Locks and contenders 2022

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greeneyed
Don Furner
Posts: 140250
Joined: January 7, 2005, 4:21 pm

Locks and contenders 2022

Post by greeneyed »

As is the tradition on The Greenhouse, we'll be running a series to assess the "Locks and contenders" for the Canberra Raiders strongest possible 2021 line up... position by position... and inviting you to have your say.

There are positions where some players are already "locks". But we will run some supplementary polls where there is any room for debate. This series is not aimed at predicting the Round 1 starting team. It is the strongest possible team, the one you'd want firing in the finals! Today...


Fullback

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Last year Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad was a definite "lock" at fullback. I suspect that the Raiders coaching staff still think so. But I'm not so sure that the fans quite agree.

In 2019, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad was a revelation. He almost started the season as "Charzne who?". But he ended it as one of the top fullbacks in the NRL. He was voted the Canberra Raiders Fans' Choice Best Back, with a Grand Final appearance and a Kiwis jersey to his name. It wasn't a case of "second year syndrome" in 2020, but his form was a touch off his break out year.

Unfortunately, his 2021 season was spoiled by a serious neck injury - suffered in the Round 5 loss to the Panthers. It was hoped he might avoid surgery, but in the end it proved to be necessary. He was ruled out for the season - but he managed to make an early comeback on the bench in the Round 23 loss to the Sea Eagles.

Nicoll-Klokstad ended up making eight appearances for the Green Machine in 2021, six starting at fullback and two from the bench. He was sorely missed by the team - and I believe his absence was a major reason for the Raiders missing the finals.



Comparing CNK's 2021 statistics with those of previous seasons is very difficult. Not only did he make only eight appearances, he only played around 25 minutes in two matches, and 60 in another. His numbers on a per game basis, however, compare remarkably well with 2020. He still finished first at the club for running metres per game - level with Jordan Rapana - and second for kick return metres. He was also amongst the top four Raiders for tackle breaks per game.

The worth of some players is underestimated, and it is only when they are not there that people realise just how good they are. While CNK was on the sideline, the Raiders ended up trying four other players in the fullback role, with mixed results.

There is no doubt that Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad is a great running fullback, and he gets the plaudits for that. Ball playing is not his relative strength, and Raiders fans speculate on alternative options at No. 1, for that reason. CNK's contribution to the defence, however, is often not appreciated. We sure saw how important he is to the team in that department in 2021. His late season return showed he'd lost nothing while he was away. He's definitely my choice for the fullback role in 2022.

Xavier Savage is the reason there's a lot more speculation about who should fill the No. 1 jersey this season. He's the shiny new toy.

The 19 year old Queenslander certainly impressed in 2021. At the start of last season, he was newly arrived in the national capital and just out of high school. We already knew he was fast, with him winning the under 17s 100 metre sprint title in 10.95 seconds at the Queensland junior athletics championships a couple of years back. Anyone who saw him turn out for Queensland for the 2019 Secondary Schools championship in Canberra knew he was a star in the making.

He started the year in the Raiders' SG Ball squad and went on to win a premiership with that Under 19s team. He got an early shot in NSW Cup, playing in the Round 2 clash with the Eels. He scored a hat trick in the narrow loss. And after the SG Ball Grand Final, he became a regular in the Raiders' "reggies". In a hint of what was to come, he was given a shot at fullback in the Round 11 clash with the Magpies and ended up making five appearances in NSW Cup - before the competition was closed down due to the COVID outbreak in Sydney.



Savage made an unexpected NRL debut in the Round 15 clash with the Dragons. He was the 18th man, but he had to leave the field after 11 minutes, because the Raiders had no right to send an 18th man on in the circumstances. That was because Dragon Jack Bird had not been sin-binned or sent off for his tackle on Sebastian Kris - which put Kris out of the game.

Savage was selected for an official debut at fullback for the Round 17 match against the Sea Eagles, after Bailey Simonsson - the third player to feature in the No. 1 jersey to that point - was ruled out with an injury. He performed well in that game, but he really shone in the Round 18 win over the Sharks. He scored his first NRL try, with Seb Kris passing Savage the ball, when Kris probably could have scored himself. But Savage deserved it, given his other contributions. He made 16 runs for running 246 metres, 88 kick return metres, 63 post contact metres, two line breaks and nine tackle breaks. One incredible Savage line break set up the Raiders' try of the year for Jack Wighton.



Sadly, Savage injured the AC joint in his shoulder during that break out game. It required surgery, ruling him out for the season - just as hope had risen that the Raiders had found a solution to their fullback problem.

Ricky Stuart now faces the challenge of how best to use Savage in 2022. Some commentators and many fans are already calling for him to be selected at fullback in Round 1. There's no doubt he has a dangerous running game - and that might well be just what is needed in the era of Vlandysball. But he's still young, and on the comeback from a serious injury. Fullback is a very challenging position - particularly in defence. Savage isn't exactly slight at 184cms and 90kgs, but he's relatively slight. That is a factor in defence. I'm also not entirely sure Savage has the ball playing ability needed just yet. In my view, he's a better winger right now. But that's not to say he won't be able to develop into a fullback, to develop his ball playing. And the only way to develop it is to give him a shot.

The Raiders released three back up options at fullback last year - Caleb Aekins, Bailey Simonsson and rookie Adam Cook. Jordan Rapana can certainly cover the No. 1 jersey in an emergency. He starred in six games in the No. 1 jersey after Savage's injury last year. Jack Wighton can obviously play at the back too. He's played 85 games at fullback. But both players are really better used in other positions.

Albert Hopoate, 20, is the main player on the Raiders' fullback depth chart. He's the son of the Australian, Tongan and New South Wales representative, John - and the brother of NRL players, Will and Jamil. Hopoate suffered two ACL injuries in the space of 12 months, while with the Sea Eagles. He signed with the Raiders on a one year deal for 2021 and is yet to play first grade with Canberra. But he was given a two year extension in the middle of last year and promoted to the top 30. He played nine games in NSW Cup in 2021 before the season was cancelled due to COVID. He didn't set the world on fire - but he was still on the comeback trail and half the season was lost. He scored two tries and produced one try assist, three line breaks and 21 tackle breaks. He also averaged 106 running metres per game. He'll be wanting to make a bigger impression in NSW Cup in 2022.

Players to watch

There are some players to watch in the lower grades. Kiwi Jack Sandford was the fullback in the 2021 SG Ball Premiership winning team - but his attacking strike is something he'll no doubt be working on. Manase Kaho and Livai Kalotolu have plenty of that. Both were included in the Jersey Flegg squad that was announced by the Raiders in November.

Kaho played fullback with the Raiders Under 20s team that won the 2020 CRRL Cup. But he can play wing and centre too. He was named one of the best centres in the Canberra Raiders Cup in 2021, playing with Belconnen United Sharks. Kalotolou was playing on the wing at the start of the Raiders' 2021 SG Ball season, before an off field incident led to his sacking. He has shown the determination to come back, impressing with the Belconnen United Sharks. He was named one of the wingers of the year in the Canberra Raiders Cup, but also looked good when playing at fullback for the Sharks. I'm looking forward to seeing new fullback recruit from the Mackay Cutters, Rayden Burns, on the field in Jersey Flegg. He's not big, but he looks nippy. No doubt Mick Crawley - who was the Cutters coach, and who has rejoined to Raiders' coaching ranks - has recommended him.

So, what's your view? Is it CNK or Savage... or someone else? Tell us below... and vote in the accompanying poll!
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greeneyed
Don Furner
Posts: 140250
Joined: January 7, 2005, 4:21 pm

Locks and contenders 2022

Post by greeneyed »

As is the tradition on The Greenhouse, we are running a series to assess the "Locks and contenders" for the Canberra Raiders strongest possible 2022 line up... position by position... and inviting you to have your say.

There are obviously positions where some players are already "locks". But we will run some supplementary polls where there is any room for debate. This series is not aimed at predicting the Round 1 starting team. It is the strongest possible team, the one you'd want firing in the finals! Today...


Halves

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There is not a lot of doubt about the Canberra Raiders' best halves combination in 2022. Jack Wighton and new recruit Jamal Fogarty have a lock on the No. 6 and 7 jerseys. But both will have a point to prove. Fogarty was essentially not in the Titans' future plans, while Wighton's form was well down in 2021. They'll have a huge amount of responsibility on their shoulders in turning around the Green Machine's fortunes in the upcoming season.

In 2020, Jack Wighton shared the Meninga Medal with Josh Papalii, before outpointing hot favourite Nathan Cleary in the Dally M count. He won the Dally M Five eighth of the Year award and became just the third Canberra player to win the Dally M Medal. But 2021 was not the season that Jack Wighton would have wanted.



His strike was definitely down. In 2020, he ranked second at the club in the try scoring stakes (13), and equal first amongst regular NRL five eighths. In 2021, he scored only five tries. His famous running game also fell away. In 2021, he ranked first amongst the regular NRL five eighths for total running metres and third for running metres per match. But last season he was well down both lists. He broke through 100 running metres in only four games and his average metres have never been as low in his NRL career. His tackle breaks fell (32, compared with 56 in 2020), as did his line breaks (four, compared with 11 in 2020).



