Canberra Raiders 2020 Team Preview

Ricky Stuart’s mob came within a repeat set of a premiership last season and in doing so, the Raiders became the darling team of the NRL. They seemed a more mature outfit both on and off the field, with Sticky even containing himself during the post-final presser (which I must admit was mildly disappointing).

Heading into 2020 they looked a very stable side with a chance of exceeding the serious expectations they now face after last year’s success. Despite the losses of some key team members, their experienced new recruits (including Super League star George Williams) were set to seamlessly fill the gaps.

Since the beginning of the year however, they released Joey Leilua to the Tigers. Curtis Scott went full Shire on Australia Day and is looking likely to be stood down. And if that wasn’t enough, John Bateman opted to have surgery on his shoulder and could miss the opening month of the season.

This was a difficult team preview to write as the SuperCoach relevance of several players depends on the outcomes of the above, however the Raiders have a nice draw to open the season so I am sure we will see their faces popping up in many a starting side for our 2020 SC campaign.

Ins and outs  (from NRL.com)

Ins – Curtis Scott (Storm), George Williams (Wigan Warriors), Tom Starling, Harley Smith-Shields (upgraded from development contracts)

Unsigned/Losses – Jordan Rapana (Japanese Rugby Union), Ata Hingano (Mackay Cutters), Brad Abbey, Royce Hunt, Reuben Porter (unsigned), Aiden Sezer (Huddersfield), Joey Leilua (Tigers)

Likely 17

1 Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad 2 Michael Oldfield 3 Jarrod Croker 4 Nick Cotric 5 Bailey Simonsson 6 Jack Wighton 7 George Williams 8 Sia Soliola 9 Josh Hodgson 10 Josh Papalii 11 John Bateman/Corey Horsburgh* 12 Elliott Whitehead 13 Joseph Tapine

14 Corey Horsburgh/Ryan Sutton 15 Siliva Havili 16 Emre Guler 17 Dunamis Lui

Other squad members: Curtis Scott*, Luke Bateman, JJ Collins, Sebastian Kris*, Jack Murchie, Harley Smith-Shields, Tom Starling, Ryan Sutton, Sam Williams, Hudson Young*

*John Bateman underwent shoulder surgery and his round one availability will depend on his recovery, which is looking increasingly unlikely and could extend up to round five

* Curtis Scott is expected to be stood down under the NRL’s no fault policy for an incident on Australia Day

*Hudson Young is suspended until round six for repeated eye gouging offenses (seriously?)

*Sebastian Kris has been granted indefinite sick leave

Draw Analysis

The Raiders have one of the most favourable opening draws in the NRL with matches against the Titans (home), Warriors (away), Dragons, Sea Eagles and Panthers (away). After this they move onto the Knights x 2, Rabbitohs, Bulldogs (Magic Round), Tigers (away) and Panthers before a finals rematch against the Roosters away in Round 11.

There could be some real points on offer for those who start with the right Raiders should they begin their season the way we think they will, which will allow them to be flipped to keepers or those playing in the first bye.

GUNS

Josh Papalii ($605.3k, FRF) 2019 average 65.1

After spending his previous seasons playing either on an edge or at lock, the original Big Papa found himself in the front row rotation for almost the entirety of the 2019 season (barring three games he spent on the interchange).

This saw his minutes plummet from 80 and 67 in 2017 and 2018 respectively to a paltry 53mpg last season. However, the impact of the positional change on his PPM was dramatic. After traditionally hovering around the high 0.7s and reaching 0.95 last season, his increased work rate in jersey 8 launched him to a beastly 1.22PPM. This saw him retain a 65PPG average (which he has reached like clockwork for the last five seasons) despite his reduced time on the field.

The trick with Papalii has always been when to bring him in. Known as a slow starter, Papalii’s 2019 season breakdown is as follows:

Rounds 1-8: 55ppg

Rounds 9-16: 61.3ppg

Rounds 17-25: 76.7ppg (several tries in this span)

Origin seems to light a fire in the big man and this rise in average has been demonstrated across multiple seasons.

Based on this I can’t recommend starting with him, but Papa should be on your POD watch when Origin is over to bring your season home.

John Bateman ($668.2k, 2RF) 2019 average 71.9

The BateGUN not only established himself as an elite of SuperCoach in his maiden season, but also one of the league’s most likeable players. He’s as tough as they come and can play on an edge, in the middle and even in the centres.

