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The Raiders were one of the real surprise packets of 2019, rocketing from 10th a year earlier to a grand final appearance - but can they go one step further?

Some sharp recruiting and a new-found steel in defence were the cornerstones of Canberra's impressive campaign.

With a couple of significant roster changes, the heat will be on early as the Green Machine look to avoid the drop-off experienced from the 2016 second-place finish into a disappointing 2017.

The 2020 outlook

What's new

Pretty much the whole right-side attack. Halfback Aiden Sezer plus centre-wing combination Joey Leilua and Jordan Rapana have all left. Structure-wise, England half George Williams will be crucial to the side's fortunes and will want to gel sooner than later. The departed "Leipana" duo leaves the likes of Curtis Scott and Bailey Simonsson with big shoes to fill.

The draw

There's no excuse for Canberra not to hit the ground running. They have four of their first six at home – Titans rd 1, Dragons rd 3, Sea Eagles rd 4, Knights rd 6. The toughest stretch comes across the rep period with the Roosters (twice), Storm, Warriors, Sharks, Broncos and Eels from rounds 11 to 18.

The stat that gives you hope

It was Canberra's defence more than anything that impressed last year, and particularly their determination to defend their own tryline.

It took opposition teams on average 15 play-the-balls inside Canberra's 20-metre zone to score, making them the most resilient goal-line in the NRL. Premiers the Roosters were next-best at 14.2. If they can maintain that through 2020 they will be tough to beat every week.

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What you need to know NRL Fantasy-wise

"George Williams ($635k) is a big talent but comes with a tricky starting price for an English backline player with no NRL experience. If he fires he's potentially a cut-price keeper. John Bateman ($870k) showed Englishmen can be an immediate NRL Fantasy success story last year and he'll be among the elite scores in the back row again in 2020. Joe Tapine ($485k) could be great value if he gets a big-minute role in the second row while Nick Cotric ($431k) and Bailey Simonsson ($375k) are potential bargains in the outside backs." - Lone Scout

The coach

Ricky Stuart was one of Canberra's favourite sons as a player and on the back of last year's success, was extended for three years through to 2023. It's fair to say he'll be around for a while to come.

Five key match-ups of the Raiders' 2020 draw

Contract matters

A huge boost for the Raiders with Jack Wighton signing a new deal in February which keeps him in the national capital until the end of 2024. Nick Cotric, Jarrod Croker and Sia Soliola are the notable names who are not yet locked in past the end of 2020 but the majority of Canberra's top squad are locked in through 2021.

The burning question

How quickly can the Raiders bed George Williams into their structures? The team was slick in defence last year and the new right-side combination could be a target if they don't gel early. In attack, Sezer was the steadying hand to Jack Wighton's power game and Josh Hodgson's scheming. Williams is a different style to Sezer - he has a more dynamic running game but he'll have some developing to do guiding an NRL team around the park.

Stuart: Players get match fitness at training

Breakout player to watch

Harley Smith-Shields. An evasive centre or winger, Smith-Shields took out Canberra's under-20s player of the year gong in 2019 and also played seven games for the Mounties, scoring six tries. A settled backline means Smith-Shields will likely need a couple of injuries to debut in 2020 but having been elevated to the club's top 30 he is definitely one to watch out for sooner rather than later.

The quote

"While we had a fantastic team and a fantastic run [in 2016] I feel as though we are a lot stronger, a lot more composed but a stronger side defensively. I think that's what got us out of trouble and got us into the grand final, that scramble and desire, it's something that was good for us last year but it's got to be better again. We know sides are going to come after us so we have to be that extra bit better in defence. I think we've built our game around defence in the last 12 months, so that's probably the difference in those two seasons." – Raiders skipper Jarrod Croker on why 2020 should be better than 2017.