The Raiders will be hoping desperately to improve upon their disappointing 10th place finish in 2018, as their dismal record away from home continues to be a problem. One finals appearance in the past six years isn’t good enough for a squad that has so many internationals.
They have a decent amount of turnover, to the extent that the squad which runs out for Round 1 could feature quite a few new faces. I don’t hold much hope for them personally, but if there’s one thing I’ve learnt with the Raiders, it’s to expect the unexpected!
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2019 GAINS & LOSSES
Gains: John Bateman (Wigan Warriors, 2024), JJ Collins (Newcastle Knights, 2020), Andre Niko (2019), Brendan O’Hagan (2019), Kyle Patterson (2019), Bailey Simonsson (2019), Ryan Sutton (Wigan Warriors, 2020), Hudson Young (2019)
Losses: Blake Austin (Warrington Wolves), Shannon Boyd (Gold Coast Titans), Masivesi Dakuwaqa (released), Craig Garvey (Sydney Roosters), Charlie Gubb (Widnes Vikings), Liam Knight (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Junior Paulo (Parramatta Eels), Mikaele Ravalawa (St George Illawarra Dragons)
It will be a new look front row for the Raiders as both Boyd and Paulo have left. Ricky Stuart is on record as saying he wants to shift towards a more mobile pack, so Boyd and Paulo have been replaced by Ryan Sutton and John Bateman from England. We could see a reshuffle of the pack too, with Josh Papalii being used to great effect at lock last year and that shift to the middle may continue as he may be the new starting prop beside (as expected) Sutton. This allows Bateman to start at lock, with Whitehead reverting to his preferred edge backrow position (on the left though) and Tapine manning the right edge. Tapine could even spend time in the middle after playing that role off the bench in 2017.
The other issue is Jordan Rapana’s shoulder injury during an International between New Zealand and England last November. He is expected to be out until at least May, which sees him potentially returning around Round 10. Michael Oldfield is expected to replace him on the right wing (as he did at times last year).
LIKELY STARTING 17
1. Brad Abbey 2. Nick Cotric 3. Jarrod Croker 4. BJ Leilua 5. Michael Oldfield 6. Jack Wighton 7. Aidan Sezer 8. Ryan Sutton 9. Josh Hodgson 10. Josh Papalii 11. Elliott Whitehead 12. Joseph Tapine 13. John Bateman Interchange: 14. Siliva Havili 15. Sia Soliola 16. Emre Guler 17. Luke Bateman/Dunamis Lui
Who’s left: JJ Collins (aka JJ Felise), Corey Horsburgh, Royce Hunt, Hudson Young, Bailey Simonsson, Kyle Patterson, Sebastian Kris, Ata Hingano (injured but could be the utility if fit), Makahesi Makatoa, Jack Murchie, Andre Niko, Brendan O’Hagan, Sam Williams
Teams they play twice: Cowboys, Storm, Roosters, Eels, Panthers, Sharks, Warriors, Tigers, Sea Eagles
Teams they play once: Titans, Rabbitohs, Broncos, Dragons, Bulldogs, Knights
First five games: Titans (A), Storm (H), Knights (H), Cowboys (A), Eels (H)
The Raiders don’t have a kind draw, facing five of the 2018 top eight teams twice, as well as the expected improvers of the Cowboys. In contrast, they miss out on playing potential bottom teams in the Titans and Bulldogs twice as well. The opening five rounds is overall quite friendly, despite the presence of the Storm there. The Raiders often give the Storm some trouble after all. With the Raiders playing the first bye, it’s not a bad tactic to consider starting with one or two Raiders.
JOSH HODGSON: (Price: $592,100, Position: HOK, 2018 Average: 63.3)
Hodgson missed half of the season as he recovered from an ACL injury, but after just one game of 46 minutes, played the full 80 minutes for every other game that season. And his impact was immediate, racking up three try assists in his very first game back. He’s never been a big base stat hooker (averaged 37.5 PPG in pure base in his 10 full 80 minute games last year) but he is such an integral part of the Raiders’ offence, he will nab some attacking stats. Hodgson is one player I suspect will have a much better year, and take advantage of the new try contribution stat. Throw in the fact that he plays the first bye round, and Hodgson is a compelling option to start the season for your hooker position.