In 2020, Wighton ranked sixth in the NRL for total kicking metres and was just outside the top 10 players for kicking metres per match. This year, he dropped to 14th for total kicking metres and was outside the top 20 players for average kick metres. On the plus side, his kicking errors declined (six, compared with 11 in 2020).

Jack Wighton is a tough, aggressive defender, with good technique. However, his tackle efficiency fell a bit (83 per cent, compared with 86 per cent in 2020) - and his try causes rose to 13 (compared with four in 2020 and nine in 2019). He ranked third among NRL five eighths for line break causes, though he was well down the list for try causes.

When you look at Wighton's 2021 season as a whole, I think that some criticism that has came his way was over the top. At one point - prior to the Round 21 clash with the Dragons - his coach Ricky Stuart felt compelled to defend his five eighth.

"We’ve been very inconsistent all season and it makes it very hard for Jack," he said. "We’re all very happy to put Jack on our shoulders when he’s taking the game on and winning the game, it’s now our turn to load up for Jack to play well and to help him. We’ve got to go out there and play well for him now and just let him fall into our show of good form."

I'm not sure how well received that was by some other players, but I agree that Wighton's form was affected by the whole team playing poorly - both in attack and defence. The disruption in the spine was a particular problem. Wighton's halves partner, George Williams, was released mid season and there was chopping and changing at dummy half. It is tough to produce your best in those circumstances. But individuals need to perform in a team sport too - particularly if that player is the "main man". Late in the season, there were some signs that the old Jack Wighton was back. We will need to see a lot more of the old Jack in 2022.

The early release of homesick Englishman George Williams left a big hole at No. 7, with limited options available for the Raiders on the player market. Canberra was linked with a long list of free agents, but most were unappealing. The Raiders patiently waited, hoping the salary cap might bite somewhere. Unexpectedly, developments at the Gold Coast Titans shook free their half and captain Jamal Fogarty.

In early August, the Titans extended Fogarty's contract to the end of 2023. But before the end of September, Gold Coast Chairman Dennis Watt was saying: "Toby Sexton will be the starting halfback next year... he’s ready to go." Sexton, aged 20, had played just four games of first grade after making his NRL debut in Round 19. With another Titans rookie, Jayden Campbell, emerging at fullback and AJ Brimson set for a move to the halves, it was starting to look like Fogarty was unwanted on the glitter strip. After seeking a release, Fogarty signed a three year deal with Canberra in early October.



Fogarty, 28, has played just 41 games of first grade. He made the Australian Schoolboys team in 2011 and played with the Titans' National Youth Competition side in 2012 and 2013. But he didn't get a chance at an NRL debut with the Titans until the middle of 2017 - when he made two appearances. He spent the whole of 2018 playing for the Burleigh Bears, before being able to lock down a first grade spot in 2019.

He's not a spectacular half. In 2021 he produced 13 try assists and 24 total try involvements, scoring four tries himself. That compared to the benchmark halves of Daly Cherry-Evans and Nathan Cleary, who had 55 try involvements or more. He's more of an organiser than a runner (42 running metres on average per game). But he still made eight line breaks, which was inside the top 10 halfbacks in the game. He was also inside the top five halves for metres per run (10).

In 2021, Fogarty ranked sixth amongst his halfback peers for total kicks and kick metres and ninth for forced line drop outs. He averaged 308 kick metres per game. That's not in Cleary (540) or Moses (417) territory, but it is in the Reynolds and Pearce ballpark. He ranked fifth in the NRL for attacking kicks and eighth for long kicks.

Fogarty's tackle efficiency (83 per cent) was not quite up with George Williams (87 per cent) in 2021, while his try causes (13) were on par with Jack Wighton. He's not top of the class in defence, but by no means worst in the class either.

So, while Fogarty might not be a spectacular half, he is a solid. A good organiser, a good kicker. And that might be just what the Raiders need, as a complement to an unpredictable, running five eighth in Jack Wighton and a dominant hooker in Josh Hodgson.

So how about the back ups? The Raiders are pretty well served in Sam Williams and Matt Frawley. Both are good club men and have signed one year contract extensions for 2022. Sam Williams ended up playing half the games last season, one more than the released George Williams. He came into the team in the Round 11 match against the Storm and produced some good performances. He was ultimately displaced by Matt Frawley in the final two games of the regular season.

There was a lot of discussion amongst the Canberra fans during the second half of last season about whether Sam Williams or Matt Frawley was the best option at No. 7. All round, I don't think that there is a lot of difference between what the two players deliver on field. Williams is the better organiser and long kicker. Frawley is the better defender and possibly the better short attacking kicker. But as 2021 showed, we can't really expect either player to stand in for an extended period in first grade. So coach Ricky Stuart will be hoping there are no long absences enforced on on his top two halves in 2022. Given both Williams and Frawley are on one year deals, the Raiders look like they are keeping their options open for 2023.

Players to watch

The main young half to watch is Brad Schneider. Born in Adelaide, but brought up in Townsville, Schneider helped spearhead Kirwan High School's run to the National Schoolboys Cup title in 2019. He was recruited to the Raiders, along with Kirwan team mate, Adrian Trevilyan - and was named for the Raiders' first Jersey Flegg match of 2020. The game was never played, with COVID causing the cancellation of the season.

Schneider ended up making his debut in green in Round 1 of the 2021 NSW Cup against the Magpies. 2021, however, would also prove to be disrupted by COVID. He played 11 games in the cancelled season, eight as starting half. He scored four tries and produced seven try assists and three forced line drop outs. He also averaged 56 running metres, 76 kicking metres and 21 tackles per game.



Schneider made his NRL debut in the Raiders' Round 11 loss to the Melbourne Storm at Canberra Stadium. Coach Ricky Stuart gave him very limited game time, bringing him on in the final 10 minutes. Most thought he should have been injected much earlier - if only to give him more experience - given the Storm had gone to an unbeatable 30-10 lead with around 20 minutes remaining. Clearly, we can't make too much of what he did in that match, his only NRL appearance so far.

In August, Schneider re-signed with the Raiders to the end of 2023 on a new two year deal - while the team was temporarily based at the Gold Coast. He's since been elevated to the top 30.

"It's awesome to be able to re-sign with the club. I love everything they've been doing for me and I'm so happy that I've been able to re-sign with them,” Schneider said when his new deal was announced. "I'm up here doing what I love, and to train and be amongst the group is awesome, so I'm just taking it day by day and loving the experience. The goal for me now is to try and get some more games in the NRL and play a few more minutes in those games and look to have an opportunity to play halfback."

I thought Schneider showed promise in NSW Cup - and looked at his best when he was combining with dummy half, Adrian Trevilyan. Clearly, they have a great understanding on field. Now Schneider just needs more game time in NSW Cup. Hopefully, that competition will be completed this year and he'll get just that.

There's also plenty of talent in the Jersey Flegg squad announced in November. That list includes Sione Moala and Mitch Spencer, who formed the halves partnership in the Raiders' premiership winning 2021 SG Ball team.

Moala came through the New Zealand Warriors' junior system and joined the Raiders at the start of last year. He unfortunately went off injured in the SG Ball Grand Final - but the young Canberra team didn't seem to skip a beat when substitute Connor Williams came on. Moala came back later in the season, playing with the Yass Magpies in the Canberra Raiders Cup. He's got potential, but his matches up against men in the local competition suggest he's still learning. Mitch Spencer is the younger brother of Daine Spencer, a former Raider who is now with the Wynnum Manly Seagulls in Brisbane. Mitch is a Woden Valley Rams junior, and shows promise. Gungahlin Bulls player, Connor Williams, who is the cousin of Raiders juniors Tre and Jack Williams, is very slight but always did his job when called upon.

The Raiders allocated a couple of their young halves to the Queanbeyan Kangaroos last season - Sione Vuki and Thomas Casey - and that move came up trumps for both the club and players. They were a significant reason for the Roos becoming one of the best attacking teams during the truncated Canberra Raiders Cup season. Vuki, playing at half, played rugby union with Trinity Grammar School in Sydney. Five eighth Tom Casey was born in Mt Isa and has been part of the Broncos development system. He's previously played with the Ipswich Jets and Townsville Blackhawks. Both are exciting young players. I'm looking forward to seeing them in green.

Next up in our series, we will take a look at the Raiders' hooking ranks.
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greeneyed
Don Furner
Posts: 140250
Joined: January 7, 2005, 4:21 pm

Locks and contenders 2022

Post by greeneyed »

As is the tradition on The Greenhouse, we are running a series to assess the "Locks and contenders" for the Canberra Raiders strongest possible 2022 line up... position by position... and inviting you to have your say.

There are obviously positions where some players are already "locks". But we will run some supplementary polls where there is any room for debate. This series is not aimed at predicting the Round 1 starting team. It is the strongest possible team, the one you'd want firing in the finals! Today...


Hooker

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At this time last year, Josh Hodgson had an absolute lock on the Canberra Raiders No. 9 jersey.

It wasn't long ago that Peter Sterling declared: “I don’t think there is a better No.9 in the game than Josh Hodgson. I think that he has just about eclipsed Cameron Smith as the most influential No.9 in the game... Cameron Smith is still a brilliant footballer, but the influence Josh Hodgson has on the Canberra Raiders is as profound."

