After scraping through to the finals in eighth spot, the Raiders bowed out of 2023 in brave fashion in an extra-time thriller against the Knights.
With club favourites Jarrod Croker and Jack Wighton farewelling the Green Machine, expect the Raiders to have a very different look and feel come 2024.
With Simi Sasagi (Knights), Morgan Smithies (Wigan) and Kaeo Weekes (Manly) the only players lured to the club next season, all eyes will be on Canberra's up and comers as Ricky Stuart looks to inspire the next generation of Raiders.
Next Gen Englishman
Wigan's Morgan Smithies is set to carry on a proud tradition of English recruits who have made their mark with the Green Machine. The Raiders have seen great success through their Super League signings with Josh Hodgson, Elliott Whitehead, John Bateman and Ryan Sutton helping carry Canberra all the way to a grand final in 2019 and coach Ricky Stuart while be hoping Smithies can make his own mark. The 23-year-old second-rower arrives in Canberra on the back of a big few months which included Super League grand final glory with Wigan and a call-up to the England Test squad as 18th man.
Who plays five-eighth?
Jack Wighton’s move to the Rabbitohs has left a big question mark on the man to stand next to Jamal Fogarty but there appears to be a two-way race for the vacant No. 6 jersey. New recruit Kaeo Weeks has played majority of his 12 NRL games at fullback but looks to be a front-runner with the 21-year-old known for his versatility and ball-playing skills. Meanwhile, Ethan Strange has also been in the conversation after establishing himself at No.6 for the Raiders NSW Cup side last season. Strange made his NRL debut at centre in August, but played majority of reserve grade in the halves, with six try assists and seven line break assists across 11 games at five-eighth.
Weekes: 'I've got a big opportunity in front of me'
Who leads the way without Jack and Jarrod?
Out with the old and in with the new - that’s the reality for the Raiders in 2024. Jarrod Croker and Jack Wighton gave the club incredible service for over more than a decade and they'll be missed but it’s time for the new breed to stand up. With Corey Horsburgh, Joe Tapine, Hudson Young and Seb Kris committed to the club until 2027, the famed Raiders' DNA now lives with them, and a promising crop of youngsters will look to their leaders for inspiration as Canberra look to be part of the finals action for the fourth time in the past five years.
Can Canberra match the big guns in attack?
With the 15th placed Bulldogs and wooden spooners Wests Tigers the only sides to score less tries, the Raiders defied all odds to sneak into the top eight last season. Scoring 12 less tries compared to the 2022 regular season, the Raiders’ lack of strike power proved to be a frustrating battle throughout the year. Ricky Stuart will be hoping Manly speedster Kaeo Weekes and prodigious fullback Chevy Stewart can bring some more X-factor in attack this year.
Can Ata Mariota and Hohepa Puru take the next step?
Canberra have long boasted one of the strongest forward packs but as skipper Elliot Whitehead plays out the last year of his contract and veteran Josh Papali'i edges closer to 300 games, Ricky Stuart will look to blood the next generation of forwards. Corey Horsburgh, Hudson Young and Joe Tapine will be the cornerstone of the forwards in 2024 but it's the likes of Ata Mariota and Hohepa Puru who need to take the next step. Starting at prop in the last two games of 2023, Mariota showed promising signs and has 2024 to prove why he should be re-signed. Meanwhile, 21-year-old Puru has just two NRL caps to his name but should be brimming with confidence after recently signing a new deal with the club.
Mariota's first NRL try is a doozy