While he lost the CTW availability that made him arguably the most valuable player in SuperCoach last season, his average (minus a 26 minute game in which he got injured) was 74.6ppg, which still includes games in which he switched to the centres to cover for injuries. With a 50 base as his floor and elite attacking upside (61.6 base + power points per game without looking at true attacking stats), he was one of the players who could have seriously hammered the Raiders’ early opposition.

But then he had surgery to fix an ongoing shoulder issue, which could lead to a chain reaction in the SuperCoach world which puts question marks over both him and his potential replacements in the pack. While he will push for a return in for the season opener, some estimates have him missing up to five matches and he could be eased back in when he does return. This is a situation to closely monitor as the pre-season progresses.

Jarrod Croker ($494.4k, CTW) 2019 average 53.3

Croker’s average may not shout keeper, but I’ve lowered the bar for CTW with the position looking thinner than ever with the loss of so many 2RF eligible players and question marks over the usual suspects such as Latrell Mitchell.

While Canberra’s skipper may not have soared the same heights as 2016 when he averaged 72ppg, he is one of the most consistent performers in the position with a three-year average of 54ppg. The Raiders’ all-time leading point-scorer doesn’t offer the best base at only 20ppg (not even the top 15 for the position even after removing the second rowers), but he makes up for it with goal kicking and a decent attacking game.

Picking attacking players from the Raiders to make the most of their opening draw is a viable tactic to start the year, so selecting someone like Croker as your premium CTW could reap rewards. However, at their respective prices I would be more inclined to save the cash by selecting one of the other two CTW options on the team to take advantage of the potential points on offer in the early going.

Sleepers

Nick Cotric ($364.4k, CTW) 2019 average 39.2

Bailey Simonsson ($356.8k, CTW/FLB) 2019 average 38.4

I’m grouping these two together because they enter the season with similar prices, averages and upside.

Bailey became what we all feared at the start of 2019: a cheapie who was named in round one then vanished immediately. He even went on to own the dubious honour of overtaking John Palavi as the ‘failed cheapie’ scale, the Simonsson stars.

However, he returned in round eight (after those who started with him had mostly moved on) and went on to play every remaining game of the season either on the wing or from the interchange. With Joey Leulia shipped to the Tigers and Curtis Scott all but stood down, Simonsson likely starts on the wing for the Raiders where he averaged 44.8ppg with seven tries to his name in his 14 starts last year.

Cotric on the other hand has regressed each season since cracking first grade. He dropped from 50ppg in 2017 to 48 in 2018, then bottomed out at 39 in 2019 after floating between centres and the wing with only four tries.

He has been known to find purple patches as highlighted by his five-round average of 73.2 in the middle rounds of 2018. Moving to the centres should raise his involvement compared to the wing and surely the Blues debutant will see more tries by the end of the season.

Should either CTW strike form in the opening rounds they should make some handy scores and coin before being moved on to someone playing in the first bye.

Corey Horsburgh ($375.7k, FRF) 2019 average 40.4

The big red machine was a PPM monster in his maiden season, churning out 1.21 points per minute to average 40ppg in 33 minutes with 92.5% of that in pure base.

Normally there would not be much appeal in a bench forward at such an awkward starting price, however if Bateman is set to miss the full five weeks of his projected recovery time and Horsburgh finds himself starting and playing decent minutes, he could score you some handy points in the early rounds and can then be flipped to a keeper. Presumably Bateman will be eased back when he returns so Horsburgh could find himself still rising in cash for several weeks afterwards.

This is all here say at this point in the season, but he is certainly a player to keep an eye on as we approach the season opener and have a better understanding of Canberra’s pack situation. Just keep in mind that Bateman is the type of bloke who will push himself to return as soon as possible, so you could be purchasing a player whose best games roll out of his average too early to make an impact on your cap.

George Williams ($333.8k, HFB / FE) 2019 average NA

Ricky’s latest Super League recruit is one of the hardest to project this season. On one hand he has theoretical game made for Supercoach with tackle busts and attacking upside. He also has a combination with John Bateman at an international level with those who analysed his Super League stats estimating his average to be in the 70s.

On the other hand, while English forwards take to the NRL with aplomb the halves and backs traditionally struggle, including Sam Tompkins and Zak Hardaker.

However, in a season where the cheapie halves look unlikely to eventuate outside of Jarome Luai, he will be in plenty of sides come round one. If he can buck the trend and replicate his overseas form he will be a steal at his starting price.

Busts

Joseph Tapine ($362.4k, 2RF) 2019 average 39

One of my worst decisions of 2019 was to buy into Wenin’s hype and jump on #TeamTapine when he bottomed out in price in the middle rounds. Tapine rewarded me with average scores and another injury before I rage traded him out again.