Sterling wasn't on his lonesome in making that assessment. But times have changed.

In 2021, Hodgson made his second comeback from a knee reconstruction. It wasn't smooth sailing. It was expected by many commentators that the new rules of "Vlandysball" would suit him. It was thought the quicker rucks and pace of the game would open up the middle of the field for dummy halves. But after two serious ACL injuries, it seemed the veteran hooker no longer had the pace for that. In addition, the dominant playmaker sometimes overplays his hand. The spine had gelled well in the second half of 2020, with Siliva Havili and Tom Starling forming an effective hooking duo. With Hodgson's return at the start of 2021, the play makers struggled for combinations.



In early May last year, news seeped out that Hodgson had stood down as co-captain of the club - two weeks earlier, following the back to back losses to the Panthers and Eels. What happened has never been fully explained. It appears that coach Ricky Stuart had decided to bench Hodgson for the Round 7 clash with the Cowboys - and start the game with Tom Starling in the No. 9. And in those circumstances, Hodgson felt he could not hold the captaincy. Before the team could be announced, Hodgson suffered a calf injury at training. The club only confirmed he'd stood down as captain after the news sensationally broke in the media.

"I've made the decision to stand down as club captain and I informed the team of this a couple of weeks ago," Hodgson said in a club statement.

"I've been out injured for the past two games and I've been working hard on getting myself back on the training field. I can assure everyone that I remain fully committed to the club and I'm looking forward to getting myself back to 100 per cent fitness and helping the team get their season back on track."

When Hodgson faced the media in person, he denied that there was any rift with coach Ricky Stuart - while addressing his future with the club and the emergence of Starling.

"I'm not daft, I'm an old bloke, I've been around a while and I've still got four or five good years in me," Hodgson said.

"Tommy's been playing some good footy and if he's the next generation in terms of what they want to bring throughout the club, I'm fine with that. I love this club more than to let my own ego stand in the way. My first preference would be to spend those first four or five years in Canberra. You've got to do what's best by you, your family and your career."

Hodgson was subsequently linked to a number of other clubs. He did not return to the side from injury until the Round 10 match against the Bulldogs - on the bench. He took back the No. 9 jersey in the Round 12 loss to the Roosters - and held onto to it through the second half of the season. As the controversy subsided, Hodgson started to forge a good partnership with Starling - with the up and comer being injected at around the 25 minute mark and Hodgson moving into the role of a ball playing back rower. That ended when Starling suffered a fractured jaw in the Round 22 loss to the Storm.

Hodgson was overtaken last year by younger hookers like Brandon Smith, Harry Grant and Api Koroisau - but in some areas he wasn't a long way behind. He scored one try and posted nine try assists and 14 total try involvements. He ranked fourth among NRL regular hookers for try assists, behind Grant (11), Reed Mahoney (11) and Damien Cook (10). He ranked fifth for try involvements, behind Smith (25), Grant (19), Cook (15) and Mahoney (15). He's run less from dummy half in the past couple of seasons (25 in 2021). And though his average running metres per game increased last year (31), he was well behind the benchmark hookers (over 70 per game).

Late last year, it looked like Hodgson would be playing with the Wests Tigers in 2022. With his contract expiring at the end of this year, the Raiders gave him permission to negotiate with other clubs and to leave Canberra early. The club had signaled that they would not be offering Hodgson a contract renewal, and they were happy for him to secure a longer term deal elsewhere - straight away. The Tigers were expecting the Raiders to pay a good portion of his substantial contract for 2022. However, the Raiders were not willing to go that far. They were more than happy for Hodgson to see out his term.

In the end, in early December, Hodgson signed with the Parramatta Eels on a two year deal, starting in 2023. That has pretty much put paid to the suggestions of a rift between Hodgson and the club and coach. At the very least, the relationships are workable.

With the departure of Siliva Havili, Hodgson and Tom Starling are the only two recognised hookers in the top 30 squad for the upcoming season.



Starling stands at 170cms and weighs in at 82kgs, making him one of the smallest players in the NRL. But as the old adage goes, he plays well above his weight - and he uses his size to his advantage. He's nippy and quick out of dummy half, and often shows up opposition forwards in the middle of the park. He takes decisions quickly, and gives crisp, clean service to the halves. In defence, he has great technique for getting in and under much bigger players, and dumping them on their backs.

Starling made 19 appearances in 2021, five at starting hooker and the remainder off the bench. His try involvements were down (six, compared with 10 in 2020). At the club, he was second to Jordan Rapana for dummy half runs, but only just, and first for metres per run, amongst the regular first graders. His average running metres (40) and total dummy half runs (44) were not up with the benchmark hookers in the NRL. But he wasn't far off the likes of Api Koroisau and Damien Cook in terms of running metres, and was ahead of Reed Mahoney. In defence, there wasn't a lot of difference between Hodgson and Starling. Both posted a tackle efficiency rate of 89 per cent and produced seven try causes. There were a whole pile of NRL hookers with better numbers in defence.





Which of the two takes the No. 9 jersey in 2022? In my view, it'll be Hodgson. It's not clear that Tom Starling is yet an 80 minute hooker and the diminutive player has tended to show his best form when playing off the bench. 2022 might be a transitional year - when we again see Hodgson at dummy half during the opening exchanges, and Starling taking over once the opposition forwards tire. That combination worked well in the second half of last year. Time will tell.

Players to watch

The hooking ranks at the Raiders do look a little thin - particularly as Tom Starling has again found himself in some off field trouble during the off season. While it doesn't sound too serious, there is a bit of doubt over whether it might cost him an NRL sanction and some time on the sidelines. If Hodgson had been released early, the Raiders really would have been scratching around for a new recruit.

The club does have a very promising young dummy half on the books - Adrian Trevilyan. He's training with the top squad. The fact he's not in the top 30 probably doesn't matter a great deal. The rules were loosened last year, so that NSW Cup players could be selected in first grade from Round 10, along with players on development contracts. Those rules seem destined to be relaxed even further in 2022.

A recruit from Townsville, Trevilyan led Kirwan State High to the National Schoolboys Championship in 2019 and, in the process, won the Peter Sterling Medal as the player of the tournament. Andrew Voss - who has been commentating on the Schoolboys Cup since the early 1990s - named Trevilyan as the best hooker he's seen in that competition. That's some recommendation. He was also a part of the North Queensland Cowboys system - playing with the Townsville Blackhawks - and Queensland under 18s representative. Somehow, the Cowboys took their eye off the ball.

Trevilyan didn't play a lot of football for Canberra in 2020, due to a combination of the pandemic and injury. He did, however, make a late season comeback from injury and turned out for the Raiders Under 20s team in the 2020 CRRL Cup Grand Final - which the young Raiders won, big time. Last year, he made 12 appearances in NSW Cup, but only started at hooker twice. He produced five try assists, five line break assists, two offloads, and posted a tackle efficiency rate of 94 per cent. The second half of the NSW Cup was unfortunately cancelled due to the COVID outbreak in Sydney. The bottom line is that Trevilyan needs to play a lot more footy than he has over the past couple of years. But the talent is certainly there.

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There are a few other junior hookers to watch as well. Toby Thorburn, recruited from Mackay Magpies, was very impressive at dummy half in the Raiders' 2021 premiership winning SG Ball team. He subsequently played with the Woden Valley Rams last year. Raiders 1989 Grand Final hero and Mackay Magpies coach, Steve Jackson, says Thorburn has "NRL written all over him". He looks the goods. Mitch Souter has been in the club's junior ranks for some time. The Rams product played at hooker in the Raiders' Under 20s team that won the CRRL Cup for much of the season in 2020. Campbell Woolnough is a Forbes Magpies junior, who played Laurie Daley Cup with Western Rams in 2018-19. He played with the Belconnen United Sharks in the Canberra Raiders Cup last year. His combination with his brother Matt, who plays five eighth, was important to the revival of the Sharks' fortunes in 2021. All three players have been named in the Raiders' Jersey Flegg squad for 2022.

So, what's your view? Is it Hodgson or Starling? Tell us below... and vote in the accompanying poll!

Next up in our series, we will take a look at the Raiders' front rowers.
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greeneyed
Don Furner
Posts: 140250
Joined: January 7, 2005, 4:21 pm

Locks and contenders 2022

Post by greeneyed »

As is the tradition on The Greenhouse, we are running a series to assess the "Locks and contenders" for the Canberra Raiders strongest possible 2022 line up... position by position... and inviting you to have your say.

There are obviously positions where some players are already "locks". But we will run some supplementary polls where there is any room for debate. This series is not aimed at predicting the Round 1 starting team. It is the strongest possible team, the one you'd want firing in the finals! Today...


Props

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Josh Papalii has a lock on one starting prop position. Absolutely no shadow of a doubt. Along with Glenn Lazarus, he's now one of the greatest props in the 40 years of the Canberra Raiders.

In 2020, Josh Papalii was the Dally M Prop of the Year. He also won the Meninga Medal and Fans' Choice Player of the Year for a third straight year - sharing the Meninga Medal with Jack Wighton. He was one of four players who shared in the Fans' Choice Award. Based on the votes of his NRL peers in the 2020 RLPA Awards, he was one of the top five players in the game. He finished the season with Origin selection for the Queensland Maroons, no doubt the first forward picked.



