: “Coming off the back of last year the boys have been ripping in and training really hard this off-season. With the new guys we have now, everybody has been trying to find their spot in the team.”
CLICK HERE to see the full interview with Soliola.
Edrick Lee: “This pre-season has been the hardest one I’ve ever done. In saying that, how hard it’s been has brought the boys closer together.”
CLICK HERE to see the full interview with Lee.
Having surpassed 11,000 members for the first time ever before the season starts, the Raiders will be hoping for a large and fanatical home crowd to watch the game on Saturday. CLICK HERE for tickets to Saturday’s game.