Tapine seduced many with his 63ppg average in 77 minutes in his career year of 2018. They say to never buy a player after a career year and this is why. Bateman’s emergence as an 80-minute player, a glut of emerging middle rotation players and an injury/suspension sheet that rolls out the door saw his minutes plummet to 44 in 2019, which splits the difference between 2017 (54mpg) and 2015/16 (38mpg and 39mpg respectively).

Not only that, but he lost his FRF eligibility and his coefficient of variance (how wildly his scores fluctuate) sits around 50% for the majority of his career. This is worse than “rollercoaster” players such as Milford/SJ (typically around 40%) and sits in line with Matt Moylan. Yes, his statistical variation from match-to-match mirrors a player who is on many people’s ‘never again’ lists.

Many are looking at his price and that glorious 2018 average to begin the 2020 campaign. He also may pick up some extra minutes if Bateman is unable to go in round one however he has stated he wants to remain in the middle so Horsburgh would be the main beneficiary. So can he be trusted? There are only so many minutes to go around and his injury/suspension streak isn’t going away which leads me to believe he will break the hearts of those who will slot him into their team.

Jack Wighton ($497k, 5/8) 2019 average 53.5

After switching from fullback into the halves to accommodate rising star Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Wighton will be in jersey #6AGAIN for the duration of the 2020 season.

His play at actual NRL level soared last season, with the young man shaking off potential time behind bars in 2018 to represent his state and country while winning the Clive Churchill medal on finals night from the losing side.

But therein lies the problem for the season ahead. His talent really shone last season and he still only averaged 53.5 points, which is bang on his five-year average of 53.4. This to me paints a picture of a man whose talent on the field doesn’t necessarily translate to SC points, and I feel he has found his niche regardless of his position.

Yes, there are those who have calculated his stats in the finals series and it trickled into the 60s, however what have we learnt about locking in players who flourish in the finals and then return to business as usual the following season?

I don’t think Wighton will flop per say in the actual NRL or SC. You can plug him in, and he will do his job, which is to net you between 50 and 60 points with a high floor and low ceiling compared to others at the position. The halves will likely be a team-defining decision to start this season and those expecting him to suddenly leap into the elite category after a career on field year will likely be disappointed.

Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad ($529.7k, FLB) 2019 average 57

Despite having to Alt+Tab to his player page every third character to get the spelling of his name correct, writing about CNK brought a smile to my face. He was one of the success stories of 2019 after making the switch to Australia’s capital from across the ditch. He was not only a fullback who you could play at CTW but went on to average the 7th highest at the position after removing the 2RF eligible players (and Billy Smith’s two games).

Although I don’t expect him to regress in actual play, it pains me to say that he simply isn’t an option this season. He lost his dual position status and SuperCoaches are already trying to fit four to five legitimate guns into two roster spots so he simply can’t be considered.

Josh Hodgson ($505.8k, HOK) 2019 average: 54.4

Hopes were high for the English rake at the start of last season after he showed sublime post-injury form from round 15 onwards in 2018. But for an 80-minute hooker, Hodgson disappointed many in 2019. This was largely due to his poor base of 36BPPM, which for perspective is a decent amount lower than Cook (47), McInnes (53) and even Smith (only 39, but this is supplemented with goal kicking).

So while he may bring flair in attack, he basically needs a try assist per game just to keep up with the pure base or base+goal kicking of the elite options.

However, for the superstitious or pattern oriented SuperCoaches out there, I must point this trend since Hodgson came into the league in 2015:

2015: 54ppg

2016: 62ppg

2017: 54ppg

2018: 63ppg

2019: 54ppg

2020: Trends would suggest 64ppg? Hmm…

Curtis Scott ($406.3k, CTW) 2019 average 48.6

Scott was a phone’s throw away from potentially being relevant with the Raiders’ favourable opening draw but as Dylan Walker can attest, the man is a walking suspension who will likely be stood down this season. Yeah nah.

Cheapies

The Raiders have filled their major losses with established players and therefore enter the 2020 season with a stable playing group with no SuperCoach relevant cheapies on the immediate horizon. Emre Guler ($220.7k, FRF) is near bottom dollar but would need a significant uptick in minutes or a starting role to be an option with a PPM of 1.

Harley Smith-Shields ($171.9k, CTW) however is one to keep an eye on. I don’t know much about him but he has Raiders fans excited and seems to have a nose for the try-line. If injuries strike and he finds himself in the top team he’ll be a definite downgrade option.

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