His 2021 season was not quite as good - and he was not among the five finalists for Dally M Prop of the Year. But there is no doubt that he was still the Green Machine's premier forward. He was the Canberra Raiders Fans' Choice Forward of the Year - and finished as runner-up in the Meninga Medal and Fans' Choice voting. He remained a cornerstone of the Queensland team.

As he often does, Papalii had a slow start to the season and was controversially "rested" from the Round 8 clash with the Rabbitohs. He was then suspended for three weeks after being sent off in a not so magic "Magic Round". He spent a good part of the off season preparing for a "Rugby League Rivals" boxing event in mid February. He reportedly shed a fair bit of weight for the bout - and fans were left wondering whether that had adversely impacted his preparation for the season. But because of the faster paced world of Vlandysball, he ended up spending the weeks of his suspension getting down to a lower playing weight. It seemed to do the trick - and we started to see the re-emergence of the "old Papa".



Joe Tapine probably produced his best ever season in green in 2020. 2021 was a little more mixed, but he was still among the Raiders' best forwards. He started the year at lock, before transitioning into the prop rotation. He played the final seven games of the year at starting prop - and that is where he seemed to be at his best.



Tapine missed a couple of games early in the season due to ankle ligament damage - and was dropped due to form for the Round 7 match against the Cowboys. He was back the next week against the Rabbitohs, but after that game, his partner Kirsten took issue with coach Ricky Stuart's interchanges. "You have an international player warming your bench for 50 minutes … Your interchanges are killing us!," she famously wrote on social media. She probably wasn't far wrong, really.



I wrote last year that Joe Tapine would have a lock on the No. 13 jersey in 2021 - and that proved to be incorrect. The changing role of lock under Vlandysball rules contributed to that. But in my view, he's now the No. 2 prop at the club. Commentators have sometimes said that Joe Tapine doesn't seem to appreciate how good, how dominant, he can be. There is possibly something to that. His great potential has always been recognised - and in the second half of 2020, we possibly saw the heights of what he can achieve. He wasn't far away from that in the back end of last season. If he can consistently hit that level in 2022, he could be in the very top echelon of props in the competition.

Papalii and Tapine would be my starting prop combination. But there is plenty of room for debate about whether both start the game. There are good reasons why you might split your two top props, with one to lead the interchange forwards from the bench. The retirement of Sia Soliola and the departure of Dunamis Lui and Ryan James means some young props are going to have to step up in 2022. The ranks look a little thin, really.

Ryan Sutton joined the Canberra Raiders from the Wigan Warriors on a two year deal in 2019, but he was quickly extended to the end of 2022. He had a strong debut season in the NRL, playing 20 games, but he ended up missing out on the 2019 finals campaign, with Emre Guler preferred in the top 17. That experience had a lasting impression on him, and drove him throughout 2020. He ended up winning the Coaches Award on Meninga Medal night. Sadly, he suffered an MCL injury in the final round of the regular season - meaning he again missed Canberra's finals campaign.



After the Raiders' poor 2021 season, Sutton's still waiting to play in an NRL finals match. But personally, he had his best season since arriving in Australia last year. He was probably in the best three players, all round, behind Jordan Rapana and Papalii. At age 26, he is coming into his prime as a middle forward - and in my view, he's in the Raiders' top three props this next season, no doubt. Sutton's contract with the Raiders expires at the end of next season. With the Redcliffe Dolphins entering the competition in 2023, he'll be in high demand from other clubs. Hopefully, the Raiders can lock him into a new long term deal.

Emre Guler forced his way into the Canberra Raiders top 17 on the eve of the 2019 finals, and went on to play in his first Grand Final, aged just 21. He made 11 appearances that year, and finished the season with selection in the Under 23s Kangaroos team that played France. That said a lot about the potential of a very young prop forward - and many were expecting him to make a splash in 2020. Unfortunately, an ankle injury intervened.



2021 proved to be a happier hunting ground. He made 19 appearances - just as many as Joe Tapine and just one behind Josh Papalii. Guler started the year in the Raiders' NSW Cup team, allowing him to build back his match fitness. He played four games in the lower grade, before being promoted to firsts for the Round 6 clash with the Eels. He didn't miss another NRL match all season. He played 10 games at starting prop, but he didn't quite grab his chances to make the spot his own. He's still young for a forward - at age 23 - and most props don't come into their prime until their mid 20s. Under contract to the end of 2023, he's one of the props I'd like to see take the next step this year.

Corey Horsburgh had an impressive debut season in 2019, sharing the Raiders Rookie of the Year award on Meninga Medal night with Bailey Simonsson. He made a good start to 2020, but unfortunately his season was cut short early - after suffering a Lisfranc injury to his foot in the Round 7 golden point loss to the Eels. It was initially thought he might be able to return before the end of the year, but that did not prove to be the case. He played only six games.

The injury significantly affected his 2021 preseason, but his preparations didn't go smoothly in another way. A Christmas Day road side breath test saw him charged with low range drink driving. He was subsequently banned by the NRL for the first game of 2021 and handed a suspended $5,000 fine. Coach Ricky Stuart was not impressed. He started his season in NSW Cup, but earned promotion to the NRL squad for the Round 7 clash with the Cowboys.

Again, injury quickly intervened. He dislocated his wrist in the Round 12 loss to the Roosters - and that put him back on the sidelines for a couple of months. He returned to first grade football in Round 22, when he was loaned to the Bulldogs for two games - with the aim being to boost his match fitness. He then played the final two rounds of the season for Canberra - making for a total of eight games off the bench.



Horsburgh, aged just 23, can play lock, but these days, he's much better suited as a prop. A lack of football has affected his development and his fitness. He had another setback following the end of this season - a shoulder reconstruction in September. He should be fit for Round 1. But the need for surgery and more recovery work would have been a blow. His contract with the Raiders expires at the end of 2022. He'll want to impress on the field this year - either to earn an extension with the Raiders or a contract at a new club. There has been some speculation in the media that the Queenslander might be a target for new franchise, the Redcliffe Dolphins. Born not too far away in Caboolture, he played junior football with Redcliffe. Hopefully Horsburgh can show his best in 2022 and that his new deal is with the Raiders - because he has real potential. But he's really got to lift, now.

New recruit, Peter Hola, has joined the Raiders from the Cowboys on two year deal, with a mutual option for a third. The 22 year old stands at 192cms - that's tall for a prop - and weighs in at 110kgs. He was born in Sydney and raised in Auckland, playing his junior football with Auckland club, Marist Saints. He moved to Townsville to join the Cowboys in 2017, playing in their National Youth Competition team. The junior Kiwi made his NRL debut in the Round 21 clash with the Broncos in 2019. He's only played 12 first grade games, with a dislocated wrist keeping him out for much of 2020. He only played three games last year under Todd Payten - and was released a year early by the Cowboys so he could head to Canberra.



"Peter's a big body shape but is also very mobile. He's predominantly a middle forward but can also play in the back row if needed," the late Peter Mulholland said at the time of Hola's signing. "He definitely fits the mould of the next generation of forwards coming through, he's a big guy with a big engine and great leg speed so he'll be a player who we can help to continue his development. As soon as he spoke with Ricky, he was keen to make the move down here. It was a quick negotiation as he liked where our club is heading."

I can't say I can remember seeing much of him on field. A highlights package of him playing with the Northern Pride is entirely made up of him storming over the line from close range. I'm looking forward to seeing how he goes.



Players to watch

Jayden Clarkson is the No. 1 young prop to watch at the club in my view. He could be anything in the game. Known as "JJ", the Redlands junior played for renowned rugby league school, Wavell High in Brisbane - and for the Wynnum Manly Seagulls in Queensland's Mal Meninga Cup. He was one of the stars for the Queensland team that won the Australian Secondary Schools Championship in Canberra in 2019. He was subsequently picked for the Under 18s Australian Schoolboys. He started with the Raiders in SG Ball in 2020, scoring a try on his debut in green. His parents Sharon and Cyril came to Canberra with him, and ran the Raiders' big house, a home away from home for eight of the junior players. Sadly, before the competition could be completed, it was cancelled, due to the pandemic. That same year, Clarkson went on to play with the Raiders' Under 20s team that won the CRRL Cup.





Clarkson played in the opening three rounds of the 2021 SG Ball competition, but unfortunately missed the rest of the season after suffering a serious leg injury. He could only be a spectator on Grand Final day at Leichhardt, when the Green Machine won their fourth SG Ball title. Clarkson made it back onto the field later in the year, turning out for the Yass Magpies - along with another good forward prospect for the Raiders, Loghan Lewis. Lewis, who played with Keebra Park on the Gold Coast, was one of the starting props in the SG Ball Grand Final. Caleb Esera was the other, and could end up in the front row. Lock Trey Mooney, another star in the making, might also find himself at prop at some stage. More on the prospects of Esera and Mooney later in the series.

