2013 NRL Premiership
By W D Nicolson - March 2, 2013
Last Year: 6th with a 13-11 (+9) record and 30 points.
Terrible season in Canberra until they opened up the game plan and won 9 of their last 12 (incl. playoffs). If you do the math - that's only 5 wins in their first 14 games... so logic says something changed. Whatever change was implemented - Canberra used the Dragons in Round 17 as their springboard to a playoff run that had them installed as the Cinderella team of 2012... until the Bunnies brought them back to earth in the semis.
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Canberra only made a couple of off-season purchases in hard hitting Joel Edwards and project forward Jake Foster. Edwards will play off the bench, while Foster might be a bit of a wild card if an opportunity opens up in the backrow. Canberra's best chance of getting impact from new faces in 2013 is up to the youth brigade headed by Edrick Lee, Jack Wighton, Anthony Milford and Mitchell Cornish - but how much will we see of them?
BEST LINE-UP | If every player is available, this is the top squad listed 1-17.
Remainder of Top 25 Squad/NSW Cup:
Matthew ALLWOOD, Shannon BOYD, Glen BUTTRISS, Hayden CROCKETT (injured for 2013), Mitchell CRONIN, Joel EDWARDS, Jake FOSTER, Haydon HODGE, Scott JONES, Jarrad KENNEDY, Edrick LEE, Sam MATAORA, Matt McILWRICK, Mark NICHOLLS, Dimitri PELO, Joe PICKER, Mick PICKER, Sami SAUILUMA, Paul VAUGHAN.
Notables from U20s:
Mitchell CORNISH, Jeff LYNCH, Anthony MILFORD.
PREDICTED ROUND 1 TEAM
Croker is unlikely for Round 1 with a knee injury, and although that seems a perfect chance to give Lee a run at centre - Furner says Thompson or Wighton will get the call. If Thompson moves there, then Edwards or Foster look like getting a chance to start. White should be okay after making a comeback from a knee reconstruction in the final trial, while Campese is not ready. Dugan is in slight doubt with an ankle injury and the flu.
CAN: Dugan, Robinson, Wighton, Ferguson, Earl, McCrone, Williams, Learoyd-Lahrs, Berrigan, Shillington, Papalii, Thompson, Fensom.
Bench: Edwards, Foster/McIlwrick, White, Tilse.
Make sure you take a look at our dedicated NRL Injured List
Mitchell Cornish has looked a class above at NYC level but his entry into first grade might come at hooker with Campese, McCrone, Williams and probably Wighton ahead of him on the halves depth chart. With Canberra's question marks at hooker behind Berrigan and Buttriss - maybe a swap is on the cards? Edrick Lee could be anything - he just needs an extended run in the centres and not on the wing like he was misused last year. Perhaps the most exciting prospect is young Anthony Milford who has drawn comparisons with a certain Johnathan Thurston... now it's up to Canberra to keep him from returning home to QLD by giving him a path to first grade at some point in the next season or two. Big Shannon Boyd might also see a short NRL stint in the front row.
HOME GAME YOU CAN'T MISS
Canberra don't play a home game til Round 3 - but that's the Dragons (the ultimate NRL bunny now that Canberra has won a game or two against the Storm recently) on Sunday night footy at 6:30pm. Perhaps the most interesting games could come back to back in Round 23 and 24 when the Raiders are hoping to be in the thick of a playoff race - as they entertain the Bulldogs and Sea Eagles in consecutive weeks.
Depends which 2012 version shows up in Round 1...
The Raiders under David Furner are either very good or terrible... and the last time Canberra made a playoff run under Furner - he changed their style back to the boring grind style to open the 2011 season and they won just one of their first nine games. In fact in the four years Furner has been in charge - Canberra have gone 2-7, 3-6, 1-8 and 3-6 in their opening nine games from 2009-2012. Though Campese won't play in the opening weeks - the momentum from last season is something Furner has to tap into and keep the team (at least aiming to play) the same style as late last year. If Canberra start well - they'll make some believers of the pundits who are writing off their playoff run last year as another fluke.
@NRLTweet's PREDICTED REGULAR SEASON FINISH
5th | Take a quick look at the best lineup above and Canberra can be a Top 4 side... but they have never opened a season under Furner playing like a Top 4 and end up chasing their tails for the rest of the year. If Campese fires upon his return and Canberra are playing well - they deserve respect as an outside threat.
Remember if you want game-specific Late Mail every week, then check out our Round Previews Every Wednesday and they are updated with all the very latest Late Mail on Friday.
If we are missing any players on this list - please comment below, reply on Twitter or email this address.
The Prestigious Award returns for a 4th season in 2013.
Review all of the voting results from 2012 right here
Remember you can track all the votes each week after each match in 2013 via the Twitter hashtag #nrltweetpoty