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Can Canberra Build on Breakout Season?

Canberra Raiders enjoyed an outstanding 2019 NRL season, reaching the Grand Final of the competition. Only the brilliance of the Sydney Roosters denied them a fairytale ending to their campaign, rising from mid-table all the way to the title game.

However, they suffered a narrow defeat at the hands of the Roosters in controversial circumstances. Ricky Stuart’s men put forward a solid effort in the final to give their opponents all they could handle for 80 minutes.  The Raiders now have the challenge of building on their successful season, proving that their surge to the Grand Final was not a flash in the pan. They’re backed in the NRL betting odds at 6/1 to win the crown for the first time since 1994.

Sydney will be a tough obstacle to overcome given their recent dominance of the league, winning back-to-back titles. South Sydney Rabbitohs will also be there, but the Raiders can take hope that they will return the majority of their roster that reached the Grand Final. Aidan Sezer has left the club to join Huddersfield Giants in the Super League, while Jordan Rapana secured a move to the Japanese Rugby League with the Panasonic Wild Knights.

England international George Williams has been signed to bolster the squad, bringing quality to the stand-off position. The 25-year-old is in the prime of his career and has experience of playing on two Super League Grand Final winning teams for the Wigan Warriors in 2016 and 2018.

Williams’ arrival will ease the pressure on co-captains Jarrod Croker and Josh Hodgson following the departure of Sezer, while Curtis Scott will provide youthful exuberance increasing the level of competition at centre.  At the age of 22, Scott will only improve and already has 49 games under his belt with 19 scores. It will open up exciting opportunities for the Raiders in the final third, adding an attack that scored 533 points last term, which was good enough for fourth overall in the league.

Canberra’s defensive performances were the strength of the team in their surge. It was evident in the Grand Final where they managed to limit the second-best offense in the NRL to 14 points to make it a contest right until the end. They also managed to hold the Melbourne Storm and the South Sydney Rabbitohs to 10 points apiece during the playoffs. Their ability to scrap at the back has to be the foundation of the team once again to propel another charge deep into playoffs.

Their resilience and the additions of Scott and Williams could be enough to edge them past the Roosters in another showdown next season. Victories over the Storm and the Rabbitohs were quality victories. Now must come the consistency against the elite teams with a touch of star power to produce game-changing moments. There will be pressure on Stuart to ensure that his team do not take a step back. Success, especially for a team that has been starved of it, can sometimes lead to overconfidence and a loss of the key disciplines that led them to the Grand Final. The NRL will be watching the Raiders with great interest next season to see whether they’re able to retain their standing among the top four and kick on to win their first crown in 26 years.

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