Ata Mariota is on the Raiders' development list - and most NRL fans will remember him as the "biggest ever ball boy". That was back in 2020, when he was a reserve, filling in in the role, during the pandemic. Born in Samoa, Mariota was recruited to the Raiders with his younger brother, Niu, from Mounties. Ata started in SG Ball in 2019 - and was named the Under 18s "Players' Player". He went on to be a part of the Jersey Flegg team that made it to the 2019 grand final. He played finals off the bench, but not in the premiership decider. He was then picked up, unexpectedly, on a development contract in 2020 and joined the top grade "bubble". He's yet to get an NRL debut, but he is still only 21. He played six games of NSW Cup last year, starting in three. He averaged 85 running metres and 14 tackles per game, and posted nine tackle breaks. Like a lot of the younger players, he needs some more football in lower grades next year. But he's got promise and could get his chance in 2022.



We're taking Josh Papalii as a "lock", but who joins him in the starting front row? Tell us below... and vote in the accompanying poll!

Next up in our series, we will look at the second rowers.
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greeneyed
Don Furner
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Locks and contenders 2022

Post by greeneyed »

As is the tradition on The Greenhouse, we are running a series to assess the "Locks and contenders" for the Canberra Raiders strongest possible 2022 line up... position by position... and inviting you to have your say.

There are obviously positions where some players are already "locks". But we will run some supplementary polls where there is any room for debate. This series is not aimed at predicting the Round 1 starting team. It is the strongest possible team, the one you'd want firing in the finals! Today...


Second rowers

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Elliott Whitehead has pretty much had a mortgage on one second row position for the past six years. But there are commentators and fans out there prepared to say that time has come for him to shift to the middle, and take over at lock in 2022.

Since joining the Raiders in 2016, Whitehead has been incredibly consistent and durable. He's barely missed a game. He averaged 25 appearances in his first five years at the club - and has played 144 games from a possible 149 in his six seasons in green. Three of those missed matches came last year. It was almost a shock when he was sidelined last year, due to the shoulder injury and serious facial cut he suffered in the Round 17 clash with the Titans. He'd never missed a game at the Raiders due to injury before.

"Elliott Whitehead. He doesn't miss much football, Elliott," Stuart said when deciding to give the 32 year old a break.

"His body needs a rest. He's got a bad shoulder and he's got a very bad cut to the eye and the eyelid. He needs a rest. It's a credit to Elliott in regards what he puts his body through week in and week out. It's why we say we love playing with Elliott. He puts his body on the line every week. He didn't pull out. I made the decision because I know he would have played."

That's how much Elliott Whitehead loves the club. He was deservedly given the honour of the co-captaincy in 2021, after Josh Hodgson decided to stand himself down from the role.

Whitehead has also shown he can be versatile. In the Round 8 loss to the Rabbitohs last year, he was forced into the halves, after George Williams was a late withdrawal due to a hamstring twinge in the warm up. In addition to his 130 games in the second row, he's played matches at centre, five eighth, halfback and lock. Not many forwards can do that, but it is a testament to his skills in attack. Whitehead's defence isn't a relative strength, but there's no doubt he's been a wonderful player for the club.

In July last year, his contract was extended by two years, to the end of 2024. It was recognition of how important he is to the team. It will likely make him a Raider for life - as he'll be 35 by the time his deal expires. He might be a Canberran for life too. He recently became an Australian resident.

I think it is fair to say, however, that 2021 wasn't Whitehead's best season with the club. His attacking strike was down. He was probably affected by injury in the second half of the year - not just his shoulder and cut eye, but a range of more minor injuries. He required surgery on his elbow after the season ended. It is difficult to be at your best when the whole team is not performing well too. Some Raiders fans have suggested that he was affected by the pace of Vlandysball, or that perhaps we saw some signs of time catching up with him. I think it is certainly premature to say that. Elliott Whitehead is my first second rower picked.

But there is a battle on for back row spots, no doubt. With the departure of John Bateman, Hudson Young and Corey Harawira-Naera spent much of 2021 fighting to be Whitehead's second row partner. There was probably no clear winner. Now, new recruit Adam Elliott has been thrown into the mix.

Hudson Young started 2021 with a mission. "From the start of the pre-season my goal was to try and lock down and edge spot," Young said back in March last year, when he re-signed with the Raiders to the end of 2024.

"I've been training that edge. I've started a little bit in the middle previously, but mainly edge at the moment. I played edge all through 20s and younger grades so I'd say I'm more of a natural edge player than a middle but I feel comfortable at lock as well."



Corey Harawira-Naera effectively ruled himself out of the contest for the No. 11 jersey in Round 1. He was suspended for the first two matches of the year due to a Christmas drink driving incident - and he then started his year in NSW Cup. That saw Young starting in the second row in six of the first eight rounds, missing one game due to a slight knee injury in Round 3. Good NSW Cup form saw Harawira-Naera force his way into the starting team in Round 7 - and he held down that spot for a good three months.



By Round 12, Hudson Young found himself on the reserves list. Young was not recalled until the Round 17 clash with the Sea Eagles - after Elliott Whitehead was ruled out with a shoulder injury. He was subsequently a regular feature in the starting team - and displaced Harawira-Naeara from the starting second row in the Round 21 clash with the Dragons. He stayed there for the final five games, with Harawira-Naera suspended for three weeks for a high shot on Storm half Jahrome Hughes.



In the end, Young started in the second row 14 times in 2021, and Harawira-Naera started 13 times. The two players have different styles, with Harawira-Naera possibly more creative in attack, while Young is more reliant on his power running and possibly better in defence. The thing that proved most costly for Harawira-Naera last year was his discipline. Some fans believe Hudson Young is at his best in the middle, rather than on the edge. In my view, he handles both jobs very well. All things considered, I think Hudson Young just has his nose in front for the second starting spot.

Adam Elliott has been signed by the Raiders on a bargain-basement one year deal for 2022. He was without a club, after a number of off field issues led to his departure from the Canterbury Bulldogs. The last straw for the Dogs was an incident which saw Elliott ejected from a Gold Coast restaurant in August last year. He was fined $10,000 by the NRL for bringing the game into disrepute. He and the Bulldogs mutually agreed, in September, that it was better that they go their separate ways. Elliott had alcohol counselling last year - and the Raiders' deal reportedly includes behavioural clauses. The fact that it is a one year deal, however, suggests that Elliott is prepared to back himself and prove his worth for a new contract in 2023. And that's good to see.



Born in Bega, Elliott played his junior football with the Tathra Sea Eagles - and attended renowned rugby league school, St Gregory's College at Campbelltown. He represented the Bulldogs in the National Youth Competition in 2013-14, before making his NRL debut in Round 1 of 2016 against the Sea Eagles. He played 101 games for the Dogs over six seasons.

Elliott missed most of the 2020 season due to a dislocated shoulder, but played 18 games in 2021, all but one in the second row. He can also play lock, and has started there almost as much as in the second row. Last year, he scored two tries and produced three line breaks, two line break assists and 19 offloads. He averaged 91 running metres and 35 tackles per game, while posting a 92 per cent tackle efficiency rate. Some commentators have put Elliott straight into the Raiders' second row in their predicted line ups. I'm not too sure about that.

Players to watch

Young English forward Harry Rushton joined the Green Machine in 2021 on a three year deal - and was immediately added to the Raiders' top 30 squad. He was born in Blackpool and played amateur rugby league with the Shevington Sharks, at Wigan. He stands at 190 cms and weighs in at 98 kgs. That's pretty imposing for a 20 year old. He made his Super League debut - in the second row - for the Wigan Warriors against St Helens in 2020. That was his only appearance in the top league in England.

He's yet to make his NRL debut, but the club rates him highly. In 2021, he made 10 appearances in the Raiders' NSW Cup team - with six in the second row, three at lock and one at prop. That suggests the Raiders were trying him out in different positions, to identify his best spot. He was selected to be part of the squad that relocated to the Gold Coast, when the competition was shifted to Queensland. However, he suffered a knee injury in the final training session in Canberra before the team departed. It wasn't serious, but it was enough to see him left behind. We'll hopefully see a lot more of him on the field in 2022.

Clay Webb was the captain of the Raiders' 2021 premiership winning SG Ball team - and played five games in NSW Cup to boot. He's solid, hard working and shows plenty of promise. The Gundagai-Adelong Tigers junior was added to the club's development player list at the end of 2020 - but he's been coming through Canberra's junior ranks for some time. He joined the Raiders Harold Matthews team in 2017, after signing a four year deal. At the time, he attracted plenty of interest from the Broncos, Titans and Eels. He signed that first deal in the same week that he represented the NSW Combined High Schools team that won the Under 15s national championships - and was named in an Australian Under 15s merit squad.

Webb was the Raiders' Harold Matthews Players' Player of the Year and represented NSW in Under 16s Origin in 2018. He was one of two junior Raiders, along with Trey Mooney, called into a "Future Blues" camp at the end of 2019 by NSW coach Brad Fittler. A knee injury (meniscus) early in the 2020 SG Ball Cup put paid to his year. But he sure made up for that in 2021.



Caleb Esera is one of the most exciting prospects on the Raiders' books. He's big. He's probably always been the biggest kid on the field. But he doesn't stand out just because of that. He's got talent, particularly good attacking skills. He sure can score a try. He'll probably end up being the biggest bloke on the field in the NRL too.

Esera hails from Brisbane. He attended famous rugby league school Wavell State High, and played junior representative football with the Souths Logan Magpies. He was part of Queensland Emerging Origin squads at both Under 16s and 18s level - along with the likes of Reece Walsh, Sam Walker and Jayden Clarkson. He was soon recruited by the Raiders along with his younger brother Prinston.