JOSEPH TAPINE: (Price: $590,100, Position: 2RF, 2018 Average: 61.1)
Tapine played 16 games for his 63.1 PPG average but take out his two injury-affected games and his average increases to 66.6 PPG in the games he played the full 80 minutes on the right edge. His base stats (average of just over 43 PPG) aren’t fabulous but he consistently busts tackles and has a decent offloading ability. Add in those stats and he averages 54.5 PPG in pure base stats plus tackle busts and offloads. Losing his FRF/2RF dual position status is a blow, but Tapine could be an undervalued POD option for the 2RF if you’re unable to afford the likes of JTurbo, Crichton or others. He’s in a group along with Kikau, Fitzgibbon and Brown, but his Round 12 coverage, and opening draw, are persuasive factors.
ELLIOTT WHITEHEAD: (Price: $457,700, Position: 2RF/CTW, 2018 Average: 48.9)
Coming off his worst season yet (following 2016’s 61 PPG average and 2017’s 54 PPG average), Whitehead has room for improvement. Sure, if you look at his 2018 stats they are largely unimpressive, but he did have several games in the centres (filling in for Croker, whether that was for the whole game or a mid-game reshuffle) which drags down his average. This could very well continue being the case but there is the possibility that Bateman ends up filling the centre position instead of Whitehead. I’m certainly not suggesting Whitehead is a home run selection but he has the potential to average up to 12 PPG better than his performance in 2018, and that warrants some consideration (along with the fact that you can lock in his 40+ points week to week in the CTW position).
JOHN BATEMAN: (Price: $400,000, Position: 2RF/CTW, 2018 Average: N/A)
We haven’t seen him in the NRL but his playing style is very SuperCoach-friendly, if his ESL stats are anything to go by. A hard worker, with an ability to bust tackles and offload, he can certainly rack up some points that way. Bateman is a chance at a starting spot in the Raiders’ back row, but also available for selection at the CTW position, he could viably average 45-50 in base (depends on minutes and role) and appreciate nicely in value until he is ripe for the selling post-Round 12 – or even potentially be a season-long hold if the minutes and role line up well for him. Of course, if he’s named on the bench for Round 1, he’s a definite ‘wait and see’.
JOSH PAPALII: (Price: $595,900, Position: FRF/2RF, 2018 Average: 63.7)
I’m being a bit controversial here, as Big Papa was an absolute gun when he shifted to the middle halfway through the season. As in, 15 games at lock for an average of 70.3 PPG in 68 MPG. Now with his potential shift into the middle, well, isn’t that a good thing for Papalii? I’m not so sure. He’s playing prop officially, and with the presence of more mobile, fitter back-rowers, are they more likely to get longer minutes and give Papalii shorter but more effective stints as part of the prop rotation? I suspect that might be the case. It’s hard to predict what Sticky will do, but if Papalii isn’t named in the #13 jersey come Round 1, and instead it’s an #8 or a #10, I’d be very wary of starting with him until we see exactly how he’s used.
THE OUTSIDE BACKS
Maybe I’m being lazy here but I have genuine concerns about the whole backline. The reason being, Jack Wighton at five eighth? He’s Blake Austin 2.0 in terms of his passing game, and now Sezer has to adjust to a new ball-hog (potentially) halves partner again. With Rapana gone for the opening rounds, that also means the work is going to be left to the other outside backs and let’s face it, Croker and Oldfield aren’t really known for being workers. Cotric… maybe. He certainly has the potential, but he’s no Jordan Rapana. And BJ… well, 2016 BJ would be fine. Any-other-season BJ? Well, he’ll give you what you got last year – lots of frustration and the occasional big score, to average the same in the end anyway.
Throw in the fact that Sticky has mentioned he wants to utilise a more mobile pack, well, I can just imagine Hodgson calling the shots as the chief playmaker and using the lighter forwards in the pack to great effect.
BRAD ABBEY: (Price: $203,800, Position: CTW/FLB, 2018 Average: 21.8)
His stats aren’t very inspiring but if you want a cheapie from the Raiders, he’s probably about it for the backline. Abbey appears likely to take over at fullback with Wighton’s shift to five eighth, so he’ll at least have some job security. With such low base stats though, you’d be brave to consider him for your 17 each week, so you’re basically hoping and praying for a quick-fire hat trick at some point, and you can upgrade him ASAP to a better option.
EMRE GULER: (Price: $227,100, Position: FRF, 2018 Average: 30)
For the forwards, Guler debuted last year and he has received some decent wraps for his three games, and his training in this year’s preseason so far. He averaged 30.3 PPG from 27.7 MPG from his three games last year, so if he gets a nice bump in minutes (possible, given the losses of Boyd and Paulo), he could be about to increase his value by 10 PPG. It’s certainly slim pickings at the Raiders for cheapies…
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