NRL Premiership - Preliminary Final - Melbourne Storm V Canberra Raiders - 24 September 2016 - AAMI Park

I think I’ve said it for a good four years straight now, but what a long offseason! Are these things getting longer or is it just me?

Warm days, weekends on the beach, care free days… It all sounds perfect, right? Wrong! There’s been something missing all along.

Where’s my Rugby League?! Sure we were teased along the way with the All Stars game, the Auckland 9s, and even the World Club Challenge.

For those of us who are fantasy footy inclined, agonising over one’s Supercoach or NRLCEO team also provided a slight distraction. Something to keep up the spirits ever so briefly.

But it’s just not the same without the real deal. The longing doesn’t end until the mighty Green Machine run out for the first time in 2017.

Good news is, that first game is just around the corner! Come Saturday night, the boys will be toughing it out in arguably the game of the round.

It’ll be warm, it’ll be humid, and the Cowboys will be out to make amends for a disappointing 2016 campaign by their own admission.

But the Raiders will have plenty to prove themselves. Expectations are high in 2017 after an impressive 2016.

It’s a long season of course, but it’s important to start with the right mindset.

Townsville isn’t the happiest of hunting grounds for our boys but there’s only one way to turn that around.

A Raiders win will send a very early message to the rest of the competition. 2016 was no one off affair and the men from the capital are here to play.

And what a line-up we have to do it all with.

If you’re a Raiders fan and you’re not looking forward to Nick Cotric running around in first grade, you may need help.

The young bloke has had plenty of wraps on him for years now, and we finally get to see him take his shot in the big leagues.  

We’ve known Elliott Whitehead the ever dependable back rower. We’ve known Elliott Whitehead the handy half. And we’re about to meet Elliott Whitehead the centre. Is there anything the guy can’t do?

And of course, most of your 2016 favourites are back in familiar settings. Leipana will be raring to terrify opposition defensive lines.

Austin and Sezer are back to build on and continue to improve their impressive combination.

Josh Hodgson will once again be terrorising marker defence and finding room in defensive lines where others just can’t.

All that’s just a sprinkling of what’s on offer. So get excited, Raiders fans! We’re back in a big way. Bring it on! 

GAME DAY INFORMATION: RAIDERS V COWBOYS