Fresh out of high school, Esera made his debut in green at Kippax - against the Eels in Round 1 of the 2020 SG Ball Cup. He impressed from day one in the Under 18s. Sadly, the pandemic hit before the competition could be completed. But Esera went on to debut in the Raiders' Under 20s team in the CRRL Cup later in the year. And on Grand Final day, he scored a hat trick in a huge victory for the young Raiders over the Gungahlin Bulls. There was no doubt he was man of the match.



In 2021, Esera was one of the lynch pins of the SG Ball premiership team. In his first year with the club, he mostly played in the second row, even centre at times. However, he primarily featured at prop in the 2021 Under 19s campaign, including in the Grand Final. He wasn't man of the match in the decider, but he would have been close. He also played three games of NSW Cup last year off the bench. In the second half of last year, he was farmed out to the Yass Magpies in the Canberra Raiders Cup. Playing against men, he was still physically dominant. But he was no doubt working on some things, in particular, his lateral movement.



I'm not sure if Caleb Esera is going to end up on the edge or in the middle. He is probably still growing, so prop may well be his destiny. But he'll hopefully never lose his barnstorming attacking ability. He's training with the top squad for 2022 - and hopefully, the Raiders will lock him in and give him plenty of opportunity. With dedication, he's a player who could do anything in the game.

Brock Gardner, 22, is a former South Sydney Rabbitohs second rower, who is on a training contract for 2022. He was promoted to the Rabbitohs' top squad in 2021, but missed the season after tearing his achilles in training last January. He's yet to make an NRL debut but it'll be interesting to see how he goes. Jordan Martin is also training with the Raiders' top squad at present. He joined the Raiders in 2018 from the NSW south coast. The player to watch in the Jersey Flegg squad is Noah Saddler. Tall and rangy, he forced his way into the SG Ball starting team last year - and was Clay Webb's second row partner on Grand Final day. His older brother Zac played with the Sea Eagles. Keep an eye out.

Does any player have a lock on a second row spot for 2022? I'm not 100 per cent certain. So this year, I'm putting both starting positions up for a vote. Make your choice in the accompanying poll.

Next up in our series, we will look at the locks.
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greeneyed
Don Furner
Posts: 140250
Joined: January 7, 2005, 4:21 pm

Re: Locks and contenders 2022

Post by greeneyed »

As is the tradition on The Greenhouse, we are running a series to assess the "Locks and contenders" for the Canberra Raiders strongest possible 2022 line up... position by position... and inviting you to have your say.

There are obviously positions where some players are already "locks". But we will run some supplementary polls where there is any room for debate. This series is not aimed at predicting the Round 1 starting team. It is the strongest possible team, the one you'd want firing in the finals! Today...


Lock

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One of the sad things about rugby league in the past two decades has been the demise of the role of lock forward. Think back. The wonderful wide running of legendary Raiders lock Brad Clyde, his ability to set up players outside him. Then there were players like Wally Lewis, Brad Fittler, Cliff Lyons and even Laurie Daley. Five eighths who could also be dangerous ball playing locks. In the 21st century, the position of lock forward became something akin to a third prop. Battering rams. But the past few years have seen the re-emergence of the more agile, mobile lock, players with serious attacking skills. That trend has only been accentuated by Vlandysball.



It is why, late last year, the Raiders took to shifting Josh Hodgson into the forwards after the first 20 minutes or so. To give the team an extra, roving ball player at lock. Most Raiders fans seem to be expecting that to be the tactic that coach Ricky Stuart will again employ in 2022. But what sort of lock might start? We've looked at a number of options already. A middle forward like Ryan Sutton or Corey Horsburgh? Ryan Sutton, in particular, is fairly mobile and just goes all day. Or maybe leading second row options, like Hudson Young or Adam Elliott? Young has some great attacking strike, while Elliott can throw an offload. But offloads was just about the only statistic where Elliott was in front of Young in 2021 in both attack and defence. Players like Joe Tapine and Elliott Whitehead could also handle the role, but as a result of our polls, they are now locked in at prop and in the second row, respectively. In my view, Hudson Young or Ryan Sutton are the best remaining options.



Player to watch

Might one of the younger players fill the role? Trey Mooney is the most likely. He is my No. 1 rookie to watch in 2022.

Mooney joined the Raiders in 2020, after coming through the junior ranks of the Parramatta Eels and the rugby league program of Westfields Sports High. He's represented New South Wales at Under 16 and Under 18 level and, in 2019, the Australian Schoolboys. He was the captain of the Eels' SG Ball team in 2019 - and he started out in that grade for the Raiders two years ago. The junior representative season was never completed because of the pandemic, but he subsequently joined the Raiders' "bubble" to train with the top squad. In August he started playing with the Raiders Under 20s in the local CRRL Cup - and scored a try at lock in the Grand Final. It was one of the 13 tries scored by the young Green Machine that day, in a 66-10 win over the Gungahlin Bulls.



Mooney missed the early part of the 2021 season, after having knee surgery. He didn't make his first appearance for the Raiders SG Ball team until Round 9. But he was a key player in the Raiders' Under 19s finals campaign. Playing at lock, he won the game ball as the man of the match in the SG Ball Grand Final - with Canberra defeating the Illawarra Steelers, 18-14, at Leichhardt Oval. In that game, he showed how incredibly hard working and mobile he is. He can play on the edge as well.

Mooney went on to make six appearances in NSW Cup - two at lock, one at prop and three off the bench - before the competition was cancelled due to COVID. He averaged 105 running metres, 43 post contact metres and 24 tackles per match. He also posted 10 tackle breaks, four offloads and a 97 per cent tackle efficiency rate.



When the NRL competition packed up and headed to Queensland last year due to the pandemic, Mooney was included in the top grade bubble on the Gold Coast. He is yet to make an NRL debut, but the Raiders know they have a very talented first grader in the making. In August, he was re-signed on a three year deal, keeping him at the club to the end of 2024. He has been promoted to the top 30 squad. Remarkably, at 19 years of age, he could still play SG Ball in 2022 - or Jersey Flegg. At season's end, Mooney was named the Junior Representative Player of the Year at the Meninga Medal presentation. He was also one of three Raiders - along with Michael Asomua and Brad Morkos - included in a Future Blues squad.

No doubt Mooney will get a lot of opportunity in NSW Cup this year and I won't be at all surprised if he gets an NRL debut. At 188cms and 106kgs, he certainly wouldn’t be out of place, physically. Who knows what might happen from there. The sky's the limit for this very determined young man. I can still hardly believe that the Eels somehow let him slip through their fingers.

So who do you think should be the starting No. 13 in the Raiders' strongest team for 2022? Tell us below and vote in the accompanying poll.

Next up in our series, we will look at the wingers.
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greeneyed
Don Furner
Posts: 140250
Joined: January 7, 2005, 4:21 pm

Locks and contenders 2022

Post by greeneyed »

As is the tradition on The Greenhouse, we are running a series to assess the "Locks and contenders" for the Canberra Raiders strongest possible 2022 line up... position by position... and inviting you to have your say.

There are obviously positions where some players are already "locks". But we will run some supplementary polls where there is any room for debate. This series is not aimed at predicting the Round 1 starting team. It is the strongest possible team, the one you'd want firing in the finals! Today...


Wingers

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Jordan Rapana and Nick Cotric. In most years, you'd simply lock them in as your wingers, no questions asked. Rapana, the 2021 Meninga Medalist. Nick Cotric, the prodigal son, returning home to the club where he belongs, after a year with the Bulldogs that he'd probably rather forget. They're certainly the wingers I'd select. But 2022 is a bit different. There is plenty of competition for wing spots. And there is plenty of discussion amongst the fans about the ideal Raiders three quarter line for the upcoming season.

When Jordan Rapana left for Japanese rugby union at the end of 2019, it seemed like his football career was winding down. As it turned out, he didn't play a game of union in Japan. When the pandemic intervened, he returned to the national capital, and the club he loves.

It wasn't plain sailing for him in 2020. It took some time for him to get his fitness back. He ended up being an "everywhere man", playing 10 games on the wing, six at centre, two from the bench and one at fullback. He was mostly used on the left wing, rather than his usual right wing spot. He didn't seem to be quite the player he once was. He still brought an enormous amount of enthusiasm to the squad, the sort of infectious enthusiasm that rubs off on others. He always tried his heart out.

But in 2021, with a "full pre-season under his belt", the 32 year old produced some vintage form. Outstanding on the wing. Some almost perfect games when drafted in at fullback. He was the club's top try scorer, with 12 four pointers. It was his best tally since the halcyon years of 2016 (23) and 2017 (21). He ranked second in the NRL for tackle breaks, behind David Fifita, fourth for total runs and sixth for running metres. He averaged more running metres than he ever has in a season. He not only won his first ever Meninga Medal, he was rewarded with a two year contract extension.

"He creates a lot of energy around the players. They love playing with him and they were all very excited when Jordy announced that he'd re-signed for another two seasons," Raiders coach Ricky Stuart said at the time.

"He's been at the club for a long time now. I think it's nearly nine or 10 years now. He's a real Raider and a bloke who we all love playing with and I certainly enjoy coaching."





At the start of last season, I seriously wondered if 2021 would be Rapana's final year. He proved all the doubters wrong. He certainly merited his contract extension. However, there is a point when it doesn't get easier as time passes. The 32 year old will need to stay on his toes if he's to keep the challengers at bay.

Nick Cotric was an absolute star of the Canberra Raiders' junior ranks. A member of the Raiders' NYC team in 2016, the Australian Schoolboy was named at centre in the NYC Team of the Year. He then made an unexpected debut on the wing in Round 1 of 2017 and went on to win the Dally M and RLPA Rookie of the Year. He played in a Grand Final and achieved Blues and Kangaroos selection while in green.



He was still just 21 years of age when he decided to head to the Bulldogs - on a three year deal starting in 2021. I wrote this at the time:

"It is a sad loss for the club, and the NRL salary cap arrangements simply should not be producing this sort of result. When local juniors are being poached this way, it is clear that the cap arrangements do not provide sufficient reward for development clubs. The Bulldogs reportedly have signed him for $600,000 a season and are planning to play him at centre. I personally think the Raiders have made the right call, not to match the Dogs' contract offer. I don't think Cotric plays his best football at centre... and $600,000 is overs for a winger. But if there's a club prepared to pay that, no one can begrudge a player taking the deal. I hope that this year might not be the last we see of him in green.

Affected by injury, Cotric played just 14 games for the wooden spoon Dogs in 2021. Canterbury promised him they'd play him at centre, but that lasted just a month. By Round 5, he'd been switched to the wing. He only scored three tries, after he'd been Canberra's top try scorer in 2020 (14). He was a tackle break king at the Raiders in 2020 (124), second only to James Tedesco in the NRL. In 2021, he was outside the top 20 players for tackle breaks on a per game basis. His average running metres per game were up (119 per game, compared with 105 in 2020) and his defence wasn't greatly different. But the switch was not a happy one.

The arrival of Phil Gould at Canterbury in the off season produced a shake up in the Bulldogs' playing squad and some big name signings. Salary cap pressure eventually saw Cotric shaken free, and the Raiders were only too happy to take him back into the fold. Coach Ricky Stuart believes he can quickly get back to his best.

"I'd like to think he can get back to where he was," Stuart recently told The Daily Telegraph. "He had an unlucky season with injury at the Dogs and I think he'd feel very fortunate to be able to be able to come back home to try and find the form of when he was an international and Origin winger."

I'm very confident that he can.

We've already taken a look at Xavier Savage, one of the contenders for fullback. If Rapana or Cotric were missing for some reason, he'd be my next winger picked. It is certainly where I'd be blooding him in first grade, and I suspect Ricky Stuart agrees. You need to look beyond the headlines in today's press to understand why.



"He's got the ability to play fullback and wing. He will be in the battle for the fullback spot," Stuart told The Daily Telegraph today.

That got the headline. But Stuart also said this: "I've said throughout my coaching career you need competition in spots to bring the best out in players. He's certainly got talent. He's just a young boy who has to learn what it takes to be an NRL player and to play consistently. It's about building his mindset and building his physicality."

Those commentators selecting Savage in their predicted starting teams for 2022 might have to hold their horses for a bit.

Fijian winger Semi Valemei made his NRL debut in the Round 10 Grand Final rematch with the Sydney Roosters in 2020 - a game which ended in a memorable backs to the wall victory. He finished the season by winning the Canberra Raiders Rookie of the Year award on Meninga Medal night. He played 10 games in that season - but only played one more in 2021, mostly at the back end.

He lifted his average running metres last year to 132 per game (97 in 2020) and he was prepared to get in and do some hard work. He ranked equal second for most metres per carry, behind Xavier Savage. However, he only scored two tries (four in 2020) and produced one line break in 2021. That's not a great strike rate for a winger. He had a shocker in the final round loss to the Roosters, producing five errors and at least a couple of try causes. After the game, coach Ricky Stuart defended the youngster saying: "Poor old Semi had a tough night, and he's a better player than that. I'd pick him for first grade again next week."

Valemei has good potential - and the Raiders re-signed him on a new three year deal at the end of last June. That extended his stay at the club to the end of 2024. He's been prepared to make huge sacrifices to support his family and make it in professional rugby league. That's really to be admired. However, I think he has dropped down the pecking order and he'll no doubt be working hard on a few things.

Harley Smith-Shields and Matt Timoko can play on the wing, but I see them primarily as centres. I'll take a detailed look at them in the next installment. Albert Hopoate, listed as a fullback, can also handle the flanks.

Players to watch

Elijah Anderson, 22, made his NRL debut in Canberra's Round 21 loss to the Dragons last year. He only got three minutes, but he was still stoked to get on the field. He hails from a small town near Rockhampton and represented Queensland at Under 20s level. He was in the Cowboys system and played with the Capras and Cutters. But when the Cowboys deal ended, he was left hanging. That's when the Raiders' recruitment guru, the late Peter Mulholland, came calling - and offered him a training contract for 2021.

"I don't want to put too much of a rap on him so early, But Elijah is a long striding, lanky speedster who looks like Greg Inglis when he was a kid. We are excited about this kid and he has a lot of potential," Mulholland said at the time.



Anderson made eight appearances for the Raiders' NSW Cup outfit in 2021, before the competition was closed down because of the pandemic. He scored a try and made two line breaks, eight tackle breaks and an average of 60 running metres per game. Anderson was not part of the Raiders' top 30 squad, but coach Ricky Stuart took him to the Gold Coast when COVID forced the competition relocate to Queensland. And that's when he got his chance for an NRL debut.





Anderson was given a new one year development contract for 2022 back in August. He'll provide good competition for first grade spots in the Raiders' outside backs.

Michael Asomua is possibly the young wing prospect I'm most excited about. He played his junior football with Yenda, a small town near Griffith. The Under 15s NSW Combined High Schools representative started with the Raiders in Harold Matthews in 2019. He graduated to SG Ball in 2020, but then the the pandemic intervened. While the 2020 season was never completed, Asomua made some hay in 2021. He was part of the victorious SG Ball Grand Final team last year - and went on to be named in the Australian Schoolboys merit team and the Future Blues squad. He also made his NSW Cup debut for the Raiders, in the Round 13 clash with the Jets. He could only make two appearances before the season was cancelled due to COVID. But he got his first NSW Cup try against the Sea Eagles and posted nine tackle breaks, a line break and 119 average running metres. He also impressed when turning out for the Queanbeyan Blues. He's a strong, powerful runner. Think Brian To'o and you get the idea.





Asomua is training with the top squad, as is new wing recruit James Schiller. He comes from Young and played with the Cherrypickers, so he's close enough to a local. He happens to be the nephew of Raiders' great Brett Mullins and like his uncle, he can also play centre and fullback. The Raiders were interested in bringing him on board, but after finishing school, he headed to the Dragons. He played five games of NSW Cup last year with the Wollongong based outfit, and scored three tries, produced two try assists and made 21 tackle breaks and four line breaks. I haven't seen him play, so it'll be interesting to see how he goes.



There are a number of Jersey Flegg players to keep an eye out for. I mentioned Fijian Livai Kalotolou in the players to watch at fullback. He was playing on the wing at the start of the 2021 SG Ball season, before some off field issues saw him lose his place in the team. He subsequently played with the Belconnen United Sharks and shows great pace and good stepping.

Manase Kaho played fullback with the Raiders Under 20s team that won the 2020 CRRL Cup, but he can also play wing. Physically very solid, he was named one of the best centres in the Canberra Raiders Cup last year, after turning out for the Belconnen United Sharks. Temple Beauchamp was also part of the 2020 CRRL Cup winning team. He comes from Turangi in the north Island of New Zealand and unsurprisingly, has some rugby union in his junior background.

Queensland has recently been a happy hunting ground for the Raiders in the wing department. Josh Smith is a new recruit, from the Mackay Cutters. He's come to Canberra with his best mate, fullback, Rayden Burns. "Smithy", who stands at 184cms and weighs in at 82kgs, can cover both wing and centre. He was the Cutters' 2021 Rookie of the Year.





Steve Numambo was an excitement machine for the Queanbeyan Kangaroos in the Canberra Raiders Cup last year. He scored four tries one week, and got a hat trick the next. Born in Mt Isa, he previously played with the Townsville Blackhawks. When he touches the ball, you expect something to happen. Aiden Kawiri has some size to him and can certainly score a try. He's been playing with the Woden Valley Rams and was selected for the Canberra representative team that played Newcastle last year. He was spotted playing with the Northern Pride in Cairns.

So who do you think should be the starting wingers? Tell us below. Given the diversity of opinion we've detected amongst the fans, we will put both spots up for a vote in the accompanying poll.

Next up, in the final part of our series, we will look at the centres.
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RedRaider
Ricky Stuart
Posts: 9032
Joined: March 3, 2007, 7:02 pm

Re: Locks and contenders 2022

Post by RedRaider »

Sticky will go with the proven FGers of Cotric and Rapa and so do I. However there is doubt over Rapa being available for Round 1 due to off season drama. Round 1 could well be Savage and Cotric.
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greeneyed
Don Furner
Posts: 140250
Joined: January 7, 2005, 4:21 pm

Locks and contenders 2022

Post by greeneyed »

As is the tradition on The Greenhouse, we are running a series to assess the "Locks and contenders" for the Canberra Raiders strongest possible 2022 line up... position by position... and inviting you to have your say.

There are obviously positions where some players are already "locks". But we will run some supplementary polls where there is any room for debate. This series is not aimed at predicting the Round 1 starting team. It is the strongest possible team, the one you'd want firing in the finals! Today...


Centres

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What's the biggest question mark hanging over the Canberra Raiders 2022 line up? It's this: Will Croker's knee hold up?

There is little doubt about that place that co-captain, Jarrod Croker will hold in Canberra Raiders history. He already holds the club record for most tries (133), most points in a season (296 in 2016) and most points (2238). Last year, in the Round 19 clash with the Eels, Croker matched the point scoring record of an all time great half, Johnathan Thurston - and became the equal third highest point scorer in NRL history. 2,222 points. He surpassed it the next week, when he converted Harley Smith-Shields' try from the sideline against the Knights. Only Cameron Smith and Hazem El Masri have scored more career points. Last year, Croker also passed the point scoring record of an Immortal, Andrew Johns, in the Round 5 match against the Panthers.



Up until last year, Croker had averaged 23 appearances per season. He's been remarkably durable. 2018 had been the only year when he'd played less than 20 games (17). However, he made only 12 appearances in 2021 and produced just one try - his lowest season tally ever. He also scored only 38 goals and 80 points - his lowest season tallies since 2009, his first year playing in the NRL. When he was on the field, his goal kicking was better than ever. His success rate this year, at 90 per cent, was the highest of his career. But there's also no doubt that 2021 was not the season of his dreams. He was still recovering from shoulder surgery at the start of the year and could not take the field. Later, it was his chronic knee injury that saw him sidelined.

Croker signed a new deal with the Raiders back in early 2020, tying him to the club until the end of 2023 - and giving Croker an option for 2024. He's the second most capped Raider, with 291 appearances. He's very close to the 300 game mark, and not far away from Jason Croker's club record of 318 games. However, his knee injury has cast a shadow over his future career.

Croker had post season knee surgery last year, which involved injecting stem cells from his own bone marrow, so as to help cartilage regenerate in the knee. It is probably his last shot at getting the knee right, after platelet rich plasma (PRP) therapy didn't really work. Reportedly, Croker has been told by coach Ricky Stuart that he cannot be guaranteed a spot in the top 17 in 2022. The coach recently said this: "We've given Jarrod all the time he needs in getting his body back to peak condition to compete at an NRL level and playing to his standards. At this stage he's aiming to be fit for Round 1."

Jarrod Croker is much loved by the club and the fans. I've been watching him play since the days of junior representatives out at Seiffert Oval. He is one of my all time favourite Raiders. He is one of only three players to lead the Raiders out onto the field in a Grand Final. I hope he can continue into 2022 - and beyond - and break some more records. But whatever happens, he will go down as one of the Canberra Raiders' greatest ever servants.

Curtis Scott's sacking means the right centre spot is definitely up for grabs. Matt Timoko had a shot at taking it last year, after Scott was stood down. Born in Auckland, the 22 year old played his junior football with the Ellerslie Eagles. He made his NRL debut off the bench in 2020 in the Round 16 win over the Canterbury Bulldogs. He went on to make one more appearance that year - lining up at centre alongside Harley Smith-Shields in the Round 20 "Rookie Raiders" clash with Cronulla Sharks. Both players made their starting debuts in that game and both were graduates of the Raiders' 2019 Flegg team that made the Grand Final against the Rabbitohs.

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Timoko made nine first grade appearances in 2021, starting seven at centre. He went on to share the Raiders' Rookie of the Year award with Harley Smith-Shields at the Meninga Medal ceremony. He's a damaging runner. He averaged over 100 running metres per game last year - but they never fell below 130 metes a game in his final five matches of 2021. He made over 150 metres in the late season win over the Warriors. He ranked third at the Raiders for most tackle breaks per game. He was also good in defence. He posted the highest tackle efficiency rate among the Raiders' outside backs - and he was well down the list for try causes.



Timoko re-signed with the Raiders in early July. He was already contracted to the end of 2022 - and he was extended for a further two years. In my view, he should be given first shot at the right centre spot this year. If Jarrod Croker can't take the field, I think Harley Smith-Shields should be Timoko's centre partner.

Smith-Shields, who has just turned 22 years of age, is Canberra born, and came through the Gungahlin Bulls and Raiders juniors. Promoted to the top 30 squad in 2020, he made his NRL debut that year in the Round 11 win over the South Sydney Rabbitohs. Smith-Shields is at his best at centre, but made all of his seven NRL appearances in 2021 on the wing. He was on the sidelines for a lengthy period last year due to a biceps injury, but broke back into the NRL team in the Round 19 win over the Eels, and then became a regular fixture.



Smith-Shields' try scoring strike rate at the club in 2021 was second only to Jordan Rapana - at about one for every two matches played. It was a similar story in terms of line breaks (ranked second, at just under one per game), while his average running metres were pretty respectable (ranked seventh at the club). He was sixth in the Green Machine's squad for average tackle breaks.



I've been talking about Smith-Shields' long term potential for some time and his finish to 2021 showed why. In mid August he signed a new two year deal, keeping him at the club to the end of 2023. He's got good physical presence for a centre, standing at 183cms and weighing in at 94kgs. He's a strong, powerful runner and a good defender. He knows his way to the try line.

The other contenders? Sebastian Kris is the obvious one. He was a Canberra Raiders junior, coming through the ranks from the Valley Dragons. He was part of the NSW Blues Under 18s team in 2017 - and a development player in 2018 at the Raiders. He was promoted to the top 30 squad in 2019, and he made his NRL debut from the bench in the Round 10 clash with the South Sydney Rabbitohs at Canberra Stadium. He went on to play a total of four first grade games, with two at centre and one on the wing.

In 2020, he didn't play a single match. He took time away from the game, time to get his life in order, to get his head and his body right. His contract expired, but he returned on a train and trial contract for the 2021 pre season. He trained the proverbial house down. He got a new one year deal and went on to make 20 appearances. He missed less than a handful of games in 2021.

"I needed to take a break not only on the field but off the field due to my own circumstances," Kris explained. I had to clear my head. I just needed to compose myself physically and mentally and I have come back better than ever."

Kris started at centre in 18 games in 2021, with single games on the wing and in the second row. He was second only to Jordan Rapana in the try scoring stakes at the club, crossing eight times. He also ranked second for line breaks and sixth for tackle breaks. Among his centre peers, he ranked in the top 20 try scorers - but was outside the top 20 for line breaks and tackle breaks. He was way down the list for average running metres amongst the game's centres. At the club, he ranked second for try causes, behind Bailey Simonsson. He was also among the top 10 NRL centres in that department.



It was great to see how the 22 year old came back after taking a year off. That took courage and determination, and he certainly merited a contract extension. He re-signed on a new three year deal at the end of June, tying him to the Raiders to the end of 2024. He got the jump on the other contenders last year, but I see Smith-Shields and Timoko as the future centre pairing. In the days of Vlandysball, Kris might well be suited to a role on the bench, as cover for the backs and edge forward.

Players to watch

Brandon Morkos - his friends call him Brad - signed with the Raiders late last year, and is training with the top squad. The 18 year old turned out for the Illawarra Steelers in last year's SG Ball Grand Final - and was subsequently named in the Australian Schoolboys merit team. He played for Corrimal, Wests, Thirroul and Collies while he was in Wollongong. The Dragons somehow let him slip through their fingers. He's got size and pace - and I'm looking forward to seeing how he goes in the trials.



It's not like the Raiders did not have some good centre talent in the ranks of their own SG Ball 2021 premiers. Josh Billing was born in Brisbane and was playing rugby union for Marist Brothers, Ashgrove, when the Raiders came calling . He's also a rugby league junior and impressed when playing against men with the Tuggeranong Bushrangers in the Canberra Raiders Cup last year. He is in the 2022 Jersey Flegg squad. Then there is Deakin Bright, who is still SG Ball eligible for the upcoming season. He hails from the town of Narrandera in the Riverina, west of Wagga. You should also watch for Caleb Esera's brother, Prinston, in SG Ball this year. Touted as a future first grader and more, he attended famous rugby league school, Wavell High, and played Meninga Cup for the Souths Logan Magpies last year.

So who do you think should be the starting centres? Tell us below and vote in the accompanying poll.

That's the final installment in this series. We'll also put the bench positions up for a vote once the centres are selected.
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greeneyed
Don Furner
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Re: Locks and contenders 2022

Post by greeneyed »

Here are the results of the polls…

For the record, Harley Smith-Shields was included at centre, before his season ending ACL injury prompted a re-vote for the back five.

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Raider47
Jason Croker
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Re: Locks and contenders 2022

Post by Raider47 »

Savage in, Croker out, CNK to centre and then swap Whitehead and Young and that is my team.

Even Kris is clearly in better condition to be an NRL centre atm.

HSS' injury is such a shame. If Ricky doesn't move CNK into centre, our depth is pretty poor there now.
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